Christianity,  Politics

Rogue pastors endorse candidates, but IRS looks away

It looks like things might get a little bit dicey. According to a report in Politico, some pastors are daring the government to sue them. Here’s an excerpt:

A record number of rogue Christian pastors are endorsing candidates from the pulpit this election cycle, using Sunday sermons to defiantly flout tax rules.

Their message to the IRS: Sue me.

But the tax agency is doing anything but. Although the IRS was sued itself for not enforcing the law and admitted about 100 churches may be breaking the rules, the pastors and their critics alike say the agency is looking the other way. The agency refuses to say if it is acting.

At the same time, the number of pastors endorsing candidates in what they call Pulpit Freedom Sunday jumped from 33 people in 2008 to more than 1,600 this year, according to organizers, Alliance Defending Freedom. And this year, they’ve stepped up their drive, telling pastors to back candidates any Sunday up until the election, not just one Sunday as in past years.

Read the rest here.


  • Doug Hess

    In general I think pastors should have the freedom to say whatever they want from the pulpit (including political speech) without repercussions from the government. Nevertheless, the idea of pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit concerns me because of Evangelicalism’s historical inability to separate biblical issues (abortion and the family) from non-biblical issues (taxes, gun control, healthcare). This is perfectly illustrated by the unnamed pastor in the Politico article who said “Beauprez is against more gun control, does not support abortion and he does protect the man-woman marriage — that’s the one I’m voting for. … I’m endorsing biblical principles.” We do great injustice to the Gospel when we take Gospel issues such as abortion and weigh them down with our personal opinions on issues that aren’t addressed in Scripture. One can believe the Bible and love Jesus and support higher taxes, tighter gun control, and government healthcare just as easily as they can support the opposite of each of those issues. If pastors are going to bring politics into the pulpit, they need to be very careful to speak only to what Scripture speaks to, and leave everything else for Monday morning.

  • Daryl Little

    Hmmm…I don’t like this. It’s not as though charitable status is a God-given right. The issue, as I see it, isn’t the right of pastors to speak out on multiple topics (although it’s not clear to me that endorsing a candidate is gospel ministry) but whether or not it’s right for churches to receive tax-exempt status on false pretenses.
    If these churches actually were to lose their status, that couldn’t be called persecution (although I get the feeling they would play that card), it would be simply holding them to their word.

    If tax-laws prevent them from endorsing candidates while claiming tax-exempt status, then these churches should be penalized.

    They are in sin.

  • James Bradshaw

    Brilliant. Perhaps the idea is to just allow politicians to funnel their campaign funds through bogus “churches” so they’ll be exempt from taxes.

  • dr. james willingham

    While I might not care for the endorsement of candidates, it is their right as any Baptist historian could tell. Consider this fact: Elijah Craig and the committee which he chaired met with the colonial legislators and made an agreement that in exchange for our freedom to practice our faith, the Baptist ministers would go back to their communities and encourage their young men to enlist in the Patriots’ Cause. Evidently, Elijah was very successful. I found one whole regiment of Craigs (that’s about 2000) in the colonial militia of Virginia during the American Revolution. Where was the IRS then. They didn’t even exist. George W. Truett had Woodrow Wilson speak in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, and why not? After all, Baptists had won the right to take part political in the process due to their support of the American Revolution. I think you need to rethink what you have written along with many other Baptists who have accepted the brainwashing of folks who are about the business of kicking us out of the public arena and our of our freedoms.

  • Ryan Davidson

    The issue here doesn’t seem to be framed correctly.

    The pastors clearly have a right to endorse candidates. That’s not in question. The issue is whether these pastors’ churches will file honest tax returns or not. The violation of federal law isn’t the pastor’s speech; it’s the filing of tax documents that deny that he or she engaged in such speech.

    And the statute of limitations on misrepresentations to the IRS is very long. So, the IRS has plenty of time to sit back and plan its strategy. Of course, if the IRS finds that there has been a misrepresentation, those who donated to these churches will have to pay the taxes they owe for erroneous deductions (at least going back 7 years).

    In my view, this is nothing but a silly stunt by ADF to create a controversy around which to raise money (and siphon more money away from local churches). The Culture War is basically over. If you’re an organization like ADF who makes your money off of fighting skirmishes in the Culture War, that’s bad for business. So, they need to keep creating new fronts in the Culture War, lest they go out of business.

    • Lauren Bertrand

      Good observations. While ADF will inevitably find new fronts, you’re right that their ability to elicit persecution victimhood out of restrictions on pulpit speech is waning. Fundamentally, the pastors who campaign from the pulpit and still claim tax-exempt status as apolitical, charitable organizations are no better than ACORN. It’s fraud.

  • James Stanton

    Can anyone think of a reason why the IRS might be looking away here? I can easily imagine blog headlines… “IRS persecuting pastors and infringing on religious liberty”.

    I recall the IRS being attacked, here and elsewhere, for rightly scrutinizing dark money groups who are pretending to be social-welfare organizations in order to be tax-exempt. Their mistake in that case was that conservative organizations were targeted at much higher rates than progressive organizations.

    • jimwillingham

      The IRS had not business being involved in the religious scene in the other cases. The churches were the supporters of the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson’s attendance at a Baptist Church meeting in the Capital Building tells us something about the fact that he recognized the power and presence of the religious element in the rise of the young Republic.

      • James Stanton

        I’m inclined to agree that IRS doesn’t really need to be concerned about the political speech that goes on inside churches, mosques, synagogues and so on but the law should be enforced on principle and ministers should probably refrain from unnecessary agitation of the kind mentioned in the article.

  • Phil Coulson

    If they go after churches, they’ll need to go after all the tax-exempt labor unions as well. You think pastor preach politics……trying sitting through a labor union meeting. Pastors preaching isn’t even in the same ballpark

  • jimwillingham

    So my ancestors who fought for the right of freedom of religion were wasting their time, because their descendants shall not have the rights to be down right involved in politics. After all, someone’s morality is going to be enforced on others every time a law is passed. According to the Supreme Court in 1792 and 1892 the US is a Christian Nation. Now, if we give up that title (and it seems we have by the thieves who stole America), we deserve what is coming. Our children and grandchildren and, perhaps, we ourselves will find ourselves sin prisons, because our moral outlook does not conform to the new morality. In Europe a pastor was sent to Jail for preaching from the Bible in his own church. Generally, what happens over there gets repeated over here…even down to the idea of getting rid of the unwanted, the old, the infirm, the mentally deficient, the physically deformed and just about anyone some might want to classify as socially acceptable. I have never forgotten seeing the pictures of a Nazi concentration camp taken by a member in my second pastorate. I was his pastor in the mid-sixties, and he had taken the pictures with an old browning box camera during World War. They gave me nightmares.

    • Roy Fuller

      Since when can a “nation” be Christian? Never have we been a Christian nation, but we have, through all of our history, been a nation primarily populated by Christians of many types. The Christian influence though our history has been very significant, and those who complain in the manner listed above are really complaining about “loss of privileged status.” That is a reality to get used to, and might be the best thing to happen to the Christian church in America.

    • Ryan Davidson


      Would you mind providing citations to the cases where the Supreme Court held that the United States is a Christian nation? I’d be interested in reading those cases.

  • Daryl Little


    You’ve made a number of good points but they are all irrelevant to the issue.

    In signing on as a charitable organization, churches have given up a certain right of speech. Sold it, as it were. And legally and not under compulsion.

    They simply decided that it was a better decision to hang on to some money rather than to hang on to certain kinds of speech.

    So the issue has less than nothing to do with the right of an officer of the church to say political things, it has everything to do with their right to say that they won’t (in exchange for cash) and then take the cash and pretend that they didn’t sign on to any such agreement.

    It amounts to theft.

    Would it be so bad for churches to not have tax-exempt status? Not at all. Nothing Biblical about having it, nothing unbiblical about a government refusing to grant it.

    Let’s not make this a free speech issue. It isn’t. Any more than giving trade secrets to your boss’s competitor.

  • dr. james willingham

    Baloney! Daryl, the right of endorsement, the right to take part in the political process of the day is just as much a right of the church and the pastor as it is for anyone else and, if not more so, the fact that they backed the Revolution and encouraged the young men in their community to enlist in the patriots cause is proof positive that the IRS has no business and never had any in the matter of churches and the political process, even if the latter make a mess of things. The electorate can straighten that out, but the IRS will only do what it is told by the political powers that be at that time. Just as LBJ had the law passed in order to get even with some preachers who gave him a hard time in an election in Texas. Go back and check your facts. For a while the IRS did not know quite what to do with that new law, but finally they came to the point where they would seize church property and deal rather harshly with ministers for taking part as they saw fit in the political processes of the day. And being descended from those who fought for the freedom, I do not intend to give it up without a struggle.

  • Daryl Little

    Dr. Willingham,

    Again, I take your point about freedom, but there is a line related to taxes that churches need to consider.
    It is necessary (or even desirable) that churches remain tax-free? Not at all. I mean the money is nice, but the resultant “beholden to the government” that comes of it is beginning to get in the way.

    At the end of the day, the law is the law. And it’s not like it’s a new one.

  • dr. james willingham

    I thought I had written and had hit post, but apparently it did not get through. I wish to reply to you Daryl that not only do I not agree with you, I consider your view inimical to the freedom of religion. The reason? The power to tax is the power to destroy. To put it more acceptably, it is the power to control. Karl Marx was one of those who advocated progressive income tax as one route to accomplish his nefarious plans for world communism. I had the questionable privilege to set under one of the theoreticians of world communism at a small Midwestern school in the sixties. Our son would encounter that gentleman’s writings in a course on Marxian theorists in his second year of college in 1990. You really should read Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, Cleon Skousen’s the Naked Capitalist, Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness, Tony Brown’s Empower The People, and a multitude of other works which have identified the forces at work in America, forces that are backed by some the largest financial institutions in America, the same folks who had a hand in what occurred in the Communist countries.

    If the Baptists had not supported the American Revolution, do you think Thomas Jefferson would have attended a Baptist Church meeting in the capital building of this nation’s government? Do you think for one instance that my ancestors would have fought for anything that wanted to control the Christian Faith? And I should mentioned many, many more who were of the same persuasion and commitment,. I am tired, due to age, but I am fully aware of the fact that certain folks want us to put our religion inside the four walls of a church building and keep it there. They do not want us to bring our faith out into the public arena, into the market place of ideas. Worse things are coming down the road, if we do not wake up. And I dare say, unless I am badly mistaken, that the conservative vote for the Republicans will be sorely disappointed by the seemingly endless frustrations of one kind or another which we shall encounter.

    • James Stanton

      Dr. James

      There are very few people in the US who care about what Karl Marx thought or about communism. The progressive income tax has nothing to do with the tax-exempt nature of churches which existed before the advent of the income tax. We could have a flat tax and people could still propose eliminate the tax exemption.

      • jimwillingham

        Dear James: How many Marxists occupy positions on our faculties around the nations, faculties of great institutions? And who backs Marxism financially, etc.? Ignorance is bliss until the truth smashes into us like a concrete wall. Besides, the aim seems to be to reduce the population by 5.5 billion people. A good revolution would accomplish a great deal of this.

        • Lauren Bertrand

          How many Marxists? Very few that profess it–certainly they’re far more coy about their far-left views than you are with your far-right views. James Stanton is absolutely right: the choice here is to forgo certain speeches for the convenience of special privileges from the government. Evoking the Revolution simply because it predates the IRS is disingenuous; the Revolution quite logically predates the organization of the Armed Forces and other taxpayer supported organizations we all depend upon.

    • Daryl Little

      Only two things to add here.

      1. The ministry of the pulpit, that is the ministry of the gospel, is not a political ministry. As soon as that happens, the gospel gets hijacked around election time or anytime the government does something particularly egregious.

      2. As soon as the church “needs” the government to do anything, they church has become it’s slave.

      OK, three points…

      3. America is not and has never been, a Christian country (nor has my home, Canada), despite what way too many people believe. There is no manifest destiny or divine right of kings (to cover both sides of the Atlantic). So why do churches feel the need to break the law (yes, the law, which Scripture tells us all to obey) in order to proclaim from the pulpit something they’ve not been authorized by God to proclaim?

      We forget who we are. We are not Canadian or American first, we are Christians. so preach to gospel, pay your taxes (like Peter and Jesus did) and stop complaining when the government provides rule for charities as if any of us have a God-given right to be identified as a charity.

      We are not charities, we are God’s people are we not?

      Oh and…a fourth point…

      Despite the reality that the west is democratic and Rome was a monarchy (kind of), it remains true that things like the gladiatorial “games” were stopped by the will of the people. Yet Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (who knew all of this) never mentions any of that. Why? Because God knows (and Paul’s writing bears it out) that the church has a very specific work and calling, and it is not social engineering of any kind.

      It is the gospel.

  • Johnny Mason

    So this idea that because churches are tax exempt, it means that they are beholden to the state is a very odd argument and one not in line with history. It’s an argument that falls flat once you think about it.

    But first lets deal with the issue of churches and 501(c)3 status. If you are a 501(c)3, it does not mean that you cannot be political. It only means that their are certain political restrictions, primarily that the majority of your “business” cannot be political in nature. Of course, this is very vague and fuzzy and because of this, it is very rare for the IRS or govt to go after a 501(c)3 organization for political activity. To give an example, both the NRA and NAACP are 501(c)3 organizations, and they are far from being politically neutral. They are very political. Much more so than any Church or pastor who occasionally gives a political sermon.

    Second, churches do not even need this status, because they are exempt by their very nature. Any state that would levy a tax on a church would be in violation of the 1st Amendment. It is a violation of religious liberty.

    The State and the Church are separate sovereigns. If a church were to be taxed by the state, then it would be subservient to the taxing authority. It would be subservient to the state, because if it did not pay the tax or was late or did not meet some standard set by the taxing authority, then the state could abolish or destroy that church. The State’s sovereignty would be infringing on the Church’s sovereignty. This separation of sovereignty is why one state cannot tax another, why the state of New York does not tax the property owned by the United Nations, and why foreign embassies are not taxed.

    Finally, In Walz v. Tax Commission the Supreme Court ruled that tax exemption for religious institutions does not violate the 1st Amendment and even stated that the church’s “uninterrupted freedom from taxation” has “operated affirmatively to help guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief.”

  • Daryl Little

    “Second, churches do not even need this status, because they are exempt by their very nature. Any state that would levy a tax on a church would be in violation of the 1st Amendment. It is a violation of religious liberty. ”

    Well that’s an argument I’ve never heard. How are churches sovereign? We do not live in Christendom.

  • dr. james willingham

    I failed to answer a number of the above correspondents or respondents due to an internet failure or a failure on the part of my computer. However, I would like to reply to James above about the few people who care about Karl Marx and his views. The problem is that the few people are individuals joined in a conspiracy to promote such an understanding. Forty years ago an author wrote a book in which he accused one of the leading financial figures in America of being a member of a conspiracy to promote Marxism/Communism. In the nineties that figure wrote a memoir in which he admitted that he was the member of such a cabal and proud of it. Best always to go to the horse’s mouth, when possible, to find out what is really taking place or to understand what is taking place.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.