Originally published in the 2017 Summer Quarterly Explorer
If you follow national politics, you know that the Johnson Amendment is back in the news. If you’re unfamiliar, in 1954, then Sen. Lyndon Johnson sponsored legislation prohibiting churches and other non-profit organizations from participating in political campaigns or supporting or opposing candidates for public office.
A few politicians and interest groups have argued that this amounts to muzzling churches’ right to free speech. I don’t agree—and I’ve gone on record with my disagreement recently in The Christian Century and The Wall Street Journal.
Religious leaders have often spoken to moral and political issues concerning to people of faith. This is not only legal, but right and good. Churches can host candidate forums to speak to issues, encourage voter registration, etc. What we cannot do is to endorse or oppose candidates or use our tax-exempt offerings to contribute to candidates’ campaigns.
The morning of May 4, President Trump signed an executive order to relax these rules. I believe this sets a dangerous precedent. River Road Church, Baptist has always been an active church, engaged in mission work alleviating hunger, visiting those in prison, supporting women in all areas of leadership, building relationships with underprivileged schools, and so much more. These can be political issues to be sure, and if politicians wanted to work on solutions with us, I’m sure we’d be glad to partner together. But what must continue is our refusal to engage in partisanship—that is, encourage our members to vote for certain candidates or parties, or use our offering dollars to fund campaigns.
In a politically-diverse congregation such as ours, to do so would destroy our church fellowship. Could you imagine the business meeting discussion we’d have if we put endorsing a presidential candidate to a church vote? We might as well shut our doors.
Regardless of the new regulations, here’s where I stand. From time to time, I may speak out on an issue concerning to us as people of faith. But I will never use our pulpit to engage in partisan politics. To do so would be a violation of the trust you’ve given me as your pastor and an affront to the God who has called us to be church together.