July 5, 2013

The Church Paid-Off

By In Politics, Society and Culture

The Churches gladly set themselves up as 501(c)(3) organizations.  And why shouldn’t they?  A tax-exempt status is a great position to be in.  If the State took money from these Churches, the Churches would not be able to conduct ministries to the extent that they do.  I am of course leaving aside the important fact that many Churches define “ministry” far differently than the Scriptures do –with fun houses, rock concerts, and free popcorn.  But my point is clear, a small, gospel-centered Church would have a much harder time in a world where they’d have to pay more in taxes.

But the dark side of this seemingly grand situation is the fact that the 501(c)(3) status depends in part on the agreement that Churches are not allowed to take part in the following:

Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

And also:

…voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

Now of course it is my own opinion that Churches, in the pulpit and in ministry should steer clear of the evil and despicable world of politics and public policy (which are different from political theory and exposition of relevant Scriptures).  The Gospel promises, in part, to save people from such worlds and to call them home to a Kingdom that is far separate from the destructive world of politics.  Let not a Pastor as Pastor endorse a political Candidate.

But what are the implications from the fact that Christian groups and non-profits with a Bible-based perspective are not allowed to announce “public statements of positions,” lest they lose their tax exempt status?  The answer is that the Christian influence of speaking moral law and standard is diminished.  By stating that, for example, “Thou shall not steal” even if you are a government official, this Biblical standard is turned into a political stance, which in turn is self-incriminating.  And the consequences from such a stance, is that you have to pay taxes.  And what of another politically-related standard?  How about the fact that government-led welfarism is also theft?  What if a Christian group put forth that idea?  This too would cause them to be forever fined as an organization.

This 501(c)(3) is effectively a giant payoff for silence.  The Christians and their principles are kept by the wayside for fear of having to give up more money.  This is how the State works.  And now what?  Well, now that the Church has been silenced, the number one voice that IS allowed to influence society, through control of the Schools, through subsidies with strings, through political buy-offs, through despicable promises to voters, is the State itself!

The solution is not necessarily to rid the Church of its non-profit status, although the answer though does lie in a nullification of these Federal Laws, to commit to local level authorities as a way to branch off from the DC nightmare.  Christians ought to be more bold, trusting God and Truth, to protect them, not financial buy-offs.  By way of the 501(c)(3), the Christian organizations of this country have been suckered into a “good deal” that turns out to be a vicious trap.  It sounds great for Churches.  It even sounds like a blessing.  The situation appears like a Sheep.  But the other side of the coin is a Wolf.

It’s time to unleash the Word of God onto the State –let us not be silenced.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • Art

    Mr. Engel, the truth is even the IRS admits that churches are non taxable without filing for a 501-C-3. All filing for this does is give the IRS an easy foot in door to the church. Also just because politics is “evil” and dirty doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to influence it with the truth of God. Politics is no different than any other area of this fallen world. Business is dirty. Raising and educating kids is dirty. The fact that something is dirty doesn’t necessitate our non-involvement. If you are reformed, then you believe in the sovereignty of God. If He is sovereign over salvation, He is sovereign over all of life. The problem is not that this world is dirty and evil, the problem is that too many Christians leave their faith when operating in those areas. If our founding fathers had this view America would not exist.

    A different view from one reformed libertarian to another.

    • cjayengel

      I think you are confused, perhaps because of my confusing vocabulary. But I am talking about those Christian organizations, both Churches and parachurches that happen to be filed under 501(c)(3). For these organizations, they are not allowed to speak about certain issues. And this is my complaint.

      So if this is my complaint, don’t you think it is precisely my argument that we ought to influence it with the truth of God? I am pretty certain that my whole post was an expression of frustration that restrictions have not allowed us to get involved. So I am not sure what you are getting at. Of course it doesn’t necessitate our non-involvement. Who said otherwise?

      Thank you for you input. Perhaps we are on a similar page after all.

  • Art

    “The Churches gladly set themselves up as 501(c)(3) organizations….A tax-exempt status is a great position to be in.”

    Churches are exempt from taxes because the Church is not under the jurisdiction of the government. They are a separate institution. The Church is accountable to God. The state is accountable to God. The are co-laborers. But the Church should not surrender it’s authority to the state as most have done. (Of course, as citizens individual members of the church must submit to the authority of the state.) This is effectively what they have done BY “gladly [setting] themselves up as 501(c)(3) organizations”. In other words, they have voluntarily been silenced. They took the government cheese and are now in the trap. Para-church organizations are different altogether.

    Yes the thrust of your article I agree wholeheartedly with. Perhaps I was just a bit confused by the below quote.

    “Now of course it is my own opinion that Churches, in the pulpit and in ministry should steer clear of the evil and despicable world of politics and public policy. The Gospel was meant, in part, to save people from such worlds and to call them home to a Kingdom that is far separate from the destructive world of politics.”

    I do think we agree. I’m just overly sensitive to those who argue for a 2-kingdom view and conclude that politics is dirty therefore we shouldn’t be involved. 🙂 My position is that scripture leads to a libertarian form of government. I’m not a libertarian by ignoring my faith. I’m a libertarian because of it. Thanks for your article and comments.

    • cjayengel

      “In other words, they have voluntarily been silenced. They took the government cheese and are now in the trap.” That is my point. We agree this is a sad thing.

      Per the quote which confused you, let me say this: I am dogmatic that in the pulpit, candidates should not be endorsed and neither should political parties. HOWEVER, political issues and stances stem from the Christian worldview and therefore should not be ignored. Perhaps you do not make a distinction…but I do.

      You said: “My position is that scripture leads to a libertarian form of government. I’m not a libertarian by ignoring my faith. I’m a libertarian because of it.” Couldn’t agree more. That is the thesis of this site:) Thank you for challenging me with your comments and participation.

      C.Jay Engel

      • RA Jameson

        As far as the 2-kingdom view, I 100% agree with C.Jay. There are only 2 kingdoms: Light and Darkness. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of men. The kingdom of Spirit and the kingdom of flesh. And as our beloved Van Til pointed out so clearly, there is only 1 point of contact between those 2 kingdoms: The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not legislation, not politicians, not my vote. Only the Gospel.

        What I don’t understand is what Art was arguing for when he seemed to not like the “2-kingdom” language.

    • RA Jameson

      Art, what does that mean, “a 2-kingdom view”? Politics is fun to discuss, but is most certainly dirty. At least at the federal, state, county, and city level. Less so at the tribal level. I have a King, not up for re-election, never GOING to be up for re-election. Why would I care to join the electoral process? Why would I vote for the lesser of 2 evils? Can’t I be a libertarian by not participating is state-sponsored charades? I just don’t really see Paul getting all that involved in who was going to be the next Caesar. Nor do I care who is going to be the next president. Or Governor. Or Mayor. I do however care about C. Jay and his welfare. He is my tribal leader and I behave within the context of that relationship. I am far more likely to refer to my pastor as the mayor, as that is the highest office in my tribe with the most influence.

      Are you mad at me for ignoring the clowns that spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to establish their own kingdom?

      • cjayengel

        I also consider the political world as a separate kingdom. And I believe in a two kingdoms: God’s and man’s.

        I do not mind vocalizing my thoughts on the political world though and getting involved at the local level. While I personally wouldn’t get involved in politics at any higher level, I do not think it is wrong per se. I take more of a view that God calls each person to different places in this regard.

        I cannot see how Ron Paul was wrong or disobedient to God by participating in Congress. But at the same time, I have no problem with Jameson’s decision to “ignore the clowns.” In fact I commend it.

        • RA Jameson

          Thanks brother, for the commendation. I have no issue with those that want to participate. As Luther stated so clearly, “to go against conscience is neither good nor safe” and if one’s conscience demands they get involved, then I believe they would be remiss to ignore their conscience. What I don’t want to see/read/hear is that it is categorically wrong or even sinful to participate or to not participate. The Scriptures are silent on the issue and thus broad moral imperatives are dangerous.

          Dr. Paul, in my mind, followed his conscience (most likely the only member of the house that still had one), and thus I do not fault him for trying to fix what he believed was broken. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that any other figure in the history of American politics actually did more for the cause of freedom than Dr. Paul. And though I have some issues with him, I am grateful that our Lord placed him in the role He did.

          But I would not have voted for him for president.

      • Art

        The 2-kingdom theology is a specific kind of dualistic system that is advocated by many popular reformed theologians, specifically those from Westminster West. (Horton, VanDrunen, etc). See the below article for a fuller explanation and refutation: http://americanvision.org/6976/two-kingdoms-a-politicians-paradise/

        • cjayengel

          Let me say this really quick, and RA Jameson, I don’t want a long debate on this topic at this point. BUT I must point out that the good folks at American Vision are theonomists. We are not. We are libertarians. Although there are many similarities, I and while I seriously love that organization, one of the biggest differences between us is the issue of one versus two kingdoms. I am not a Westminster West advocate on this issue, but neither am I a Reconstructionist. This is a very important issue that makes us unique. I know I need to address this soon. I knew it would come up.

          • Art

            Fair enough. I’ll leave it at this. I was first a libertarian, then a reconstructionist. I am both because I consider it to be most consistent. As Rushdoony said, “Christian reconstruction is the closest thing you can get to radical libertarianism.” I do not have to give up my politics for my doctrine or vice a versa. All I ask is please consider what they actually advocate vs the popular straw man built up against them. It was my pleasure gentlemen.

          • cjayengel

            I appreciate your integrity in posting. Thank you for that. I am preparing a post on theonomy, Rushdoony, and all this (including that quote). I hope you read it. I am very aware of all the straw men that are put up as a reactionary response to reconstruction and it saddens me. I am very familiar with their stances though and I intend to not misrepresent their views. In fact, my defense of Gary North against his attackers on the Ron Paul curriculum topic went viral and I clarified their similarities to libertarianism.

            I love the theonomists. I just am not one. I too “do not have to give up my politics for my doctrine or vice a versa.” Hopefully I can display the “Reformed Libertarian” position well.