The Church is the most powerful agency for political and civil leadership in the country. This is why the IRS has demanded that 501(c)3 non-profit churches agree to the following: “No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the corporation shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”
Some may argue that the IRS restriction is built upon the concept of “Separation of Church and State.” However, there is no reason to assume that the “Separation of Church and State” has anything to do with the Church being silenced. It has everything to do with the “State” staying out of the affairs of the Church. This false assumption has poorly influence pastors and church leaders when indeed they are called upon to effect change and/or maintain a standard of leadership in the public square.
Please notice that the regulation begins with the words “No substantial part.” This would be best understood as suggesting that the majority of the work of the church is not political or legislative. We would agree! However, most churches interpret this to mean “No part,” not “No substantial part.” Therefore, a portion of the activity of the church may indeed involve “carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation.”
The Church is (generally speaking) the numerically largest member body of persons in the country. The Church is therefore an agency or group of people with the numerically largest group of voters in the nation—and we should be active as “salt and light” in this republic. Moreover, we must be a voice—not just in the country, but also in our state, county and city. Therefore, a church with good information and strong leadership can literally change or maintain legislation and direction. We as believers can, in the most positive way, secure for our communities and for our nation the greatest possible candidates for office. Men and women who hold a biblical standard and properly represent the people are called to serve, and develop or maintain law designed to honor the Lord. However, many pastors and church leaders are afraid to use their God-given positions to influence legislation and leadership—as if it is an unimportant stewardship exercised by the Christian.
There is little difference between being a good steward of our finances or material possessions and good stewardship over the “house” we live in: America. Although pastors and church leaders have little or no problem talking to their congregations about money, marriage, family life, moral values, behavior, etc. inside the building, many shrink back when it comes to community, state, or national leadership. Churches and their pastors are not only privileged with the blessing of communicating the Good News, but are also responsible for proclaiming and maintaining truth. This would include moral values and Biblical principles.
One might suggest that the maintenance of truth and moral or Biblical principles should only apply within the local church family—but where do we read this? I see no Biblical mandate suggesting that our country, influenced and developed under the rule of the Judeo/Christian ethic, should be allowed to deteriorate into a pagan or humanistic society simply to comply with a so-called prohibition.
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The second phrase in the agreed upon regulation says, “and the corporation shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Herein note that the regulation does not say that a church cannot distribute a voter guide that includes several or all candidates. It also does not suggest that a church cannot encourage voting or even help with voter registration. Therefore, once again I suggest that church leaders should help the members of their congregations obtain good information and act accordingly. Moreover, a pastor can endorse or promote a candidate. A church cannot (per se’), but the pastor is not the church. He is a man with an opinion.
I believe that our stewardship in the political and legislative arena is a mandate—not an optional part of our practice of faith. This may not be the case where believers are born or raised in a country that does not share our foundational principles. We are a republic. The fact that the leadership (and the people) in Israel neglected their God-given commands was the cause of great distress, tragedy, and discipline in their land. It has and will be the cause of demise in our land too.
Pastors must take up the call and encourage the members of their congregations to be active participants in the stewardship of their cities, counties, states, and nation. Anything less is to teach negligence. No pastor would suggest that a member of their community neglect the care and upkeep of their home, automobiles, etc. Neither should we suggest the neglect of our governance.
Finally, even if the above explanations are insufficient in the minds of our leadership teams and/or among pastors, I would remind us all that the 501(c)3 designation is unnecessary altogether, and if it is an impediment to following Biblical mandates, it should be relinquished for the sake of our call.
Today we face unprecedented decline in the American culture. This is no time to walk away from our duty. We have a powerful voice, and we must act upon our moral responsibility. The Church is certainly the most powerful agency for political/civil leadership in the country.
Paul D. Van Noy, Pastor
Candlelight Christian Fellowship
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho