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The Church must not avoid politics

The church in America has avoided politics for too long, and thus let government disobey God’s Law. It’s time to resume political discussion.

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The Church of Christ faces a crisis as grave as what she faced at her beginning in Imperial Rome. But the fathers of the Church would not recognize that body today. Nor would the clergy who, during the American War for Independence, often carried weapons under their robes. Because the Church has abandoned its calling, by trying to avoid conflict. Not only is this an apostate, blasphemous, and heretical stand, but it can end in only one way. That way lies the destruction of the Church, and the American polity she played a part in making.

How the Church avoids its calling

The Bible – particularly the book called “The Doings of the Sent-out ones” (Praxeis Apostolon, or in Latin, De Actibus Apostolorum – Of the Acts of the Apostles, or simply, “Acts”) – tells us of the often violent resistance the early Church faced. Indeed one of her greatest enemies became one of her most famous leaders: Paul of Tarsus. But even before him, Peter of Galilee made this bold statement to the religious authorities of his day:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge. Acts 4:19, NASB

Peter gave heed to God – and after Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, Paul gave heed to Him also. But today the Church does not give heed to God, but instead gives heed to human politicians. That’s bad enough, but they are giving heed to the worst sort of politicians. They are like Ahab in Elijah’s day, or the two kings named Jehoahaz in the Southern Kingdom, or Kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah in Jeremiah’s day. God calls His Church to fulfill the roles the prophets played, especially Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. But instead, senior clergy and lay officers (called deacons in some churches, and wardens and vestry members in others) enforce a rule no Biblical scribe ever wrote down – an alleged Eleventh Commandment that reads,

Thou shalt not discuss matters of political import while in church or at church functions.

That is the biggest mistake any Church officer – or member of its donor class – ever made. A Democratic politician once complained that too many voters (from his point of view) got their information from “the pulpit on Sunday.” If that were true, American history would be quite different.

Does the civil law forbid political activity?

Then-Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas), in 1954, changed the Tax Code to forbid churches to endorse or oppose political candidates. This Johnson Amendment today stands as the only not-totally-lame excuse the “no-politics” crowd has to offer. Interestingly, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to repeal that part of the Tax Code. He also signed an Executive Order somewhat weakening its enforcement. That could be part of the reason the excuse-makers are lining up behind “Never Trump” Republican Presidential candidates today.


The Johnson Amendment affects Section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code – the one dealing with public charities. These charities receive tax-deductible contributions. (Organizations certified under Section 501(c)(4) do not receive tax-deductible contributions and are not subject to this rule.)

Lyndon Johnson made his Amendment in bad faith. He knew the churches would never endorse him either to stay in the Senate or to hold any other office. So let no one say the Johnson Amendment is just. Of course we should repeal it. And that might not even be necessary. A church has standing under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. If current “case law” says it forfeits that by ceasing to be politically neutral, that is only because no one has had the courage to argue the matter before the present Supreme Court.

The real reason, apart from excuses

To understand the real reason current ostensible and behind-the-scenes church leaders give for their no-politics rule, one must first understand who these people are. They start, first, with the donor class. Every church has one. Ideally the donor class should be the same as the congregation – but sadly, all too often, that is not so. Instead, a relative handful of people provide all the financial support for the church. These are the real leaders of the church. What they say, goes, and they let the clergy and the lay leaders (deacons, wardens, vestry, etc.) know this.

For that reason, too many pastors (or rectors) acquiesce in this rule. So do the lay leaders – many of whom are themselves members of the donor class. A church whose major donors reserve to themselves all the lay leadership positions is not a Biblical church. This is not even to say that every deacon, or every warden or vestry member, is a donor – but only that the donors hand pick these officers. These officers soon learn that they must enforce the donors’ rules, or they lose their offices.

So why do these people forbid political discussion? Some might genuinely believe that the strength of a congregation is its numerical size. So they must forbid that which might drive people away. Others do it because they, themselves, support civil government officers who violate God’s law, both personally and in their conduct in and of office, and encourage fellow officeholders to do the same.


Church, stand against the evil!

In The Colorado Free Press, Cynthia Alderman wrote a two-part article (see Parts One and Two) discussing the problem. Of all the paragraphs in that series, this is the most relevant:

My heart grieves as I see pastors unwilling to even mention the unborn children being murdered or the children being sexually trafficked or trafficked by the schools by pressuring the children into gender mutilation stating “it’s political” or “they don’t want to create conflict”’ within their congregation. How is standing and protecting what God loves and hating what He hates political? According to Romans 9:9 while our love is to remain genuine, are we called to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good? When we stand against the government so parents do not lose their God given rights to “raise up a child in the way he should go” or when we make a stand against the murder of unborn children is not this part of hating the evil? We can love the individuals, but we are NOT commanded to tolerate the evil.

So those who recognize the evil, must stand against it. This is what CNAV meant by saying, “Christians, don’t blow your chance!” We said then, and we say again: one does not win by defense, but by attack and counterattack. The Supreme Court handed down three precedents in its 2021 Term of which good churches must avail themselves:

Of the three, Carson v. Makin is the most important. It says governments may not disfavor churches in handing out largesse for any particular reason or purpose. So it’s time for churches to sue away all laws that mandate such discrimination. That also means suing away all remaining Blaine Amendments, which lie at the heart of the discrimination the Court forbade in Carson.

The Bible gives no reason to object to such a course. But of course a Big Donor Class will object. One doesn’t like to think that anyone who goes to church is actually copacetic with abortion – but many are. Tolerating that is the most common sin by the “no-politics-in-church” crowd. But some might tolerate worse evils – like the surgical mutilation and hormonal poisoning that many call “gender affirming care.”

What’s the worst that can happen?

Cynthia Alderman reminded her readers that Jesus Himself warned His disciples to expect excommunication for sharing His Good News. That’s what happened, of course; see Acts 4:19. (See also the Anathema that several young men swore, binding themselves to kill Paul of Tarsus.)

But what is the worst one can expect today? CNAV will illustrate. Say you propose a Carson v. Makin lawsuit. Or say you propose something that ought not be controversial – like arranging a special screening of Sound of Freedom.


So then a deacon(ess) says to you, “Stop right there. We are in Sunday school, and you are talking politics.” Never mind that you might not then be endorsing a political candidate – do not let them move the goalpost! If that is how they wish to define politics, let it stand – and confront it head-on.

Say back, “It’s about time somebody did.”

No doubt that person will be aghast at such effrontery. He or she will shriek at you, “Now, WAIT A MINUTE!”

When that happens, say right back, “YOU wait a minute!” And proceed to explain why “talking politics” is not only permissible but required of a good church.

And if anyone dares tell you, “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, OR THERE’S THE DOOR!”, walk through the door. Walk through it and never darken it again.


May God preserve us – and may God preserve the United States – from donor-driven churches whose donors forbid political discussion. Again: it’s about time that discussion resumed.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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