Find the Line

Religious liberty was in the news earlier this month as the man who was elected to the highest political office in the country signed an executive orderthat purported to relax enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment restricts non-profits from endorsing political candidates in order to keep their tax-exempt status. While this executive order does not go as far as a draft order that was leakedin February, this order and the rhetoric surrounding it is still problematic both politically and religiously.

The political problems with this order are easily relatable, so let’s start there. The problem with this executive order is that the Johnson Amendment applies to all non-profits, not just churches. If the executive order is requesting that the IRS treat churches differently than other non-profits, there are two potential problems. First, there may be an equal protection problem because the amendment is not being applied equally to every entity covered under the law. Second, there is a potential establishment clause problem because the executive order sets entities of faith in a better position than secular organizations. This is the cruxof the arguments that the Freedom from Religion Foundation made in the lawsuit it filed shortly after the executive order was signed. The other problem that you have here is a problem that my former classmate Elie Mystal focused onin his analysis of the order. If the executive order gives the IRS discretion in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, it actually opens the door for something evangelical Christians complained about during Obama’s presidency – selective enforcement. Selective enforcement of course leads to an equal protection and establishment clause problem of a different kind between religious faiths, as opposed to between the religious and the secular. Finally, the thing that bothers me most is that this order addresses a problem that does not exist. First of all, very few churches (literally one) has ever been penalized under the Johnson Amendment.[1]Moreover, any chilling effect on speechis an effect the churches place on themselves. Churches do not have to file as non-profit organizations and do not have any particular right to a tax exemption. If churches want to endorse political candidates, then they should forego the tax exemption to do so. I’m not sure what or where the problem is.

I think on those grounds alone the executive order could be overturned,[2]but my greater concern is for the effect this will have on churches. Any weakening or repeal of the Johnson Amendment turns churches into dark money political action committees that incentivize political donations. Do you want to donate to a candidate and not have anyone know? Give the money to a church and earmark it for a candidate. Not only will no one know who you supported, but you can also claim that charitable gift as a deduction on your taxes. Churches would become the Cayman Islands of political donations. Furthermore, churches already have enough trouble without the added problem of endorsing political candidates. What message does it send when a church endorses Donald Trump? What does that say to the membership who do not support that candidate? I know that I would not attend a church that endorsed an open and unabashed racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, narcissist. I would not allow one dollar of my gifts to the church to be spent in political donations to that candidate. And to be fair, I would be uncomfortable if my church endorsed a liberal candidate, even though I politically count myself a liberal, for much the same reasons. Churches are supposed to be above that fray as we attempt to lead people to citizenship in a kingdom that is not of this world. The gospel message is a message for every human being, not just for those who fit our secular political ideologies. It is a place where we should be able to put those disagreements aside and value each other and everyone else as children of God. We already have enough trouble doing that as it is, without the added pressures of explicit political division and candidate endorsement.

When we attach our churches to political candidates, no matter the stripe, we pull Jesus and the gospel down to our level. We turn them into tools that fit our earthly agenda, instead of the opposite. On top of that, we heap pressure onto candidates that they do not deserve. Not only do they have to carry the mantle for their constituents and their political affiliates, but now they must also carry the mantle of God’s representative. The Christian church must always find the line between being in the world but not of the world. It is a delicate balance, one that is ruined by this blatant search for political influence and power.

[1]For those who are wondering, in 2000 the decision of the IRS to revoke the tax exempt status of the Church of Pierce Creek was upheld in courtafter they published full page ads in two newspapers opposing presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

[2]Unless you believe,like the ACLU, that Thursday’s executive order was so much hot air that it was not even worthy of filing a lawsuit.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8032

The word escapes me, but maybe the author will tell me what it is . The word describes the thirst for power , (political ) , by the church. Whereas , the SDA church is determine to spread the gospel around the world , there is another church ( The Roman Catholic ) , whose main goal is political domination of the world. Which ever way it happens , the desire of political power puts any church on the side of Rome . This is why the SDA church seeks to remain neutral on a lot of social /political issues .But this does bring to mind the text which says , " they shall put you out of the synagogue . " Is this to imply that other church members who support the state , will continue on with the church service ? We as Adventist are well aware that a lot of our success , (hospitals , schools ,and universities ) , come from government funded loans and grants . Remove the government aid, and many of our hospitals, colleges and universities would close down. God forbid if they removed the tax exempt status from the church .How would this effect the church ? As it stands , only 1/3 of all church members return a faithful tithe . American church members can write this off through their taxes . So the removal of the tax exempt status from the church would have a very serious negative effect on Adventism around the world, but more specifically, the NAD .

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This article offers an articulate and imperative plea for maintaining the wall of separation between church and state, of which the Johnson Amendment is an important part. The courts have lately not been shy about overturning the current U.S. president’s actions, so one would hope this executive order will soon suffer the same fate.

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WOW. Just imagine if a church endorsed Hilliary Clinton or Barak Obama? I am not a Donald Trump fan, but there are times when the lesser of evils must be chosen. The old chinese proverb 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend sometimes holds a lot of truth. IF the Seventh Day Adventist church EVER endorsed a candidate, i would immediately withdraw my my membership in it. I feel that although God guides nations and affairs in the world, the church should not get mixed up in it. If you doubt God’s control over nations just read Daniel 2:21. Now, i am not a scholar, and maybe some learned person could fill a couple of really thick books as to what they thought daniel ACTUALLY said, but a simple reading and understanding work for me.

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I continue to be amazed (although, our understanding of eschatology makes it unsurprising) by how quickly “Protestants” have forgotten the reason they originally became Protestants. The founders of the USA were not that far removed from the Dark Ages, or the persecution that non-conformists faced in the Colonies before independence. They understood the necessity of church/state separation. Those who refuse to learn from history . . . .

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exactly…i still cling to what i’m sensing is growing momentum towards impeachment - i mean how far gone are you in reality when you try to arrange a secret communications line with russia, using russia’s spy-proof communications equipment, after railing for months against hillary’s private server - although mike pence would likely uphold most, if not all, of trump’s executive orders, including this latest scuttling of the johnson amendment…

realistically, and sadly, we’ll probably have to wait until 2020 for a more favorable outcome in the white house, at the earliest, although i do have to say that i really like melania…i recently saw a youtube of her moved to tears by a mediocre, but heartfelt, rendition of “How Great Thou Art”, which suggests me that she inhabits a different spiritual plane than the donald (who looked like he was struggling to stay awake)…she forcefully stood to her feet at the end of the rendition, leading the congregation in a standing ovation, and leaving trump himself with no choice but to join in…i think her choice of outfits during her recent overseas tour has been stunning…she herself is stunning…i think she’s by far the best looking, most captivating first lady i can recall in my lifetime…

“So the removal of the tax exempt status from the church would have a very serious negative effect on Adventism around the world, but more specifically, the NAD .”

Actually, NAD is the “purse” for the rest of the Adventist World…it would greatly impact all.

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OK, alright.

But just on this occasion let me present a question :

What is “the state” in monarchial structures, in constitutional structures, in democratikc structures : I am at least one brick in the democratic castls walls I live. US SDA also : everyone a part of the state, look into your passport…

And a "church "? Ten Ba 'Hai somewhere in Wyoming ?

Many years ago smebody of the Religious Liberty Department, some editor invited me to subscribe and place the SDA Religious Liberty periodical in my waiting room… I asked for a clear definition of those two to strictly be separated. He could not give it !

In Austria when you want to marry, at first to the registry office for a “solemn” civil wedding, and then,afterwards, have your ceremony in your church - also the Catholics !.

And this act of state authority has divine power ! What yesterday evening still was a “heavy” sin - lasciviousness !! adultery !!! - with the sentence of the Republic after - lets say - 01.00 p.m. ist a God-given blessing for SDAs. (The Catholic needs a church wedding, conducted by a priest, the way to the ergistrar is just an enforced act to demonstrate authority !).

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