Churches shouldn’t endorse candidates, even if the law allowed

In wake of the impending repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the question of Priests or Churches endorsing candidates takes on new light. I present arguments against endorsement on Crux today.

File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

A new tax bill working its way through Congress might change the way religious institutions can engage in politics.

President Donald Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, said, “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

Now, a little history: The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954 to prevent nonprofits from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates. It applies to 501(c)3 organizations which include most churches, schools, amateur sports leagues, and works of charity helping the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

The Republican members of the House of Representatives are now writing Trump’s proposed changes into their big new tax overhaul.

The question arises whether churches should continue to follow Johnson’s rules if it is repealed? I think so.

Churches should stand strong on moral issues, but Church leaders should never endorse specific candidates for political office. The Catholic Church even includes staying out of political parties as a duty for priests in Canon Law (287.2).

John Beal’s commentary on this number in Canon Law notes the contingent nature of politics and how they can never give a fully adequate interpretation of the Gospel as reasons priests should stay at arm’s length from politics.

Beal notes that clerics can be members of political parties but are forbidden to take an active part. Thus, a priest can be a registered voter and vote in primaries but shouldn’t go knocking on doors or put a sign on his lawn.

Even though I come at this from a Catholic perspective, I think the same reasons to stay at arm’s length apply to Protestant ministers, rabbis, and imams.

Read the rest on Crux.

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