Dear Concerned Christians:
I’ve been watching your tweets over the past few days. As a former Christian who knows his Bible extremely well, I am having a problem squaring your sentiments with the Bible you claim to be the divinely-inspired, inerrant, word of Almighty God Himself.
In particular, I’ve been watching your responses to the IRS decision to review the preaching of certain churches that participate in something called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” I can’t say that I’m surprised by your responses, but I am dismayed by the fact that some of you have taken to using words like “fascism,” “Nazi”, “totalitarianism”, and others. So, let’s please put those epithets aside for a moment and discuss the topic at hand.
Churches and non-profit religious organizations may avail themselves of a special tax-exempt status that is enjoyed by no other non-profit organization in the United States. This special tax-exempt status comes with restrictions. A church or religious non-profit claiming this special exemption may not engage in partisan political activities. The church may not endorse candidates, contribute to political campaigns, or make any public statements of opinion for or against any candidate.
So why would a church accept these restrictions? Well, members of this special class of tax-exempt status are not required to file a Form 990. This means the church does not need to disclose its income or expenditures to the IRS – something that all other non-profits must do. In order to receive this special exemption, they must agree not to engage in the partisan political activities mentioned above. They can orchestrate “get-out-the-vote” drives and distribute voter education guides, provided that they do not endorse a candidate or a political party.
Any church or religious organization applying for this special tax-exempt class agrees to abide by these restrictions. However, many churches that hold this special exemption have made a conscious decision to violate this agreement by engaging in blatantly partisan political activities.
In short, they are choosing to willfully violate the law in order to have their cake and eat it, too – and this, quite simply, is tax fraud.
The lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was in response to the fact that many churches have been flagrantly violating the conditions of their special tax-exempt status, with no actions being taken by the IRS in response to complaints by citizens who have witnessed such violations in these churches. So what does this mean? Nothing more than the fact that the IRS will actually start doing something about these violations.
Again, churches are not required to be under this special tax umbrella. Any church, or mosque, or synagogue in this country can choose to be as political as it wishes – it just can’t expect the government to give it the same preferential treatment enjoyed by religious bodies that abide by the rules and focus on spiritual instruction rather than politicking. And let’s not misunderstand, this doesn’t mean that churches are prohibited from preaching against abortion, homosexuality, gambling, premarital sex, or whatever – they just can’t say “Candidate So-and-So shares our values, so a vote for him is a vote for Jesus.” This is something that the “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” movement has been doing – and participating churches have been daring the IRS to do something about it – even mailing videos of said politicking to the agency.
It looks like the IRS will be doing just that. When you beat on a hornet’s nest, expect a result.
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” – Mark 12:13-17