President Donald Trump wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other nonprofits from specifically endorsing political candidates.
Separating religion and politics is manifested in the constitutional separation of church and state. In exchange, churches and nonprofits don’t have to pay taxes.
Jeremy Peter of the New York Times explains, “It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.”
There are major concerns that come with churches endorsing candidates for political office.
Do we really want congregations to be up for sale to the deep pockets of politicians and special interest groups? Church members should be able to apply religious teaching to the candidates on their own without ministers holding their hands. If they can’t, then maybe church leaders are not doing a good job in their religious teachings.
It is also about integrity. If the preachers just preach, there is no concern that teachings are being directed by political donations. Their mission is to lead church members in the examination and commitment to their religion, not to steer beliefs toward a financial or political incentive.
Even though churches already suggest their political interests to members and, due to public outcry, the IRS has essentially stopped enforcing church-led politics, it should not be legalized and open the door to political money — the same political money that is already ruining fair elections. Church leaders can and do offer their influence, because they can always make their political feelings known outside of church activities.
In addition, it is not a popular idea.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, found that 79 percent of Americans thought it is inappropriate for churches to endorse political candidates. “Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” said McConnell. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”
In that manner, it could also hurt church attendance and financial support from the membership if they become divided over politics. Politics are increasingly being woven into society, and those who take sides, whether it is actors, athletes, or business owners, risk losing or dividing their support. It may even prompt a church split, which unfortunately is already too common in the religious community.
The proposed repeal is noticeably political. In the spirit that nothing is sacred anymore, churches are generally a stronghold of the Republican party, uniting the strange relationship between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Thus, Republicans have a partisan interest in churches endorsing candidates.
Ironically, if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it could backfire on Trump in 2020. As I have mentioned many times, it is difficult for a moral Christian to justify or reconcile the ethics and values of their religion with voting for Trump and his transgressions.
Rob Swindell is a lifelong Lorain County resident offering his opinions on politics, science, and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.