Is There a Need Today to Protect Freedom of Speech in America’s Pulpits?

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Those who argue Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a “free-speech issue” are ignoring reality. In truth, churches are trying to keep a financially protected, tax-free status granted by the American government — both state and federal.

There is no “free-speech issue” here. Any church in America has full freedom of political speech now. This includes urging people to vote for particular candidates, handing around political petitions for signing, and any other political action short of sedition, insurgence, or civil disorder.

I’ve pastored a church for over 30 years. When I started it, I applied for a non-profit, corporate status (both state and fed) and have greatly appreciated the tax-free status it’s given for our congregation and myself over these three decades.

But from the moment I applied for that non-profit (tax free) status, I clearly understood that I was making a deal with the government. I was exchanging the ability for our congregation to be politically active as a church and the free speech involved with political activity. My agreement with the government (in order to acquire a financially profitable, tax-free status) included a commitment to refrain from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of [or opposing] any candidate for elective public office.” The congregants and I decided that the primary work of this particular church would not be political and would not be hindered by that exclusion. For thirty years, we have never found that promise restricting our ministry to evangelizing the lost or preaching the gospel at any time or in any fashion.

Churches used to be the primary means of helping care for the poor and needy in our nation’s communities. It’s an inexpensive “solution” for a government to relieve such charitable organizations from the burden of taxation, allowing them more resources for their beneficial activities and thus lifting that burden from government as a whole.

Even though many churches are still a powerful means in local settings for such social care, there are countless churches which offer very few charitable programs, but focus activities into primarily building and strengthening their own religious empires. (And, “no”, I don’t believe that mere religious activities are necessarily beneficial to any given community…)

If any church feels that — in order to fulfill their ministry calling — they must become involved politically, all they have to do is revoke their tax-free status. Voila! They’ve got their “freedom-of-speech” back.

Jesus, in His day as He ministered throughout Palestine, needed no such support from the existing government of His day as most churches in America seem to need. As a person reads the gospel accounts of how Jesus lived and the standards He upheld, any financial agreement with any of the rulers (be they Jewish or Roman) would not only have been absurd but repugnant. This suggests that if the American government needs reformation, that reformation will not come through religious organizations who feel entitled to this financial protectionism from the government through tax avoidance.

Preachers! Want your “bully pulpit” and the “freedom of political speech”?

Step away from government assistance — cut the cords of financial protectionism and preach to your heart’s content.

Of else, accept the restrictions on free-speech engendered by your financial pact with the government… and stick to preaching the Good News of Jesus — especially through acts of Christ’s love and mercy.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site...

EmDog

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