Ironically, the Johnson Amendment does not prevent me from critiquing the executive order on religious liberty. The section of the order which refers to the rarely enforced Johnson Amendment seems to be mostly lip service. Since 1954, it has rarely been enforced even when it has been violated. How congress addresses or does not address religious liberty issues and how courts interpret any actions on religious liberty would have much more affect.
A bit of education on the Johnson Amendment seems necessary. It is not the boogie man it has been made out to be. The Johnson Amendment does prevent the official endorsement of a candidate or the financial support of a candidate’s campaign by a church or similar non-profit. As a pastor, I’ve never felt my religious liberty was infringed upon by the Johnson Amendment. I have always been free to express my appreciation or displeasure with an elected official, political issues, laws, or legislation. I can do that from the pulpit, in writing, or any other official capacity without endangering the tax status of Madison Heights Baptist Church. I have tried to exercise that freedom responsibly and sparingly. I pray I have done that well. God forgive me if I have not.
Though rarely enforced, to do away with the Johnson Amendment would open the door for the creation of partisan churches. If some churches choose to endorse or financially support particular candidates, the Church of Jesus Christ would be further fractured through the creation of GOP churches and DNC churches. Do we really want a church to be known as the Democrat Church or the Republican Church? Based on what parishioners have told me, I know members of my congregation voted for at least three different candidates for President. Madison Heights Baptist Church is a beautifully diverse congregation, both theologically and politically. During this most recent and divisive election season, I continually encouraged them to stay unified in their shared faith. They did that, and I love them for it.
I am grateful that my connections to the larger Baptist world have similarly spoken out against this executive order. John Upton, Executive Director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, said yesterday “I’m saddened by today’s executive order.” Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, wrote “Partisan politics have no place in our pulpits. In fact, it’s the absence of that very thing — partisan politics — that gives us the power to speak with moral authority on issues of the day.” Click the links above to find their full statements.
Regardless of this executive order or any congressional or judicial response, the pulpit at Madison Heights Baptist Church will be used for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, not to campaign for a candidate. The gifts placed in the offering plate will be used to finance ministry and mission in the name of Jesus, not for filling the coffers of any candidate’s campaign fund.
But still, let’s keep the Johnson Amendment.