Religious Minorities

In North Carolina, A Baptist Church Turned Sunday Services Into A Campaign Rally For A U.S. Senate Candidate

  Rob Boston

A federal law known as the Johnson Amendment is very clear: Organizations that hold tax-exempt status as 501 (c)(3) entities may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.

This tax status includes houses of worship (as well as many secular groups), yet some religious leaders are blatantly violating the law. Our friends Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood at the online Baptist publication Word&Way recently wrote about one case that is especially egregious.

Winkler’s Grove Baptist Church in Hickory, N.C., invited Mark Walker, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, to speak from its pulpit March 20. As Kaylor and Underwood note, the service “started like any other as Pastor Paul Deal welcomed those present. But then things quickly got political.”

After some songs and other activities, Deal played a Walker campaign ad on a large screen. Kaylor and Underwood wrote, “The ad includes images of his campaign signs, a reference to Trump, a shot of him preaching in a church, and the claim that he was rated the ‘#1 America First candidate.’ In the ad, Walker argued about his campaign, ‘This is much more about spiritual warfare than it is politics. We’ve turned our backs on the Bible and the Constitution, and our liberty is under attack.’ His wife added, ‘We’re asking for your prayers and your vote.’”

Deal then introduced Walker, telling the congregation, “He’s running for the seat of Sen. Richard Burr, and he’s going to make us a great senator in this United States. Amen? I appreciate what he stands for. And I want to say that my name is Paul Deal and I approve this message.”

Walker’s speech to the congregation, Kaylor and Underwood wrote, consisted mainly of “a similar script he used in other church services as he tells the same stories and jokes about his dad as a pastor, his family growing up, running for Congress, and meeting with Trump.” He also attacked President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, remarking, “What we’re facing in this country, it’s beyond politics. This is spiritual warfare. We’re battling evil.”

I watched the livestream of this service. One thing is clear: Attendees could be forgiven for believing they had stumbled into a campaign rally instead of a church service.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for enforcing the Johnson Amendment. Unfortunately, the agency has not been very aggressive in this area, and now we’re seeing the results: Candidates are actually playing campaign commercials from the pulpit.

Christian nationalists may gleefully turn their churches into partisan units, but most Americans do not want this. Polls show strong support for the Johnson Amendment and opposition to mixing partisan politics with religion.

Are you listening, IRS?

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