United Church of Christ

619 Township Line Road, East Norriton, PA  19403
"An Open and Affirming Community of Faith"

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For those who pay attention to the news these days, February was the National Prayer breakfast in Washington DC. It was there that the President announced a desire to do away with a portion of the tax code known as the “Johnson Amendment.” Under terms of the 1954 legislation, churches and other nonprofit organizations cannot collect contributions on behalf of political campaigns, or make any statement for or against a particular candidate. Currently under the law, churches can hold nonpartisan voter education activities and voter registration drives are legal. Pastors are free to preach on social and political issues of concern, and congregations can even publish "issue guides" for voters. They simply cannot support specific candidates. In other words, under the Johnson Amendment, churches can be political but not partisan. This is an incredibly important distinction.

In a sense, many Christian teachings are political: they dictate how individuals and communities should behave, make decisions, relate to each other, and share life together. The Bible is full of examples of overtly political stances. For example, the equal treatment of immigrants: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The immigrant who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you… You shall have the same law for the immigrant as for the citizen” (Leviticus 19:33, 24:22). Such passages are overtly political because they affect the laws Christians should have. Many of Jesus’ prophetic teachings were also fairly political. He discussed everything from payment of taxes and distribution of wealth, to care for the poor. As such, it is completely appropriate for modern religious bodies to preach with a prophetic voice that both names God as the source of all salvation, and holds the secular government accountable in the service of the common good. The church is a moral, prophetic voice speaking truth to power as a political outsider, not financially enmeshed in the partisan campaign process.

If the Johnson Amendment were repealed (something only Congress can do), there would be major implications for campaign finance. Churches would suddenly be able to raise money for specific candidates, which is dangerous both for the integrity of houses of worship and our democracy. (History has demonstrated that integrity often suffers when money transfers hands, especially in campaign finance.) Congregations would have to contend with partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. The credibility and integrity of congregations would suffer along with any bad decisions of the candidates they endorsed. Furthermore, churches’ ability to speak truth to power as political outsiders would be threatened. As such, 99 church bodies and denominations – including the National Council of Churches – have signed letters against repeal: “Tying America’s houses of worship to partisan activity demeans the institutions from which so many believers expect unimpeachable decency.” These diverse faith bodies all agree that houses of worship can be political, but not partisan.

For those members concerned about the future implications of any such repeal, rest assured. As pastor, I promise that no matter what becomes of the Johnson Amendment neither I – nor this congregation – will begin endorsing or financing political candidates. To do so would compromise the church’s ability to speak prophetically, and with moral authority, on the social issues of today. We struggle together with moral issues, NOT political parties and candidates!

Pastor Leslie

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