The president just signed an Executive Order that, according to the Washington Times:
…is aimed at easing an IRS provision that prohibits churches from directly opposing or endorsing political candidates. The action will direct the IRS to immediately “exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden” of the so-called Johnson Amendment, a tax provision dating from 1954.
Pay close attention to quotation from the order in that excerpt. The Johnson Amendment is not overturned, the IRS is simply instructed to be as lax as legally reasonable in its enforcement of the amendment. No law is changed, the Constitution is not somehow overturned, nor is a hole poked in the “wall” that separates church and state. All that has happened here is the exercise of discretion on the part of the enforcing agency. Happens every day in all sorts of areas. But to read the news you would think the Constitution has been shredded and used as fertilizer in the Rose Garden.
The Hill reports that the litigation is waiting. They discuss the issue with the attorney for the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” who said something actually extraordinarily penetrating:
“This will turn every church into a political action committee,” he said.
That potential exists and it frightens me.
Effective political action is a massive effort involving very large sums of money – raised money – and enormous planning, strategizing and attention in the use of those resources. So overwhelming can the project be that it becomes all consuming. If one is not careful the political action can overwhelm the fundamental function of the organization that it seeks to aid – especially in the age of big government. There actually is a danger of a church becoming a PAC.
Does that mean we do not want the freedom restored to us? Of course not. But it does mean we need to be deeply rooted so as not to forget our primary function. It also means that we need to remember that “there are many gifts.” There are those in the church good at political action and a whole bunch not so good at it, because they are really good at other things the church does, and needs to do. This activity needs to be left to those that are good at it and it should not be allowed to take resources from those doing equally important work in other areas.
God changes politics, but God is not about politics. This Executive Order presents the church with many opportunities – not all of them good. Wisdom is needed to avoid the bad ones. As we thank God for this action on the part of the president, we should also ask Him for the wisdom to put it to good use.