…or why we shouldn’t get in bed with the government.

During his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast President Trump stated that he was going to end the Johnson Amendment. An aspect of this amendment, in a nut shell, prohibits pastors from campaigning from the pulpit and funneling campaign contributions from churches (a term inclusive of houses of worship) to politicians. These prohibitions allow for churches to be tax exempt and allows for religious leaders other tax benefits (minister’s housing allowance, etc…).

As a pastor, I am deeply concerned by talk of over-turning this amendment.

From the founding of this country, Christians have been deeply concerned for the separation of Church and State. It was the Christians who demanded that this be part of the who we are as a nation. Why? Because the memories of the Crown seeking to control the Church were still all too fresh in the minds of many. The Establishment Clause is critically important to life and well-being of the Church in the United States.

The over-turning of the Johnson Amendment would not increase freedom of religion but would move us down a path of eroding the religious freedom that we deeply cherish in our country. It opens the door for the fox to enter the hen house. More than ever the Church needs to be able to stand as an independent voice speaking truth to power.

Repealing the Johnson Amendment would open the door for the Church to be bought by the powerful. The ability for the Church to be the prophetic voice challenging the power of our nation could be swayed by promises of power or financial gain.

Throughout history the people of God have had the greatest influence when their power has not come from the State but from the masses. The erosion of influence and of faithful integrity has followed closely behind the Church receiving “official” power.

The separation of Church and State must remain strong. Perhaps more now than at any other time in the history of our country.

I turn as I often do when these kinds of matters come before us to 1 Samuel 8. In my mind this is one of the most significant turning points in the history of the people of God. We must be reminded again that there are consequences for looking to the State for power and influence. God’s words to Samuel are instructive to us today. May we never forget…

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.” (1 Samuel 8:4–22, ESV)

Just Say No! was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.