Should Preachers Mess with the IRS?


A group of Protestant preachers appears to be picking a fight with the IRS this election cycle.  According to this Fox News article, more than 1,000 preachers have pledged to participate in an October 2012 campaign sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund).

The aim of the Alliance’s initiative is to force the IRS to take action against one or more of the pastors who Preachers Fight IRS Code Challengeintentionally violate the IRS code for religious organizations.  Since 1954, the code has had the effect of muzzling preachers and preaching in relation to anything political. For instance, the code states (on page 8) that preachers,

“…must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention .  Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.  A statement can identify a candidate not only by stating the candidate’s name but also by other means such as showing a picture of the candidate, referring to political party affiliations, or other distinctive features of a candidate’s platform or biography.”

So preachers can’t critique a candidate’s platform or biography? These seemingly overreaching regulations would prevent a pastor from discouraging parishioners away from the Democrat party on account of the national party’s platform calling for abortion and the dissolution of traditional marriage. While one might wonder why a pastor would want to be so political as to call for opposing one of our two major parties, one may also wonder why a pastor cannot—on the basis of the position statements on issues like abortion and traditional marriage—encourage his congregants to vote in accordance with their highest values.

The Alliance Defending Freedom hopes that pastors will follow through with their pledges and specifically oppose a candidate in this election cycle so that the IRS will revoke tax exempt status or take some other legal action. Then, the Alliance will, in turn, sue the IRS and force a court hearing on the subject. The Alliance is confident that the code (never approved as law) is not constitutional and has shut down the free speech of pastors and pulpits across America.

I am curious what your thoughts are on this matter. Should pastors pick a fight with the IRS?  I could see Christians arguing both ways on the issue.  Think about examples in the Bible.

On the one hand, Jesus was marched out and accused unjustly before His government accusers, yet remained completely silent, while, on the other hand, John the Baptist, seemingly unprovoked, took a governing official to task for his personal infidelity (King Herod’s taking his brother’s wife). Herod had John beheaded for his preaching. Why did Paul call for the Roman officials to come and escort him from jail personally (Acts 16), rather than taking his release and getting out of Philippi? At times, Christians go meekly as good sheep; at other times, they seem to provoke the governing authorities. Which time is this with the IRS?


10 thoughts on “Should Preachers Mess with the IRS?

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  1. With politics being as divisive as they are now, I think the 1954 ruling is inadvertently helping the church. I can only speak for myself, but if my church got political, I would quickly look for another church (already did it once).

    If pastors want partisan (i.e. exclusive) congregations, then they have the right to speak as politically as they please, but this does alter the fundamental function of the church (at least under the law) and they should not keep a tax exempt status.

    Thanks for the post!


  2. I may be wrong in my thinking on this, but I often am. The separation of church and state exists to protect the church from the state not the other way around as most politicians would like you to believe. Plus that pesky first amendment thing gets in the way.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    But we must be foolish to believe that the government would follow the guidelines so plainly laid out for them in our Constitution.

    Being in your flock Greg, I look for you to be more than candid on the issues that effect our daily lives. I say pastors across the country should speak their minds and bend knee only to the one true king. Christ.


  3. Thanks, J. Palmer and Mike for your replies. I hope to hear from others. I have a lot of thoughts on this issue and am thinking about the best way to put them in writing. Both of you made salient points. There ought to be no desire to form a partisan congregation on the one hand, and, on the other hand, there must not be a compromise of Christ’s authority just to please Uncle Sam. Good thoughts. I’m still thinking about this one…


  4. In today’s political climate I can understand where the Church is beginning to feel helpless, however taking on the IRS may be stretching it. Is suing and putting all taxpayers, including the congregation, through an expensive drawn out court hearing the right way to spread the message of the Gospel? Especially when the Supreme Court held up the new health care laws as constitutional because it is a tax.

    While the tax code is not an official law it is considered legal precedence. I feel these pastor’s attempting to take the IRS to task will only hurt all tax exempt organizations as it would be very easy for Congress to all together remove “tax exempt” from the code. A non Biblical reference is to remember the only government organization to take down Al Capone was the IRS.

    Biblically I believe Paul instructs us to folllow the laws of our leaders, which I can see where this issue may be pushing it. I think pastors can still speak out against abortion and non-traditional marraige without attacking a platform by just talking about Christian values and what the Bibly clearly says. If the IRS is going to come after a Church’s tax exempt status they will find a way to say the Church has violated the code one way or another.


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