According to freelance writer and editor from Minneapolis, Minnesota Robin Marty, the magic sway Donald Trump holds over evangelical leaders can be attributed to one thing.
The one part of Trump’s platform that it is believed will cement the evangelical vote behind the DT banner is that Donald Trump has
promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment.
This is the part of his “Republican” platform that Trump is apparently planning to use tomorrow when he meets with 700 evangelical leaders in Orlando, Florida on Thursday. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/next-step-in-trumps-campaign-reset-a-private-meeting-with-evangelical-pastors/2016/08/09/caca5b46-5d97-11e6-9d2f-b1a3564181a1_story.html
For those who are not conversant with the notorious, and for evangelicals, dangerous Johnson Amendment (I certainly wasn’t) here’s a description of the nefarious amendment to US tax law:
The Johnson Amendment is a change in the U.S. tax code proposed in 1954 by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson
Organizations recognized under Section 501(c) (3) of the U.S. tax code are subject to limits or absolute prohibitions on engaging in political activities and risk loss of tax exempt status if violated. Specifically, they are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to intervene in elections to public office.
MsNBC’s Steve Benen explains:
Under federal tax law, tax-exempt houses of worship are not allowed to intervene in partisan political campaigns. Ministries can obviously speak out on moral and spiritual issues of the day, and can even get involved in ballot referenda related to various policies, but churches and other houses of worship can’t take steps to help (or hurt) candidates or political parties. This law was created in 1954, thanks to the efforts of then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, and for the most part, it hasn’t been especially controversial.
Notice the amendment does not mean that church officials cannot speak out on political issues. It refers only to using the charity funded pulpit to support or attack a particular candidate for political office. Clergy in the US remain absolutely free to speak their minds on political issues that they feel affect their faith. They are simply not free to use their tax exempt status institution as a platform to promote a particular candidate.
Furthermore, according to Marty,
Churches have long found ways to work around that ban — allowing candidates to come in and address their congregations about their “faith journeys” or placing voter guides to remind members where candidates stand on issues that matter to the body, even preaching sermons on war, the sanctity of life, or other key policies. As long as the fig leaf of it being non-partisan and not a direct candidate endorsement remained, the IRS was unlikely to get involved in yanking tax except status.
But today in the land of the Christian Right, this is not good enough.
So closely has the Christian Right become linked to a particular political agenda, that its leadership will not rest until they are able to publicly throw their substantial financial and moral weight behind their chosen candidate while continuing to benefit from the general public’s generosity in granting exemption from taxation to churches that have less and less appeal to the public in general.
As someone who spends quite a bit of time in a church pulpit, it is incomprehensible to me that I would want to use this sacred platform to encourage people to vote Republican, Democrat or whatever political party I might choose.
As I understand it, tax exemption was originally granted to churches in light of the fact that churches performed so many functions that were beneficial to the community. In a day when many of those functions are now funded by involuntarily paid public tax dollars, it is not entirely clear to me why churches should continue to receive a tax exemption at all. And the morality of using an institution that, due to its tax exempt status, is in fact government supported to promote a particular candidate for political office certainly escapes me.