Several pastors and church related ministries have publicly declared that they are taking on the IRS in this election year in a no-holds-barred fight. If the IRS doesn’t like it, they can basically go take a hike because it’s going to be business as usual with them, even if their tax-exempt status is put in jeopardy.
Mark Holick, Pastor of Spirit One Christian Center in Wichita, Kansas, and Wiley Drake, Pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA, both of whom have received letters of inquiry from the IRS for “political” activity, are leading the way in this battle. There are currently four Religious Liberty Advocacy Law Centers that have joined the fray. The Alliance Defense Fund, led by Allen Sears; the Liberty Counsel directed by Matt Staver; the Christian Law Association founded by David Gibbs, Jr.; and Pat Robertson’s Center for Law and Justice under the leadership of Jay Sekulow. John Whitehead’s Heritage Foundation is also expected to be involved at some level.
With the support of these powerful law firms, it seems that the pastors are throwing caution to the winds and literally spitting in the eye of the tiger this election year. Jonathan Falwell was one of the first to throw down the gauntlet by inviting Mike Huckabee to speak at the Thomas Road Baptist church on a Sunday morning in Lynchburg just before the Virginia Primary.
Wiley Drake got the attention of Barry Lynn and his Americans United for the Separation of Church and State organization when Drake endorsed Huckabee on church stationary and Lynn informed the IRS. Now Drake is fighting back with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund to sue the IRS in order to keep his church’s tax-exempt status. In the mean time, Drake is calling for Christians to pray imprecatory prayers against Barry Lynn and Joe Conn, and Jeremy Learing of Lynn’s organization. In a February 12, 2008, Internet appeal Don Wildmon, the Director of the American Family Association is calling on people to help him launch a lawsuit against the IRS on behalf of these beleaguered churches.
In the meantime, many groups are sending out information in the mail and on the internet to minimize the fear, so that pastors will be willing to jump into the political arena. Following are some examples. On February 26, the Victory Baptist Church of N. Fort Myers, FL, was packed to hear Attorney David Gibbs, Jr. tell what pastors can do to stay out of trouble this election year. His solution? Pastors can do anything they want to do as long as they don’t do it under the auspices of the church.
One of the boldest articles came from the Liberty Legal Institute organization, of Plano, TX. This group is associated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization. Other than saying that churches can’t endorse or raise money for candidates, including free use of “providing a list of church members to one candidate but not others” there isn’t much, according to them, that the church can’t do.
Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel and Dean of the Liberty University School of Law is also sending out notices to churches declaring the following: “ALL PASTORS AND CHURCH MEMBERS DID YOU KNOW. . . that since 1954, the Johnson Amendment, meant to silence the church, of all the IRS complaints against Churches, not one Church has lost their tax exempt status due to ‘political’ involvement?”
Actually Johnson only enhanced the IRS code that was already in effect. The “public policy” principle Johnson added has been in the Internal Revenue Code from the very beginning of the nonprofit section of the Code was enacted. The principle is true for churches as well as religious organizations: “Come shekels”, that is, -- tax deductible gifts and now faith based money – “come shackles.”
If Staver had done his homework, he would have known that in May of 1995, the Internal Revenue Service officially removed the tax exempt status of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple even though the church had given up its tax-exempt status in 1986. The following headline appeared in the Indianapolis Star July 8, 1995:
IRS Officially Removes Baptist Temple Tax-Exemption May 1995
THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR
July 8, 1995
(Front page article)
Southside church loses state tax-exempt status
Baptist Temple lost federal status as well.
Why Did the IRS Persecute the Baptist Temple by Removing the Tax Exempt Status that the Congregation had Relinquished in 1986?
Because the IBT congregation would not recognize the jurisdiction of the IRS over the affairs of the church. Following are a few headlines from newspaper articles that IBT received through discovery from the IRS that they had been keeping on the pastor dating back to 1971 that the IRS considered to be political activity. These were the reasons that the IRS gave for removing the exempt status of the church.
Articles about IBT From Indianapolis Star and News Found in IRS Files via Discovery
The following headlines reflect articles that the IRS has kept on the Baptist Temple and its former pastor Dr. Greg Dixon dating back to 1971.
· Baptist High School to stress Bible - 1971
· Rev. Dixon fights day care License - 1978
· Church Plans tech school - 1978
· Pornography target of downtown rally attended by 1000 - 1981
· Rev. Dixon opposes lottery Bill - 1983
· Churches to fight encroachment - 1983
· State tax laws may collide with church - Dixon - 1985
· Group to obey Jesus, not government - 1986
· Dixon opposes Gov. Orr on schools – 1987
· Gays urge panel to include them in anti-bias bill; it was opposed by Rev Greg Dixon – 1990
In the Liberty Legal Institute notice to pastors mentioned above, they make an incredible statement: “Individually, a pastor can do whatever he feels led to do…There are no limitations. The few limitations above that exist are only for the church entity and only if the church is a non-profit corporation . . . Pastors should not be intimidated from acting as pastors, etc.”
Why doesn’t someone ask the question, “From whence does the Lord’s church get its authority – from the Holy Scriptures or from the Internal Revenue Code?” But if the church is an IRS approved, tax-exempt, non-profit organization, it is no longer under the authority of Christ, its head is the IRS. How tragic. An important truth. If a pastor acts outside the authority of his church, he has no authority. Even the Lord Jesus Christ did His divine work under authority. The chief priests and scribes asked the Lord Jesus by whose authority He did His mighty works. He immediately pointed to John’s Baptism and declared the fact that it was from Heaven. Before the Lord Jesus ever began His public ministry, he walked many miles to be baptized of John the Baptist.
The Devil wants the pastors of America to come down from their pulpits and speak on the level of ordinary men with the guaranteed speech rights of the bartender, the bricklayer, the ball player, or even the common prostitute. Without the pulpit of a church, they may be a preacher, but they are not a pastor. The preachers need to go back to their pulpits, and under the authority of Almighty God and His blood-bought Church, they need to lift up the old blood stained banner of the cross and cry aloud, and lift up a moral compass and call a nation to repentance, and do it under the God-given authority of the Lord’s Church. The freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment was written to protect the church from government, not the preacher. The preacher may be protected under the free speech and assembly clauses, but the pastor is protected under the religious clause of the First Amendment. Unless the pastor goes back into his pulpit to preach “thus saith the Lord,” he has taken himself out from under that protection.
Churches should give up their tax-exempt status and begin operating as New Testament churches, even if it means losing everything. When they do, they can say as Paul the Apostle, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” [Phil 3:8].
I trust that my friend Pastor Wiley Drake, who came and stood with our church in our hour of trial, is successful in his lawsuit against the IRS. I hope that all of the pastors and churches that have left their God-given status as New Testament churches under the authority of Christ, with the scriptures as their final guide, to submit to the IRS as their boss and final authority, will be successful in flaunting their IRS master with their bold words, “Come and get me, I’ll do whatever I please because I have God on my side” will prevail. But they also may be like the seven silly sons of Sceva. He tried to cast out the evil spirits from a man and the evil spirit leaped on him and “he fled out of the house naked and wounded.” In fact the evil spirit said, “Jesus I know and Paul I know; but who are ye?”
Instead of lawsuits and imprecatory prayers, it might be time for pastors and churches to repent for the sins of our preacher fathers who got us into this tax-exempt scheme three generations ago, and to repent ourselves for remaining in a system that muzzles us from being the prophetic voice for God that we are supposed to be in this day and hour. I did repent and did my best to get out of this system in 1982. Thank God for the few others that have done the same. May their numbers increase in this crisis hour.