Editor's note: Micah Sims is executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.
As part of the debate over “tax reform,” Congress is toying with legislation that would invite unholy alliances between religion and politics, allowing political donors to use churches and other charities to funnel anonymous six and seven figure donations to candidates and political parties.
Repeal of the “Johnson amendment” a law passed in the 1950’s, would allow individuals to funnel political contributions through churches and other charities, receive a tax deduction, and evade the disclosure requirements that go with donations made directly to candidates and political parties. It would also allow churches and charities to openly support or oppose candidates, campaigns and legislative policies.
Just as bad, churches and other nonprofit organizations could find their future funding and/or donations linked to political causes or mandates that go against the mission and purposes of the organization.
Many churches and other nonprofits provide services that are often overlooked or not handled by government agencies or businesses. Churches and nonprofits have a glorious history of reaching and touching the overlooked, marginalized, and voiceless. I believe that any attack on the potential receipt of donations and any compromising on mission and purposes would have a drastic impact on our communities and our country.
As a fifth-generation preacher in my family, reaching back to the early 1800’s, I believe repeal of the Johnson amendment would totally violate what the church was created for and intended to advance: humanity. Yes, I dare would call this potential action a sin. God has used the gifts and talents of men and women to lead churches to help reach and improve humanity. Any action to impact, deter or destroy that covenant is a sin.
The church is a house of worship, not a clearing house for money
Repeal would invite individuals to donate to their churches for political reasons. I don’t believe this serves the mission and purpose of the church. The church should be a place where donations are used to support the administration and ministry of the church. Giving is a way for a believer to demonstrate commitment in his/her covenant relationship with God. I don’t believe that the church should be a house where someone can demonstrate a commitment with a specific political preference or slant.
The church invites individuals to seek out a deeper sense of purpose and intention. Faith allows us to develop trust in God and our fellow men and women. It gives hope to people who are feeling oppressed or overwhelmed with circumstances. Repeal of the Johnson amendment would make the church a clearing house for money, definitely not what God intended.
Separation of church and state is often misunderstood
It is important to understand why we have separation of church and state in America. Many people believe separation is intended to prevent churches from imposing biblical mandates, theological perspectives and doctrinal ordinances on the national government. Their view is that the idea was to ensure that a pope or bishop would never gain influence or leadership over a country, republic or nation and rule according to a specific book of faith.
The real reason for the separation of church and state is to keep the government from injecting politics into the church. Early American settlers from Europe were fleeing injustice and intolerance as governments in England and other countries dictated religious restrictions. This intolerance fueled the work of individuals such as a William Penn, who founded our state as a place where religious freedom would be exercised.
Combining religion and government would be a sin and a sign that we are going backwards not forwards as a country.
As a person of faith, I believe we need to take prayerful actions to ensure that the church remains the church, because faith without works is dead. Today, as Congress works on a final version of tax reform legislation, please join me in contacting our senators and congresspersons and express your desire that the Johnson amendment remain in force. Then, contact nonprofit organizations and churches in your community and ask them to join you in this fight by calling Congress and urging them to vote against the repeal of the Johnson amendment.
Yes, we need a stronger, more unified and loving country. Yes, we need improved housing and transportation, more jobs, and improved public education. A tax package including repeal of the Johnson amendment doesn’t make us stronger, it makes us weaker.
For over 200 years I believe our country has been the beneficiary of the offering of faith, values, hope and love from nonpartisan religious institutions, not influenced by the government…let’s keep it that way.
‘Be ye angry and sin not’
Office: Common Cause Pennsylvania
Issues: Money in Politics