I Wonder? The Johnson Amendment for MARCH 2017
For the next few months I will be writing a series of newsletters that I am
calling, “I Wonder?” I will be discussing a variety of current topics in an effort
to inform and provide a Godly perspective to you amid the jumble of slanted
information that besets each of us every day.
In scripture God called out prophets, apostles and preachers to speak to the
political and moral climate of their nation in order to bring about change in
people’s heart. Our nation has employed a means by which it can impede and or
silence God’s message to the people. The Johnson Amendment is a method by
which our government quells God’s peoples’ ability to address sin and
immorality in our nation. This has resulted in creating a slippery slope of
unintended consequences that infringe on our constitutional rights regarding
freedom of speech and worship.
The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits
all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political
candidates (def. Wikipedia). The types of organizations most commonly listed
under the 501(c)(3) are churches, charitable foundations and universities.
I wonder? Do charitable foundations (like the Clinton Foundation) and
various universities and their entities (like Berkley’s) endure being threatened
with loss of their tax exempt status for their political involvement and activity in
the same manner as churches and religious organizations?
Background: Sen. Lyndon Johnson was an astute Texas politician running
for re-election of the seat he held in U.S. Senate. Being very opinionated
concerning racial issues he was receiving heated political pushback from
African American churches. His politics were also upsetting to many in the
evangelical white churches who wanted to replace him.
Wishing to silence his opposition Johnson crafted an amendment to attach to
the U.S. tax code in 1954. The amendment was quietly passed and most
American churches have reluctantly abided it for the past 6 decades. That one
action sealed Johnson’s political future. It allowed him to be re-elected as U.S.
Senator which set the stage for him becoming the Vice President and then
President of the USA.
Implementation: The government did not seek to control biblical teaching
from the pulpit until the issue surrounding abortion emerged upon America’s
political horizon. As religious leaders preached against the abortion movement
in America and its moral and religious ramifications (see Ex. 20:13; 21:22-23;
Amos 1:13) according to God; the IRS determined a different set of rules
applied. They rationalized that if a political candidate supported abortion and
that if a church’s leadership told its congregants that abortion was morally
wrong – the church was now engaged in opposing a political candidate and was
in violation of the Johnson Amendment. As a result of intimidation and fear of
reprisals many churches became silent on the issue and in a few years the
Supreme Court legislated abortion as legal though most Americans considered it
immoral and fundamentally wrong.
The Johnson Amendment trumps my 1st Amendment rights: Believe it or
not, but it is within the realm of possibility that if I express my opinion
concerning political issues or candidates, as a private citizen in a personal blog
(that is not in any way associated with the church) the IRS could take action
against our church. Also the possibly exists that while in a private conversation
in a public place like a restaurant the IRS might also consider that I am violating
the Johnson Amendment and revoke our church’s tax exempt status. Why would
the IRS do that? As the pastor I am the face our church and its official
representative. As your pastor the IRS essentially forces me to forfeit my right to
free speech as an individual. Voicing your support or opposition to any political
candidate is a protected liberty. For me, as a pastor (and as a person of faith) the
repeal of the Johnson Amendment represents the reinstatement of my personal
I wonder if the individuals in 1954 who passed the Johnson amendment
might have anticipated these far reaching, unintended consequences. Sadly, I
believe that it has fostered and even emboldened similar political tactics used
today: For example, consider the decision to attach a hate speech amendment to
H.R. 1913 which was solely intended as a $680B defense spending bill, nothing
else. That hate speech amendment, if applied with the same broad measures as
the Johnson Amendment has been applied would foster persecution of all
Christians’ freedom to speak. “Some sources have even said that if a pastor
were merely to read a biblical verse like Leviticus 20:13, she or he might be
charged with a hate crime. (That verse defines some male homosexual behavior
among the ancient Hebrews to be a capital crime, and requires the execution of
both parties. The verse is ambiguous as to what type of same-sex behavior is
involved.)” (http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_hat20.htm). These are very
real possibilities waiting to happen if we do nothing.
The Bottom Line: The Johnson Amendment should be repealed for the
simple reason that it will allow the voice of moral opposition to speak freely,
without fear of reprisal from the government, in order to identify the sins of our
nation and to uphold the moral fabric that is its foundation.
The evidences abound by which those in government seek to usurp God’s
moral authority and replace it with its own corrupt interpretation of
righteousness. Without repeal, the government will continue to use it and other
amendments as means to establish itself as the ultimate moral authority in our
I wonder when will truly see how detrimental the Johnson Amendment has
been to us as a nation and how it has propelled us down this slippery slope
which has developed into a black diamond ski run. J.G Butler says this, “Our
problem is not what we cannot do but not doing what we can do.”
Pastor, Dave Rowser