Churches and Tax-Exempt Status

April 15, 1999

It seems that whenever I talk in a church about a Christian's responsibility toward the political arena, someone brings up the concern over a church violating its tax-exempt status. After all, they say, if we take a stand on a political issue or candidate, won't the church put itself in jeopardy of losing its tax exempt status?

Frankly, I think we should be more concerned with God's call on our life than a government's tax exemption. But the question deserves a fair answer, and a recent court case provides that answer.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Internal Revenue's decision to strip a church's tax exempt status. The Church at Pierce Creek in Vestal, New York took out full-page ads against candidate Bill Clinton in The Washington Times and USA Today headlined "Christian Beware." The ad attacked Clinton's morals and warned Christians not to vote for him.

Now I won't go into the propriety or even the accuracy of the ads. The point I want to make is how much it took and how long it took for the IRS to pull the tax exempt status of a church that took out full page ads attacking a national candidate. And the case may not be over yet. The case may be reversed on appeal by the Supreme Court.

The point is this: churches and pastors can take moral stands and not threaten their tax exempt status. It took a highly political message published in full-page ads in national newspapers for a church to lose its tax exempt status. And that case is not over yet.

Christians have a responsibility to speak out on the moral issues of the day, and this latest case merely underscores the fact that they also have a Constitutional right to do so.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.