More than any other religious group in the United States, evangelical Christians stand behind pastors who preach politics from the pulpit, according to a recent poll.
The nationwide survey conducted by Morning Consult/Politico last week found that 47 percent of evangelicals in America favor a policy that permits religious groups to take part in political activity – with only 34 percent of evangelicals rejecting the idea.
Other religious groups are not so keen on the idea of applying biblical teachings to pollical issues and candidates before elections.
“By contrast, 54 percent of Catholics and 69 percent of Jews oppose such participation by religious groups,” The Christian Post (CP) reports from the Politico poll.
However, evangelicals are mixed when it comes to endorsing particular candidates for office.
“Forty percent of evangelical voters believe that churches should be permitted to endorse political candidates – a higher figure than all other religious groups polled – while 41 percent said such endorsements should not be allowed,” CP’s Brandon Showalter pointed out.
President Donald Trump addressed the issue on the campaign trail, as well as at a recent Christian event taking place at the nation’s capital.
“Before the election, and most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump repeatedly promised to do away with the Johnson Amendment – a provision in the U.S. tax code that restricts nonprofit groups with a 501(c)3 status from endorsing or opposing political candidates,” Showalter explained.
Argument 1: Don’t mix church and politics
On the other side of the issue, Chelsen Vicari, who serves with the Institute on Religion and Democracy as the director of its Evangelical program, is not too keen on the idea of mixing church with politics, as she believes that the Johnson Amendment serves a purpose.
"I don't want to ignore the real friction between pastors and bureaucrats or secular organizations who might hoist the Johnson Amendment to intimidate churches," Vicari expressed to CP on Tuesday. "But I worry this debate is a distraction from the pressing threats to religious liberty happening abroad, as well as at home. Because what exactly will eliminating the Johnson Amendment gain for the Church? I don't want my pastor or church endorsing political candidates and furthering the politicization of American Christianity."
Touching more on the topic in her book, Distortion: How the New Christian Left Is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith, Vicari realizes that many Christians are called to work in politics, but she also argues that pastors promoting partisanship can have the negative effect of broadening the cultural divide, which, in turn, will hinder the Church’s outreach, she claims.
"The Church is called to proclaim the Gospel, aid the needy and to offer itself as a conscience for society on issues of morality, justice and mercy," the leader of the Washington, D.C.-based organization contended. "History has already taught us that exchanging the Gospel for political zeal partly led to the downfall of the once predominant mainline Protestant establishment in America. This should be a warning to evangelicals."
Argument 2: Mix church and politics
Another nonprofit evangelical Christian group, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), insists that a repeal of the Johnson Amendment – named after former president Lyndon B. Johnson when he was a senator – will greatly benefit American society and work to promote religious freedom and biblical morality.
The Scottsdale, Arizona-based organization has organized its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” movement for about a decade so that pastors can inform their congregations to make biblically sound decisions at the ballot box.
“[For nearly] the first 200 years in America, pastors spoke freely and boldly from their pulpit about the issues of the day, including candidates running for office,” ADF explains on its website. “But in 1954, the passage of one piece of legislation effectively overturned this freedom: The Johnson Amendment."
Being around for more than six decades, the Johnson Amendment is not expected to go away too easily.
“While a popular talking point on the campaign trail, actually doing away with the Johnson Amendment will be a tougher sell, some believe, in that it troubles campaign finance transparency advocates concerned about an even greater flow of money into politics from nonprofit organizations,” Showalter noted.
Politicians protecting the pulpit
Instead of doing away with the controversial legislation altogether, some Republican leaders are looking to get rid of parts of it that hinder church leaders from keeping their congregants informed around election time from a biblical perspective.
“Earlier this month, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act in the House and Senate,” Showalter stated. “The legislation aims to amend the Johnson Amendment to allow churches and pastors to speak and advocate politically from the pulpit without fear of their tax-exempt status being revoked by the IRS.”
Taking a more aggressive stance on the issue, Trump told attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast in the nation’s capital that he will “destroy” the Johnson Amendment in the name of religious liberty.
"It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, 'The God who gave us life, gave us liberty,'” Trump informed the D.C. crowd. “Jefferson asked, 'Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?'"
The commander-in-chief followed up his Jefferson quotes by vowing that he would restore religious freedom as it was intended hundreds of years ago, when the nation was founded.
"Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs,” Trump insisted. “That is why I will get rid of – and totally destroy – the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that – remember."