As a pastor who proudly participated in the Alliance Defense Fund's Pulpit Freedom Sunday on September 28, I am not amazed when members of the mainstream media and groups that routinely oppose Christians in various circles fail to understand what the day was about. Really, that's not surprising. But as a pastor, I am certainly troubled when Christians and the pastors who lead them misunderstand or believe the misnomers and mischaracterizations that abound on this issue. So my hope is to say something that will lead to greater thoughtfulness with regard to free speech from the pulpit.
I wish to be clear from the outset: I have no desire to turn my pulpit into a Christian version of the Chicago political machine. My church will not be writing large checks to candidates, or to anyone else for that matter. We have plenty to do educating Christians about tithing to support the church, let alone political campaigns.
I have no intention of selecting my sermon topics by watching CNN or Fox News. I have no secret dream of becoming President or even running for dog catcher. To suggest, as some have, that somehow we are being seduced by political power or that we are looking to government to be America's "savior" is silliness. And no, the Pulpit Initiative, of which Pulpit Freedom Sunday was a part, is not about encouraging pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit.
The purpose of the Pulpit Initiative is to restore the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit without fear of punishment by the government for doing what pastors do: speak on any number of cultural and societal issues from a biblical perspective. Christians believe that civil government owes its existence to God and is therefore accountable to him to behave righteously in serving the common good. The role of the pastor is and always has been to declare the good news that "our God reigns" (Isa. 52:7).
Currently, the Internal Revenue Service has placed itself in the role of evaluating the content of a pastor's sermon to determine if the message is "political." We need to ask: Where did this authority come from? And more importantly, why should Americans be willing to submit to this unconstitutional power grab without even a whimper? Why are pastors the only people who have allowed the IRS to censor their First Amendment rights to a tax exemption they have enjoyed since the founding of our nation?
Churches are tax-exempt because they are churches, not because the government decided to bless them with a "subsidy." The church is not a profit-making business or individual. It is not getting a pass on taxes; it is simply outside the government's appropriate tax base.
It's time we exploded the false sacred/secular dichotomy that the secularists have conveniently created to silence our message. It's time we stop letting others tell us to keep Jesus inside of the church and out of the world he died to redeem. This is not about promoting political parties or agendas or establishing a "theocracy." It's about our right to bring kingdom principles and solutions to bear on contemporary social problems if we so choose. But it's our choice, not the choice of the IRS.
If we cannot discuss any and all topics, including those the IRS may deem "political," even within our communities of faith, we will become what Martin Luther King, Jr., called an "irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority." Does this not describe the condition of the American church today?
It's time to defend our first liberty, the freedom to preach the Good News of the whole gospel, without fear of IRS censorship or sanction, to a world desperately searching for answers. Simply put, it's time for the church to be the church.
Ron Johnson Jr. is senior associate pastor of Living Stones Fellowship Church in Crown Point, Indiana.
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An MP3 of Johnson's September 28 "Election Sunday" sermon is available at the Living Stones Fellowship Church website.
Religion News Service reported on the pastors' plans to endorse candidates and wrote about Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service.