I hear every day how concerned Americans are about the political confusion and division in our country. I have a very simple solution: let me tell you whom to vote for in the next election (and the ones after that). In case you are concerned about my qualifications, I hold both a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies. I am both licensed and ordained to the gospel ministry, and I have been a pastor for more than 30 years. This background and experience make me the ideal person to tell you whom to vote for in the next election — after all, this is the heart of gospel ministry as set forth by Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.
Since the Index-Journal does not have a tongue-in-cheek font, let me be clear: I completely disagree with everything the first paragraph says. My experience in NO way qualifies me to make political endorsements. But there is a new movement in the federal government to allow ministers and churches to endorse political candidates and parties. At present, ministers or churches that make such endorsements risk losing their church’s tax exempt status. But last week a House Appropriation subcommittee quietly added to a bill (which is meant to fund the Treasury Department) an amendment which would eliminate that risk. The bill now moves forward to Congress.
The present law — prohibiting church endorsement of political candidates — is sometimes referred to as the Johnson Amendment because it was introduced by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 when he was a senator in Texas. Worth noting, however, is that the present law has long enjoyed bipartisan support: introduced by Johnson, a Democrat, it was signed into law by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican.
Space prohibits my discussing all of the reasons that the proposed change is a bad idea, but here are some highlights:
1. Ministers and churches endorsing political candidates is a dangerous violation of the separation of church and state, which is (very wisely) mandated by the First Amendment of the Constitution. A quick perusal of history reveals how dangerous it is when the government mandates religion or when ecclesiastical power controls the government.
2. If churches are allowed to endorse candidates and preserve their tax-exempt status, church budgets could effectively become political slush funds. Candidates or their supporters could funnel money through the church in an attempt to affect political outcomes. Again, this would be bad for both religion and politics.
3. Political endorsements in the church would undermine the purpose of worship. Think what would happen in your church (or mine) if Sunday’s sermon began with a statement about whom “true Christians” should vote for. How could the worship service possibly keep its focus on God? (On the purpose of worship, see Psalm 95:1-7; John 4:23; Romans 12:1-2).
4. Political endorsements in the church would gravely threaten the unity of the church. To cast it in positive terms, the biblical purpose of the church is focus on Christ, the source of our unity (Ephesians 4:1-6), not on political leaders. To cast it in negative terms, think about how church members — including ministers — already quibble about doctrine, traditions and the color of the carpet. What would happen if the church starts choosing up sides over political endorsements?!
5. Political endorsements in the church would distract us from doing ministry and building God’s kingdom. The church’s most important calling is found in the Great Commandments (Mark 10:29-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Neither will be fulfilled through political structures. So let us pray for our governmental leaders, by all means; but let us keep our eyes fixed upon — and build our lives and churches around — Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:1-2).
Tony Hopkins is the senior pastor of Greenwood First Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org