Pastors Get Political in Pulpit: Jim Garlow to Endorse From Pulpit

Jim Garlow is the pastor of a large Methodist Church in La Mesa, California. On October 7th, just weeks before the 2012 presidential elections, he plans to endorse a presidential candidate (and maybe congressional candidates) from the pulpit. While I cannot confirm that he will endorse Mitt Romney, I can confirm that he was an advisor to former Speaker Newt Gingrich. An initiative known as Pulpit Freedom Sunday began on a Sunday morning in October 2008, and has continued on that same Sunday each year since. In June, Garlow began meeting with other pastors across America to encourage them to do the same.

Pastor Jim Garlow

He knows such pulpit pleading could endanger his church’s tax-exempt status by violating IRS rules for a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. A charity can take a position on policy issues but cannot act “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” To cross that line puts the $7 million mega-church’s tax break at risk.

Even so, Garlow not only intends to break the rules, he also plans to spend the next four months recruiting other pastors to do the same as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday. On that day each year since 2008, ministers intentionally try to provoke the IRS. Some even send DVD recordings of their sermons to the agency.

Last year, 539 pastors participated. This year organizers expect far more. Participants want to force the matter to court as a freedom of speech and religion issue.

“I believe we’re on the early stages of the next great awakening,” Garlow told his congregation last year. “We’re going to see it just sweep across this nation.”

The situation is fraught with peril for the IRS, which needs to be seen as apolitical. When it cracks down on political activities proscribed by the 501(c)(3) regulations, it is inevitably branded as partisan.

Urban Christian News – October 20, 2011:

But according to Garlow, the senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California, the conviction that “our nation, economically and morally, is in such a condition that America as we have known it for its 200-plus years is on the verge of disappearing” was enough of an impetus to break the rules.

Garlow’s sermon was part of a wider effort by the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization that since 2008 has hosted Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a day when they encourage and promise to protect pastors who willfully violate the Johnson Amendment and endorse from the pulpit.

The Johnson Amendment:

In 1954, the U.S. Congress amended (without debate or analysis) Internal Revenue Code §501(c)(3) to restrict the speech of non-profit tax exempt entities, including churches. Before the amendment was passed, there were no restrictions on what churches could or couldn’t do with regard to speech about government and voting, excepting only a 1934 law preventing non-profits from using a substantial part of their resources to lobby for legislation.

The 1954 amendment, offered by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, stated that non-profit taxexempt entities could not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”

Since the amendment passed, the IRS has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches about candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption.

Historically, churches had frequently and fervently spoken for and against candidates for government office. Such sermons date from the founding of America, including sermons against Thomas Jefferson for being a deist; sermons opposing William Howard Taft as a Unitarian; and sermons opposing Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Churches have also been at the forefront of most of the significant societal and governmental changes in our history including ending segregation and child labor and advancing civil rights.

After the amendment, churches faced a choice of speaking freely on any and all issues addressed by Scripture and potentially risking their tax exemption, or remaining silent and protecting their tax exemption. Unfortunately, many churches have allowed the 1954 Johnson amendment to effectively silence their speech, even from the pulpit. Ironically, after 50 years of strict interpretation by the IRS, there is no reported situation to date where a church has lost its tax exempt status or been directly punished for sermons delivered from the pulpit. Nonetheless, the law remains unchanged. Thus, many churches accept the IRS interpretation of the Code and become silent.

The Blaze:

Rather than declining in prevalence over time, this regulation has been strengthened. The last change was made to it back in 1987, when the amendment’s language was tightened to clarify that the restrictions should also cover statements and stances that stand against candidates (previously it was interpreted to only stand for statements that supported specific candidates).

The IRS describes a 501(c)(3) as a group:

“which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Questions: (1) When we talk about free birth control for all women, are we not taking a stand directly against Barack Obama and certain members of Congress? (2) Are Sanctuary Churches and Cities not political speech?

Bill Peach’s Random Thoughts, June 12, 2012:

Churches and individuals who believe that slavery, segregation, and racial prejudice are “abominations before God” should never be denied the right to voice that belief either as individuals or from the pulpit?  Those who oppose same-sex marriage, homosexuality, or civil unions have the same rights of advocacy.  I can remember having led a public prayer asking God to end the war in Vietnam.  Ministers who oppose abortion and contraception have every right to teach that from the pulpit and embrace those as part of church liturgy. I am working on a speech that I will make in the pulpit of a Unitarian congregation, within which I will probably quote Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

In my lifetime, I have known few (maybe none) that believe “slavery, segregation and racial prejudice” are NOT an abomination before God, but Peach makes pertinent points – we should have the right to voice our beliefs in a sanctuary, and if no one wants to listen, so be it. Think of the madrassas found in residential areas. Do you think they are not “endorsing,” and “getting out the vote” with that endorsement?

I would like to see Pulpit Freedom every Sunday. Further, I would like to see the denominational member churches belonging to the National Council of Churches (United Methodists are members) take a stance against the NCC’s extremely Liberal stance and activities, which they fund with my tithes to my Methodist church. The NCC:

● Welcomes ObamaCare

● Calls for racial and gender justice

● Supports “environmental stewardship” (global warming) with 2012 ushering in a study of “Ethics in Energy.”

And they are advocates for all of the above, and that advocacy is done in the Name of Jesus Christ, and achieved from the tithes of so many of us.

In my state of Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Conference of Churches (of which the Methodist church is a member, sponsored a fundraiser for CAIR (Council of American Islamic Relations). A fundraiser! A fundraiser for an unindicted co-conspirator on the War on Terror. CAIR – an organization that funded terrorism through the Holy Land Foundation, which funds Hamas. An organization which has full freedom to roam the halls of Congress and routinely fills employment positions in the offices of Liberal congressional members.

With an NCC emphasis on Gender Justice, The Oklahoma Conference of Churches would have actually done some “justice” had they addressed the egregious conditions women, girls and young boys live under Islam. A pox on their fundraising for CAIR.

Suffice it to say, there is plenty to be said from America’s pulpits. We need Patriot Pastors in every city – like this one. So far, in Tulsa, I haven’t found one. I believe I am accurate in saying that when you send money to your local church, and that church is a member of the National Council of Churches, if Methodist, 2% of your church donation is sent to the “Mother” church, and from there donations are made to the National Council of Churches.

UPDATE 9/28/12: In <strike>500</strike> 1000-some churches, out of thousands, we have one Sunday of the year donated to “endorsing” political candidates with the assurance that the Alliance Defense Fund will come to your aid should you be investigated or sued. We have only one Sunday because churches fear being investigated and punished by the IRS, even though the record shows us the IRS has historically stayed away from these conflicts. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are political in everything they say and do. Sharpton is a known tax cheat, but retains his tax exempt status. Black Liberation Theology churches engage in weekly rhetoric that surely would not pass the Johnson Amendment test. Comparing Barack Obama to “Jesus Christ” from the pulpit on Christmas morning has not bothered the IRS, and that statement was not made on Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

I will pray for these pastors and the Alliance Defense Fund for standing behind all those who will speak the truth, however that truth is seen, from America’s churches. If Islamic centers across our Nation are tax exempt, surely our traditional pastors should not feel threatened. (If I rambled, my apologies. I’m out the door to a Southern Gospel music event to “Celebrate America.”)

Readers, BobF has left an insightful comment below this article. I hope you have time to read a statement that clearly shows how we got to the place we are today

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  • I wrote the following a number of years back in response to someone who complained politics had no place on a church forum I was a member of.

    America was founded by men who had a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other. Throughout our early history, it has been American’s preachers who led her in her struggle for independence. Due to the preaching of God’s men, a group of rag-tag colonists arose, fought, and won their independence from the most powerful nation on earth, Great Britain.

    When those men later wrote the Constitution of the United States, it was based on Judeao-Christian principals and values. Although some of the writers of the Constitution weren’t even Christian, they knew Christian Values and they knew they were needed for this nation to survive.

    For the next 150 years, America’s Preachers thundered from their pulpits sermons of morality, values, honesty, and integrity for their political leaders. Christians got involved with running their nation and made sure the leaders they elected reflected their values. Then something happened. Christians no longer wanted to be involved with politics and running the nation. We sat back and said “it has no places in our churches”; now it’s for fear of loss of tax exempt status.

    Our preachers were to preach messages on love only. This left a void in government that had to be filled. After all, representatives still needed to be elected. So, in the past 80 years, men and women began getting elected to public office that had no morals or ethics. Their loyalty was to whoever contributed the most. They feared not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This crowd and their supporters grew strong and powerful, so powerful that the highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court, ruled that a woman could abort (kill) her unborn child….destroy the egg of a Bald Eagle or cause a Grizzly Bear to loose its unborn cub and you will be incarcerated in a Federal Prison.

    Meanwhile Christians are up in arms. Laws have been introduced that will limit a preachers ability to preach the whole Bible. Sermons against homosexuality may be outlawed if certain Hate Crimes Legislation passes as written. Teenage pregnancy is at an all time high. Violence, drugs, rape, assaults, and alcohol
    abuse is running ramped in our schools, not just high schools but middle and elementary schools too. Our colleges are using prostitutes to lure our sons to their institutions. Our daughters are sexually assaulted on campuses and administrators look the other way because it was done by a sports hero.

    Our young people have no conscience of right and wrong and in any large city they will end your life for the thrill of it. Our political leaders are involved in sexual scandals, bribery and graft. Some have even been sent to prison and then, once released, are reelected to office. At one time we were a Christian Nation, One Nation under God. But now, we are a decaying society and why is that? The reason is because Christians, us, have sat back and said politics has no place in our churches. We say God will take care of it but forgot that God used men to take care of things.

    God used Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. God used men like David, Solomon, Joshua, John the Baptist, and the Apostles. And, when God came to be the savior of men, he came in the form of a man. The complacency and apathy of the Church has let America fall into moral and civil decay. We have gone from a nation of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” to a nation of “Give Me”. Those of us who call ourselves Christians have only ourselves to blame.

    Pr 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice:
    but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

    • BobF, 1st I hope you do not mind that I added some paragraphs to your comment to make it easier to read. You have clearly explained what we have allowed to happen. I added a statement to the bottom of the article, asking readers to take the time to look at what you have written.