August 30, 2018

'Johnson Amendment' Debate Comes to Missouri

For the past two years, President Donald Trump has consistently attacked the political activity ban (which he calls the "Johnson Amendment"). Republican Senate hopeful Josh Hawley, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri, has now also called for repealing the ban.

The rule, which prevents houses of worship and many other tax-exempt nonprofits from endorsing political candidates, was added to the tax code in 1954. Critics of the rule - like Trump and Hawley - often refer to it as the "Johnson Amendment" to connect it to then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who first added it to the proposed tax code bill before a Republican House and a Republican Senate overwhelmingly passed it without controversy. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower then signed it into law. The political activity ban was reaffirmed in the 1986 tax code passed by a Democratic House and a Republican Senate and signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Hawley told a group of conservative pastors that the ban was "absolutely unconstitutional." After the news broke, Hawley doubled down on his position and urged McCaskill to join him. Her office issued a statement noting, "Claire opposes repealing the Johnson Amendment."

Since this latest controversy about the political activity ban occurred in Missouri, some Baptists in Missouri decided to speak out. Churchnet (also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) issued a statement reiterating support for the political activity ban. I serve as Associate Director at Churchnet. Last year, Churchnet joined more than 100 other faith groups in sending a letter to Congress urging they not repeal the political activity ban.


"The 'Johnson Amendment' protects house of worship from candidates seeking endorsement during a political campaign," Brian Ford, executive director of Churchnet, said in our statement. "As a life-long Baptist and ordained pastor, I can't imagine how damaging it would be to erase this legislation for local churches across the nation. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to be in community with one another, even those we disagree with on a myriad of political and social issues. We need to continue to live into this tension, not ramp it up."

This statement thankfully garnered some press attention to help get the word out that most Christians do not want their churches turned into partisan Super PACs. The Springfield News-Leader covered our statement, and then Baptist News Global covered it. Hopefully Hawley will listen.

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