Church and Politics

As I write this, we are in the midst of a presidential campaign year. Politics is everywhere, and we may be tempted to bring a little too much of politics into church. Although churches have freedom of speech, they have limitations if they want a tax-exempt status.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

By the way, I believe we can clearly teach about the moral issues of our day, but we shouldn’t be endorsing candidates or political parties.
But this is about more than tax-exempt status. My experience through the years teaches me that Christians may come to different judgments on politics and still have a moral reason for their choice. I have visited in church member’s homes and heard politics brought up and know from experience that good Christian people disagree. I have also held my tongue in such situations, keeping my own political views private as the opposing candidate was being endorsed. I just know that if these individuals had debated their views at church, it would have been a messy distraction from the mission of the church.

Batsell Barrett Baxter was the chairman of the Bible Department at Lipscomb University when I was a student. He was also the radio and TV speaker for the nationwide Herald of Truth, and he preached for the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville. He was well known in the church at that time.

Baxter told a story on himself to his preaching students. He wanted to caution his students about politics in church. He wanted us to learn from his mistake. In the 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Baxter preached a sermon addressing the election. Many Protestants feared having a Roman Catholic in the Whitehouse, because according to the fear, he would be subject to the Pope, a foreign power. Like many Protestant ministers of the time, Baxter preached such a sermon. The closing prayer was led by a man who gave a 20-minute rebuttal to the lesson. Baxter learned his lesson painfully.

My point is simply this: we may agree on the faith and still have political disagreements. Let us not offend our brother or sister on matters that will simply pass away with the coming of the Lord.

—Russ Holden

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