In case you haven’t heard, the Republicans’ tax bill will allow pastors to endorse candidates for political office from the pulpit. William Thornton has written a short post about this provision here.
This caught me by surprise, and I’m sure it caught most everyone by surprise. Tax reform is just not something we follow on a daily basis. I knew there is a proposed tax bill, and I know the Republicans need a legislative victory before next fall’s midterms. I did not know they were considering legalization of candidate endorsements from the pulpit.
I did some thinking and here are my five realities about this proposed provision in the tax reform bill:
- It will not last long: This is a nice provision, but it will not last long. There will be another president, probably a Democrat, who will propose tax reform and nix this provision. If the next Democratic President doesn’t nix the provision through legislation, he will nix it through executive order. It will be an easy order to sign to fire up the base on his or her left. I’ll also be surprised if this provision makes it into the final version of the bill. If it was thrown in to appease a group of legislators on the right, then it can just as easily be negotiated out of the final draft.
- It will not change much: The truth is that certain churches have been allowed to endorse candidates from their pulpits for decades. I’ve never heard many complaints about this reality, save the occasional pastor who wants to whine that he’s not allowed to endorse his preferred candidate. There are even churches who have had candidates speak from their pulpits, and the IRS has been very relaxed in enforcing the law. Churches will continue to endorse political candidates, and those of us who have never endorsed a political candidate will probably not endorse anyone.
- This will be a victory for religious freedom: If this provision makes it into the final tax reform bill, it will be a victory for religious freedom. The ability to legally endorse candidates from the pulpit may not change the content of our sermons (it shouldn’t), but it does hand Christians a victory in our fight for religious freedom. Religious freedom has been under a relentless attack from zealous critics. It would be encouraging to have a legislative victory.
- We should not endorse candidates: This legislation may give us the right to legally endorse candidates, but we should not take advantage of this right. I’ll write another blog post detailing why I believe we should not endorse political candidates. There will be others who believe we should take full advantage of this legislative provision. They have that freedom, but I believe it is a dangerous practice to endorse a candidate for office from the pulpit.
- Is the Tax reform bill good: The bill being proposed is about tax reform, not about religious freedom. Is the tax reform bill a good piece of legislation? Is it well written? Is it what’s best for the most Americans? What will the other provisions do to our economy? I’ll glad give up my legal ability to endorse a Presidential candidate from the pulpit if the other provisions in this legislation are going to plunge us into another recession. What will this bill do for middle class Americans? Are there other proposed provisions in this bill that we don’t know about? Let’s not lose focus on the purpose of this legislation because of a throw-in provision that marginally benefits us.
Those are my five realities about this proposed legislation. I’ll be watching to see if this bill passes in tact, but it probably will not change much about my ministry. Do you see anything in this provision that I’m missing?