It really had nothing to do with tax reform, and had no business being slipped into the tax reform bill.
I’m speaking of President Trump’s soulless promise to political Christians that he would repeal the Johnson Amendment – a tax law that prohibits churches and other non-profit organizations from acting as campaign bases for politicians.
The repeal of the amendment was tucked inside the new tax bill, and on Thursday, the Senate blocked that language, effectively rejecting a repeal.
Trump had his evangelical political clingers in the Oval Office on Monday, to allow for them to lavish him with praise for making a public announcement of a 22-year old policy, by saying the U.S. embassy in Israel should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He got an award for something that Bill Clinton signed. Great.
While there, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder, Ralph Reed, chimed in on the Johnson Amendment.
“‘We are totally for this, we are 100% on board, but they need to hear from you, these conferees need to hear from you,’” Reed recounts Trump telling him, referencing the bill’s conference committee members, who are hammering out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the tax bill.
Trump reminded Reed that he had signed an executive order in May relaxing prohibitions on political organizing by religious groups. But since Congress determines any actual change to the law, Trump expressed concern that a future Democratic administration could just as easily roll back his executive orders, as he has done with Obama’s.
That’s right. Executive orders are a temporary fix, at most. And please, give us a list of religious groups that also act as political organizers, so we’ll know which reprobate organizations to avoid.
Reed apparently walked out and got his teams on the job, in order to push for this repeal of the Johnson Amendment to make it through with the tax bill it was attached to.
Faith and Freedom targeted each conferee’s office with hundreds of phone calls. They also enlisted support from individuals close to the members. “We had megachurch pastors and leading businessmen reaching out to them, in private meetings, and regular phone calls, in texts,” Reed says. “We left it all on the field.”
Reed says he was confident they had the votes to include the language in the conference committee’s version of the tax bill. But because the Senate is using a special budgetary procedure to try to pass the tax bill, the Senate parliamentarian must rule that every part of the bill has a budgetary effect. Thursday night, she ruled that the repeal of the Johnson Amendment did not qualify.
“We always knew that this was a danger,” Reed says of the decision, which he describes as “erroneous and dead wrong.”
“We are exploring various options for a workaround,” he says.
Trump also took his concerns about getting the Johnson Amendment repealed to his loyal lackey, Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of my alma mater, Liberty University.
At a White House Christmas party, they privately discussed concerns that the repeal would be struck down, on grounds that it would provide a backdoor for charities to donate to political organizations.
Falwell blames Trump’s evangelical advisors for not addressing that concern. He suggests there be a limit to how much nonprofits could spend on lobbying or supporting a political candidate, perhaps pegged to a percentage of their gross revenue. “Maybe 5% or less,” Falwell says.
“If Liberty has $1.5 billion in reserves, there would be a problem if we were allowed to use that to support a political candidate,” he says. “We have to work that out.”
This is your concern?
Not food and clothing banks, community outreach, or doing the work the church is supposed to do? To give unselfishly, provide for those in need, and be an example of godly grace and love to a dark and dying world?
“The provision would have allowed partisan campaign activity to permeate tax-exempt organizations, transforming them from charitable entities into quasi-campaign groups,” says Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United. “People could have donated money to a church or charity and claimed a tax deduction for it, even if that money were used to promote or attack a candidate.”
To be fair, we’ve seen liberal “churches” doing that for years, with no apparent repercussions. That’s because they’re not real houses of worship, but dens of earthly inequity and monuments to the failed systems of men.
This is something that may seem unfair to other churches and non-profits that are looking on, but in matters of faith, know that their time is short, while the purpose of the church must be eternity-focused.
What Falwell is hoping to see happen is not only worldly focused, having nothing to do with what our churches are supposed to represent, but it would give the IRS broad powers to examine the books of churches and nonprofit organizations.
How is that a good thing? How does that further “religious freedom,” as Trump has so wrongly labeled this repeal of the Johnson Amendment?
Falwell maintains that getting a Senate full of “real Republicans” is the key to weaponizing religion for political purposes.
All the more reason to walk away from the so-called “real” Republicans, while avoiding the Democrats like the plague.
Last year shortly before the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland, Trump called Falwell to personally tell him that the 2016 Republican Party platform would include the repeal of Johnson Amendment. “He thinks it is going to be a revolution in the Christian world,” Falwell told TIME last summer.
In 2012, Democrats booed the mention of God as part of the party platform three times.
This would be the equivalent of that, not because the Johnson Amendment is a holy piece of legislature, but because the focus of turning churches into houses of politics is ungodly and corrupts the purpose.
Social conservatives, and in particular Trump’s white evangelical supporters, have long advocated for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. This year the effort has been one of their top policy priorities, along with nominating a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, repealing the Affordable Care Act, defunding Planned Parenthood and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. At the end of Trump’s first year in office, one of those five goals has been fully realized, and the second — moving the embassy — has been announced but is expected to take years to enact.
That’s another issue that won’t be resolved by politics.
I’ve said repeatedly that the Johnson Amendment should be left alone. It’s an amendment that never should have been made, in the first place.
It is the people of faith who need to be the gatekeepers for the church, not the government.
It is the people of faith who need to keep their houses of worship holy and in line with their purpose. That the American evangelical base has, for so very long, been too spiritually weak to keep two kingdoms separate should grieve the spirit of every believer.
Matthew 20:20-21 NASB – “And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”