When the US Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that the IRS could revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University (BJU) over the school’s segregationist policies, Christianity Today joined many other Christian organizations in protest, warning that churches that bar women pastors or ministries that oppose abortion could be next.

“It is not time to take to the streets,” Kenneth Kantzer wrote in an editorial. “But Christians must reverse their tactics of the last 75 years and once again actively seek to penetrate our society and persuade men and women to espouse our basic biblical values. If we fail to do so, we shall bit by bit lose our precious heritage of freedom and eventually find ourselves a persecuted people.”

At least some CT readers disagreed. “The Supreme Court acted as [God’s] minister (Rom. 13) in striking down racial discrimination and partiality that have no place in the Body of Christ,” wrote John Teets. “As long as Jesus wants it, we will have tax deductions, and when he doesn’t, we will be the better for it.”

James Sennett agreed: “Where is it written that religious institutions have an inalienable right to tax exemption at all?” Cal Thomas, then with the Moral Majority, disagreed with CT from the other side of things. Christians, he said, should take to the streets to demand BJU’s tax exemption: “We have sought comfort rather than confrontation with the world, and that is the major reason the world does not respect or listen to us.”

As I was reading how support for BJU had divided white and black Christians, tax exemption was becoming an issue in the presidential primary debates. The candidate who proposed stripping ...

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