This week’s example of preachers unwisely straying from their commission to preach what God has revealed in his Word comes to us from Wayne Grudem:
This Sunday I have agreed to join nearly 1,500 pastors nationwide and participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom. In my sermon, I plan to recommend that people vote for one presidential candidate and one political party that I will name. We will then all send our sermons to the IRS.This action is in violation of the 1954 “Johnson Amendment” to the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing any candidate by name. But in our nation, a higher law than the IRS code is the Constitution, which forbids laws “abridging freedom of speech” or “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion (First Amendment).
I fully understand that many pastors might never want to endorse a candidate from the pulpit (I have never done so before and I might never do so again). But that should be the decision of the pastors and their churches, just as it was in 1860 when many pastors (rightly) decided they had to tell citizens to vote for Abraham Lincoln in order to end the horrible evil of slavery. When the government censors what pastors can preach, I think it is an unconstitutional violation of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Because tax regulations cannot be challenged in court unless someone is first found in violation by the IRS, it seems to me that intentionally disobeying for the purpose of bringing the issue into the court system is a way of being “subject to the governing authorities” as Rom. 13:1 tells us to do. This is the only way under our “governing authorities” that a tax law can be challenged in court for being in violation of our Constitution.
The first problem with Grudem’s analysis: the denial of a certain tax treatment is not the same as censoring. Any pastor can endorse a political candidate if he unwisely wishes to do so. The cost for doing so is not incarceration or a muzzle but a possible change in tax status.
The other problem is Grudem’s armchair lawyering. Has Grudem read Branch Ministries v. Rossotti? How about a law review article or two on the subject? Both of these sources are against his position and suggest that it would be an uphill battle to establish a constitutional violation. But if he hasn’t read these and doesn’t have a law degree, there’s a real issue as to his competence to say anything at all about the subject. So I was wondering why he feels confident enough to do it. But then I forgot – if you have the right worldview, you can analyze anything, at least to the satisfaction of other worldview devotees. (Google “Wayne Grudem” and “worldview.”)