According to CBN, this Sunday is being declared by over 100 pastors as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” If you don’t know what that means, here’s a ridiculously short explanation:
Churches don’t have to pay taxes because, in theory, they perform a public service. Because the government does not tax religion, it has no authority in the day-to-day religious operation. Also, it means that religion cannot have a say-so in the day-to-day government operation (i.e. campaigning or endorsing one candidate over another). Many pastors feel this violates their right to free speech, and are staging “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” to express their political viewpoints, despite the risk of losing their tax exempt status.
There are lots of issues and viewpoints here. Most people agree that if a government agency is paying you to do something, you should be held accountable by someone to make sure that you are doing the agreed upon task. Wouldn’t it make sense to require the same of a tax exempt organization? I am willing to go out on a limb and say that there are many more churches that receive tax-free status than there are churches who actually venture out into the community to serve the common good. If the reason they are exempt is because they are serving the broader community, shouldn’t community service be a requirement?
The primary issue is whether or not churches and pastors should involve themselves in politics at all. Personally, I don’t even mention politics with people at church because as a pastor, people attribute a certain authority to what I say (whether it is deserved or not). I would not dare to use that authority to imply that God endorses one party or one candidate over another. I believe that there is too much gray in the world to proclaim from the pulpit that black is better than white, or vice versa. Of course, all of this is my preference, and there are thousands and thousands of more experienced ministers that would likely disagree with me on every point.
Bottom line, I like having tax exempt status as a church. However, I think we should earn it- after all, don’t most conservatives consider handouts unAmerican and socialistic? I also don’t mind a pastor who wants to endorse a candidate or party (although I think it’s a misuse of authority). However, I would hope that if he wants to get involved with the political process, then he wouldn’t be upset if the government wanted to be involved in his process- or at least revoke his tax free status.
Like everyone else in the country, pastors actually do have the right to free speech. Also like everyone else in the country, though, some speech has consequences. May we all realize that free speech isn’t synonymous with “consequence-free speech.”
I’d actually love to get a lot of feedback on this one. If you are a pastor, do you feel like your church deserves tax-exempt status? Why or why not? If you are a normal church-goer, how do you feel about your pastor weighing in on political issues and elections?