A few months after he took office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that he claimed would “get rid of and totally destroy” a provision in federal law that prohibits tax-exempt, nonprofit entities, which includes houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
Trump’s order did no such thing. The provision in question, known as the Johnson Amendment, is a federal law that Trump can’t just magically overturn with a stroke of his pen. His order was a lot of verbiage but didn’t change the law.
But some religious leaders either think it did or have simply decided to break the law. Among them is Pastor Derek Rogers of the Cowboy Church of Corsicana, Texas, who last week told his congregants to vote for Trump while attacking Democrat Joe Biden.
Rogers’ comments, which he posted to Facebook, were not guarded or subtle in any way. During the sermon, he said the following:
- “I do not understand how anybody that calls themselves a Christian could vote for the agenda and the platform of Joe Biden.”
- “President Trump, he ain’t the greatest dude in the whole world, but he’s the closest thing that we got to what we need. And I’m gonna encourage you. He’s gonna fight for Christianity. He’s gonna fight for everything that we believe in as Christians and the Bible. And the other party is gonna fight to take away every religious freedom and every right we have as Christians.”
- “This Democratic Party is not the Democratic Party that your parents voted for or your grandparents voted for. It is an evil monster.”
- “I’m just telling you straight up: It matters this year, and if you’re gonna vote as a Christian, and vote for biblical truth, you better vote for Donald Trump so that we can keep America great and keep our religious freedom and our rights as Christians. So I said it.”
That’s about as clean-cut a violation of the Johnson Amendment that you could find. (Hat tip to blogger Hemant Mehta for breaking this story.) Are you listening, Internal Revenue Service?
Thankfully, most religious leaders in America don’t do this sort of thing. They understand that the Johnson Amendment is actually designed to protect houses of worship from being sucked into partisan political machines, and they follow the law. They also know that the majority of Americans – including evangelical Christians and Republicans – don’t support the idea of faith leaders endorsing politicians from the pulpit.
If you want to hear from some of these sensible religious leaders, check out this video of a webinar Americans United hosted recently. I was especially struck by this advice for politicians offered by the Rev. Wendell Griffen of New Millennium Church in Little Rock: “This is a faith community. I do not go to the legislature and hold worship services. And you don’t come to this congregation and hold a political rally. I’ll stay in my lane, and you stay in yours. You’re welcome to come here and worship. But you’re not welcome to come here and politick.”
Rogers and his Cowboy Church could use a big dose of that wisdom.
P.S. You can learn more about the Johnson Amendment and how it protects houses of worship here.
Photo: Pastor Derek Rogers. Screenshot from Facebook.