How Will the Johnson Amendment Repeal Free Pastors and Churches?

Now that President Donald Trump has officially taken office, will pastors and churches be affected at the pulpit and in the pew?

The Pennsylvania Pastors Network certainly thinks so. In fact, one action by President Trump will return decades of freedom to churches.

For more than 60 years, the Johnson Amendment, proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and passed by Congress in 1954, has prohibited tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party and supporting or opposing candidates for office. The Johnson Amendment has instilled fear in pastors, wary of losing their church’s tax-exempt status if they speak truth into cultural, societal or political issues.

“For six decades, the Johnson Amendment has restricted the free speech of pastors and churches,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump and Mike Pence vowed to work on behalf of pastors to restore their pulpit freedoms, especially at a time when Christians need biblical truth and God-centered guidance spoken into their lives regarding the pressing issues of the day.”

New research by George Barna of the American Culture & Faith Institute found that three out of four SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives) turned to resources such as voter guides, websites and other resources to gain information about their choices on the ballot this election season. Overall, 61 percent specifically identified voter guides as a resource they used to help them decide how to vote.

The research, Rohrer says, is a telling indicator that Christians are looking for guidance on important issues, and will likely look to the church.

On “Stand in the Gap Today,” a radio ministry from APN, co-hosts Rohrer, Dave Kistler of the North Carolina Pastors Network (NCPN, www.ncpastors.net) and Gary Dull of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network (PPN,www.papastors.net) recently discussed the Johnson Amendment and how a repeal of this legislature will affect pastors and churches.

“The Johnson Amendment is believed to have stifled and stymied many Christian leaders from being more outspoken with respect to what are deemed ‘political issues,’ when, really, these are moral issues,” Kistler said during the program. “If President Trump is successful in removing or repealing the Johnson Amendment, will that affect the speech of pastors in the pulpit? Some say yes, while others say no. In some cases, it may not be solely the Johnson Amendment that has muzzled preachers across America. Those in the pulpit who have not spoken out forthrightly have not been motivated by fear of violating a tax code law. They have been motivated by fear of something else.”

The Johnson Amendment does a number of things, Kistler noted, but it does not do the following:

  1. It does not prohibit pastors from speaking out against political corruption.
  2. It does not prohibit pastors from speaking out against LGBT activism.
  3. It does not prohibit pastors from speaking out against controversial subjects such as abortion or marriage.
  4. It does not prohibit pastors from speaking out against other moral or culturally relevant issues.

“So if pastors are not speaking about these things and addressing them from the pulpit now,” Kistler asks, “then the question is, if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, will they speak out about it at all? This is a question we will be addressing through the pastors’ networks and on our radio program, and we pray that pastors are emboldened by these truths.”

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