Tag: Political activity

Campaign 2018 – Time to Out-Conservative each other

Texas_State_Capitol_Summer_2005 Public DomainThe filing window hasn’t even opened for candidates to secure a place on the primary election ballots for the 2018 mid-term elections, yet online political ads boasting of their “conservative credentials” are already dotting my Facebook feed.

This again.

In rural Texas, where I live, the Republican candidate in any race is going to win 70-90 percent of the vote. In suburban Texas, the GOP wins with 52-60 percent of the vote. Therefore, he who gets elected in Texas wins that office during the primary elections.

So, a Republican seeking office in Texas doesn’t need to convince his district he’s the right man for the job, he need only convince other Republicans he’s the right man for the job. And how does one do that? He convinces GOP primary voters that he’s not only conservative, but more conservative than the other guy.

Governor Greg AbbottSo, we wind up with candidates from Governor all the way down to city dog catcher running on a platform of “I’m the only real conservative in the race.” Which is bad enough, but once the elections are over and the legislature convenes, the entire 140 day session is dedicated to helping the incumbents compile a conservative resume that will fortify them against any insurgent primary challenges in the coming election cycle.

Proof?

Currently, Texas education is in a pressure cooker. Expenses are skyrocketing due to increasing enrollment as Americans follow economic opportunities in the Lone Star State, and as state and federal regulations and requirements drive up their administrative costs.

One has to look no further than the stacks of paperwork it takes to get a kid signed up for the school year to see that the bureaucracy has been bloated by federal and state mandates, some of which have no more purpose than to provide political footing for special interests. Who pays for that bloated bureaucracy? The local districts.

The Teacher Retirement System is always on the brink, and with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare (driven by the Affordable Care Act) and infrastructure improvements, the state has no additional funding to offer schools.

It’s a complex problem that will take hearings, investigations and real legislative initiative to unwind. But taking on an issue like that does not build conservative cred, so the legislature argues about bathrooms.

Bathrooms. I find it ridiculous that we even have to legislate this issue. I supported the bathroom bill, but the whole issue is brought up to give conservative lawmakers the opportunity to build conservative credentials for the upcoming election, and to undermine those who aren’t “on the team.”

The Republicans won Texas during the 1990s with a message of limited government, expanded personal liberty, and a cultural revival (through tough on crime initiatives and pro-family initiatives.)

At this point, the Texas Republican Party is at the height of its power in Texas. The party hasn’t wielded this much power since Reconstruction. We have a real opportunity to reform the Texas government in a way that opens up even more economic opportunity, expands and improves public education, and protects the rights of the individual.

We have the opportunity to present, and execute a vision of Texas that will elevate the standard of living for all involved.

However, that vision will never be illuminated nor realized if our political discourse doesn’t progress beyond who is the most conservative. With more blue-state voters moving into Texas, the clock is running out for the GOP to get it together.

How the Johnson Amendment is used to target churches

LBJ

Any pastor will tell you that unless you put the scriptures into practice, they will not change your life. As a result, pastors are responsible not only for teaching the text and meaning of scripture, but also for teaching their congregations how to apply those scriptures to life.

However, when scripture applies to the legislative process, or a political election, the pastor must step out of the pulpit before applying scripture to the situation. Otherwise, the church can lose its tax-exempt status under the Johnson Amendment.

To be clear, pastors can discuss abortion, homosexuality, benevolence and relief for the poor, drug abuse, sexual immorality and the definition of marriage from the pulpit. It’s when those issues become tied to legislation, or a political campaign that the Johnson Amendment comes into play.

Such was the case in Houston during the fall of 2014. Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, adding sexual orientation to the list of things for which one could not be discriminated against. While this sounds like common decency on the surface, many felt that the ordinance infringed on the religious freedoms of Christian business owners, contractors, and political hopefuls. Then, there was the bathroom issue.

Pastors who preached against homosexuality could not reference the proposed ordinance, or discuss petitions to call for a public referendum on the ordinance, from the pulpit. To engage the ordinance, those pastors would have to work on their own time, apart from the churches. Such is common, and such took place in the aftermath of the passage of HERO.

The petition to call for a referendum failed, and Houston area pastors filed a lawsuit claiming that many signatures on the petition were unlawfully disqualified. During the discovery phase of that suit, attorneys for the city subpoena’ed the sermons of some of the pastors who helped promote the petition.

Time magazine reported that lawyers for the city wanted to search the sermon notes to see if any of the pastors had discussed the petition, or instructed their parishioners on how to participate in the petition during church services.

Immediately, there was an outcry from the Christian community in Houston, and Mayor Parker ordered the lawyers to drop the subpoenas for the sermon notes, telling the Texas Tribune that she had not approved those subpoenas prior to them being sent out.

The legal and political process played out, resulting in the referendum on HERO being put to the voters. It ultimately failed.

This post is not to reopen the debate on HERO, bathrooms or same-sex marriage. This post is to examine how the Johnson Amendment was used, though not cited, as a legal tool to overcome the political activities of Christian pastors.

Under the Johnson Amendment, churches are not allowed to engage in activity that would influence an election, or legislation. Churches cannot lobby the legislature, their local councils, and cannot endorse candidates. Churches cannot contribute to political candidates or political action committees. Doing so would cost them their tax-exempt status, and subject them to federal regulation.

There are good reasons for the Johnson Amendment, as no one wants to see churches become stealth super-PACs, as Roll Call fears. On the other hand, the premise of the Johnson Amendment was the basis for the City of Houston’s subpoenas for Sunday sermons. They wanted to see if any pastor had crossed the line. Had that been established, the city could have used the violation of the Johnson Amendment to put down the lawsuit, thus saving HERO. And that’s where the problem lies.

If the government has the right to examine Biblical teaching, and then ban or penalize it for becoming “too political,” then what’s next? The separation of Church and State would eventually be weathered down, and government would control religion. That has resulted in disaster every single time it has happened throughout history.

Churches are tax-exempt to preserve the separation of church and state by preventing government regulation through tax incentives or penalties. If government wants to ban financial contributions from churches to political causes to keep that separation in tact, fine.

However, the government should never have any say in what is taught from the pulpit, or the Sunday School rooms.¬†Furthermore, churches should be able to advocate for policies that parallel¬†their mission. Stand up, speak up, but don’t pay up.

For those reasons, President Donald Trump’s executive order for the IRS to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is a good thing, even if it doesn’t make any significant changes to the way things are.