johnsonamendment-3

Earlier this year the President vowed a relaxation of the Johnson Amendment. What is that? The 1954 Johnson Amendment passed by Congress states that non-profits cannot speak in favor of or against any political candidate. The Johnson Amendment was passed by Congress as an amendment to section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. It states that entities which are exempt from federal income tax cannot "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office." Enforcement of this amendment has been practically non-existent, to say the least. For example, when he was a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton appeared in many African-American congregations and received endorsements from their clergy without so much as a yawn from the IRS. (And since there are more than religious groups who have 501(c)(3) standing, this ruling should have applied to labor leader endorsements and others as well.) But sometimes the government unwittingly gets it right, even if for the wrong motives.

Lutherans and other Christians have understood that the Amendment threatens no penalty for speaking either for or against moral issues of the day from the pulpit, only for endorsing or condemning candidates by name who may espouse or condemn those issues. Speaking only to the issues certainly helps pastors avoid ad hominem attacks and breaking the eighth commandment. By focusing on the merits or flaws of any issue from a Biblical perspective, the pastor can more successfully keep the church free from the appearance of identifying with a particular party or candidate, although admittedly, this has become more difficult over the years as political parties have become less tolerant of those who don't support their party's platform on various moral issues. (Yes, one can be a Democrat and oppose abortion, just as one can be a Republican and support LGBTQ issues).

In 2015, a Christian polling firm found that 79 percent of Americans thought clergy should not endorse candidates during worship services. Evangelicals were more likely to say pastors should be able to do so — 25 percent compared to 16 percent — but support for clergy endorsements was low across the board. According to a 2016 Pew report, only 10 per cent of parishioners have heard pulpit endorsement or condemnation of specific candidates, so relaxing the Johnson Amendment doesn't seem to be such a big deal after all. Of course, outside of the worship service, pastors are just as free to endorse or oppose a candidate as any other citizen, and they are just as free to sin as any other citizen who rips a candidate on Facebook or on any other social media. Sin has always been an equal opportunity destroyer.