Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich held a conference call with Iowa pastors last week in a last ditch effort to seek their support and the flagging support of their congregations in the Iowa caucuses race for the GOP nomination.
Conservative Christian leaders Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in San Diego and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, both of whom are supporting Gingrich, also participated in the call.
In a letter sent to pastors inviting them to call in, Wildmon emphasized Gingrich’s “thrust to remove elitist judges who ignore the American people, like the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted in 2009 to impose homosexual marriage on all Iowans.”
Several other GOP candidates in the race have been doing the same and many Iowa pastors have been actively involved in the process. At a forum on moral values held at First Federated, an evangelical church in Des Moines, candidates sharply attacked secularism and the Supreme Court while calling for greater restrictions on abortion and gay rights.
Gingrich decried a shift toward secularism in America which he called a “disaster.” “The degree to which the left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be taken head-on and described as what it is, which is abuse of government to oppress the American people against their own values,” he said.
Two politically active Iowa pastors said recently that an effort has been under way to persuade either Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann to consider quitting the Republican presidential race and endorsing the other to avoid splintering this influential voting bloc’s influence in the state’s caucuses.
“Otherwise, like-minded people will be divided and water down their impact,” explained Rev. Cary Gordon, a Sioux City minister. He said he asked Santorum several weeks ago to consider exiting the race but has since endorsed the former Pennsylvania senator, who is rising in polls. Rev. Albert Calloway, a retired pastor from Indianola, said he asked Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, several days ago to consider quitting the race.
Jeff Mullen, pastor of one of the Des Moines area’s mega churches, helped lead Bachmann’s winning campaign for Iowa’s Republican presidential straw poll last summer. Bachmann told reporters she wasn’t quitting and planned to announce additional clergy who were supporting her candidacy. “The pastors who have endorsed my campaign want to see me as the next president of the United States,” she explained.
Several Iowa pastors spoke with reporters recently about their views on the presidential campaign, sharing advice they have to give to Christian voters about how to determine what a good president will be from a Biblical standpoint, and how to search for the qualities that will allow a candidate to lead the people in a just and Christian way.
Pastor Steve Schmaljohn from the Apostolic Church of Tipton, IA, wrote to his congregants in a long email that there are no perfect candidates: “I believe that we have a responsibility as Christians to choose a candidate prayerfully and in a way that gives consideration to all of the important issues and the needs of the nation. I think it is unwise to choose a candidate based on one single issue, while neglecting others … So, I think first and foremost, for me to support a candidate, they must be respectful towards religion, and particularly (as I believe that Christianity is under attack from many quarters) they must be respectful towards Bible-based Christianity.”
Of course, all pastors on behalf of their churches and their congregations have every right to involve themselves in political campaigns to whatever extent they wish. They can do all the partisan politicking they like from the pulpit and there is nothing to prevent them. That right is guaranteed by First Amendment Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution.
But nowhere in the United States Constitution are pastors and churches in Iowa or anywhere else in America guaranteed the right to continued IRS tax exempt status as religious organizations regardless of their partisan political activities.
Religious organizations in America as well as all other non-profit entities enjoy tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This means that they are exempt from reporting their income and paying taxes on it like the rest of us working stiffs as long as they comply with certain rules.
Non-profit organizations receive tax exemption because their work is charitable, educational or religious and the government, rightly or wrongly, has decided that these activities should not be taxed because of the so-called “benefits” to society. That tax benefit comes with conditions. One requirement is that tax-exempt organizations refrain from involvement in partisan politics.
In 1954, Congress approved an amendment to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in any political campaign activity.
Pastors on behalf of houses of worship may not endorse or oppose candidates for public office or use their resources in partisan campaigns. Penalties for violating the federal tax laws in this manner include loss of tax-exempt status.
Moreover, the vast majority of Americans -- 75% according to a recent survey – believe that it is inappropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office.
Bottom line: Churches have no business mixing partisan politics with religion. In the United States of America there is supposed to be a separation between church and state.