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The Tragedy of the Non-Profit Church
9 November 2008
The recent elections highlighted the tragic compromise that the American Church has entangled itself in. There was a very clear moral difference between McCain and Obama. Yet pastors were afraid to speak out because it might endanger their 501c3 tax-exempt status.
A couple of weeks before the election, I read an e-mail from a well-known ministry leader in America regarding the election. At the bottom of the e-mail, he made this statement:
Due to IRS rules, this letter is from me personally and is not from any of the ministries I am associated with. (Also because of IRS rules, I cannot send it to my ministry database and therefore need your help in getting it out.)
Around the same time, I heard of another ministry leader who was constantly checking with his ACCOUNTANT to find out what he could and could not say publicly, so that he would not jeopardize his non-profit status. This leader also wrote: "We cannot name names as a non-profit. That's just a deal breaker. This could jeopardize our non-profit status."
Then, in the Christian Post, I read an article about Proposition 8 in California, which would ban homosexual "marriage". This section from the article caught my attention:
The controversial issue has alarmed California pastors, many of whom say that marriage is a moral issue and not a political one. Pastors also say the rejection of the measure would jeopardize their religious freedom since they will be forced, against their moral convictions, to perform wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples to keep their church's tax-exempt status.
I don't know for sure if churches in California would loose their tax-exempt status if they refused to perform homosexual "marriages", but the fact that pastors in that state are worried about demonstrates clearly the compromising situation the American Church has gotten itself into.
Will California pastors choose to serve God or serve Mammon? How could these pastors even think they could be forced against their moral convictions to participate such abominations? A thousand times rather they should renounce their tax-exempt status!! How did we come to be in this ridiculous and horrible place, where a ministry leader has to check with his accountant, rather than with God, to see what he should and should not say?
The 501c3 tax-exempt status was created in 1913, but at that time there were no restrictions place on the political activity of such organizations. This article on the OMB Watch Web site goes on to explain:
In 1954, however, Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-TX) added the 'express prohibition' on political campaign activity—without the benefit of hearings, testimony, or comment from affected organizations during Senate floor debate on the Internal Revenue Code. The amendment prohibits 501c3 organizations from 'participat[ing] in, or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.' The law was eventually applied to churches and now includes all 501c3 organizations. Both sides of the political fence were concerned regarding potential of non-profit groups to wield political power.
The genesis of Johnson's desire to reduce 501c3 participation in elections reportedly stems from the great effect nonprofits had in campaigning against him, 'by producing Red-baiting radio shows, television programs and millions of pieces of literature'; however, committee records demonstrate a general congressional mood towards increased regulation of nonprofit speech.
In exchange for being granted tax-exempt status, the organization has to give up its right to influence the political process. This limitation has been held as constitutional.
At one point in the recent past, Congress thought the provisions against political activity were not strong enough. As part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, Congress added several provisions that clarified the prohibition against political activities by non-profit organizations.
Conservative leaders point to a New York churches loss of tax-exempt status due to an attack on Bill Clinton during the 1992 an example of a selective enforcement of the political activity of conservative churches. A church may not make statements that directly support or oppose a candidate or slate of candidates in a 'sermon, church bulletin, on a church website or in an editorial in a church publication.' In addition, churches may not indirectly support or oppose any candidates by characterizing candidates with anti-family or similar labels, using plus ( ) and minus (-) signs, or other indications of candidates' agreement—or lack thereof—with the church's positions on particular issues. The bottom line is that 501c3 prohibits charities—including houses of worship—from endorsing or opposing candidates 'either expressly or by implication.'
Wow! Did you get that last point? Churches are not even allowed to endorse or oppose a candidate "by implication". That's a pretty broad prohibition!
The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, which describe the crucial role that pastors played in shaping the attitude of the American public towards British injustice during the decades that led up to the American Revolution:
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, most of New England's ministers were solidly behind the discreet resistance of the colonies....Nearly a century before the Revolution, [British King] Charles II's advisors warned him that 'the ministers were preaching freedom,' and urged him either to regulate them or to replace them with Episcopal [Church of England] priests....Since even the Crown recognized that the resistance had begun with their religion, THAT was where it had to be broken.
After the Boston Tea Party, as usual, American opinion on this mounting crisis was strongly shaped by the ministers. Those men of God who were American born and not in Crown Colonies (such as Georgia and Virginia) were becoming nearly unanimous in their support of resistance....Resistance to oppression had been a favorite topic in Yankee pulpits for more than a century....As [British King] George III and his ministers relentlessly increased the pressure calculated to bring the Colonists to their knees, the rhetoric from American pulpits also increased.
Just a few years before America's declaration of independence, It is interesting to note that a pivotal change had taken place in American rhetoric: no longer were the exhortations coming exclusively from the pulpits and a few zealous 'patriots'; the broad mass of the people themselves had taken up the torch and were carrying it forward on their own.
This last sentence shows how effective the pastors were: the public "caught" the vision of what they were saying from the pulpit, and they were running with it in a mass movement. If only the American Church could find such power in today's dark moral and political climate!
As we can see from this brief look at history, one of the most important factors in the American Colonies deciding to rebel against England and declare independence was the Church publicly addressing the issue. If that's not political, I don't know what is! Back then the Church had balls! But now the modern American Church has castrated itself with the 501c3. We have sold our voice (and soul) to the devil. In exchange for money, we have agreed not to speak out on certain issues. As the government becomes more and more restrictive, I believe that the American Church will come to regret this pact with the devil, and some will eventually come to renounce it.
I need to insert a note here ... about a month or so after I wrote the above paragraph, I received a newlsetter from Avner Boskey, who lives in Beersheba, Israel. The entire newsletter is worth reading (click on the link), but I just want to quote a part of it, because I was amazed how similar the language was to what I had just written:
The speed and ease with which a McDonald's hamburger appears at the fast-food counter can lead consumers to expect the same service, friendliness and lack of surprise in other areas of life. For some believers this type of expectation can bleed over into spiritual or prophetic areas—expecting a tamed prophetic ministry which will not rock the boat or cause controversy; or accepting only prophetic words which are uniformly upbeat, victorious, devotional and positive. He who develops an appetite for mass-produced look-alike hamburgers, can end up caving in to a similar cultural/spiritual pressure and end up facilitating the "mass production of prophetic words." Like fast-food, the result in such cases can turn into a homogenized "product," a castrated form of the prophetic—less than fully authentic in its truth and power.
The Church is called to be the conscience of the nation. The Church is called to be a prophetic voice to the nation. But now the American Church, for fear of loosing its non-profit tax-exempt status, for fear of loosing its profit, as ceased to be the prophet to the nation. The American Church as become like Elijah as recounted in 1 Kings 19: Elijah was afraid of the government of his day and ran for his life. He ended up hiding in a cave, afraid that the government would kill him. We are hiding in our cave too, afraid to speak up, afraid it might cost us. God have mercy on us and get us out of our cave!
Like Esau, the American Church has sold its birthright for a bowl of tax-exempt stew! (Genesis 25:29-34) A saying from Jesus seems very appropriate in this situation: "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away" (Matthew 5:30). The 501c3 tax-exempt status is definitely something that needs to be cut out of the Church.
I call upon the American Church to renounce their 501c3 tax-exempt status, so that the Church can be free again to speak the words God wants, not what the U.S. government will happen to allow it to say. Why does the Church need tax-exempt status?
What does the Bible say about paying taxes? "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" (Luke 20:25). and "This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing....If you owe taxes, pay taxes..." (Romans 13:6-7). Also, see Matthew 17:24-27.
The other side of the coin regarding tax-exempt status has to do with the congregations and donors. Many Christians will not give a donation to a church or ministry unless they can deduct it from their taxes. My response to that is "Shame on you!" Christians should give because it's in their heart to give, because God is telling them to give, not because they get a tax deduction. I have never let the lack of a tax deduction keep me from giving to a ministry that I wanted to support. It's time for Christians to repent of this love of money!
In order to help the American Church renounce their dependence on 501c3 status, I call upon all American Christians to give freely to the Christian organizations of their choice, without regard to any tax-exempt benefit.
It is time for the Church to rise up as free sons and daughters and depend upon their Heavenly Father for their necessary provision, rather than enslaving themselves to the government for the sake of a few tax-exempt scraps thrown to them under the table. Church, renounce your 501c3 tax-exempt status, and keep your voice and soul free for the Kingdom of God!
"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." (Galatians 5:1)
Update from 24 August 2009
A VERY interesting Web site on this very topic was just brought to my attention today by a visitor to this page named Billy. I would highly recommend that you visit HushMoney.org and take the time to read as many articles as you can.
This article is 1st a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church
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