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by: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND


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The Church, Clergy, Christianity and Politics
The Modern Day Black Regiment

by: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
12/7/2008


The Founding Era Black Regiment:


Should the church participate in political discourse? The answer is "yes", but not to the exclusion of teaching the principles of Right living, repentance, and salvation.  The common wisdom (incorrectly) holds that churches cannot criticize and comment on issues of state from the pulpit in return for tax-exempt status.  In fact, tax law prohibits only endorsing a specific candidate.  The legislation that mandated this restriction on supporting candidates by 501 (c)(3) organizations was introduced by LBJ in 1954, and while it was not aimed at churches, it has been used to produce a self imposed silence on all political speech from the pulpit.  Commentary on both candidate and issues was heartily engaged in the Founding era, and the Black Regiment (the clergy of the day), can be credited largely with the mobilization of the public and success of the Revolutionary War.

The actual question we must ask is, "Can we justify the involvement of the church and clergy in the consideration of secular matters?"  In this regard, the Black Regiment of the mid 1700s answered in the affirmative.  God is the God of all, both the sacred and secular.  He sees all, and participates in all the affairs of mankind.  We are the sheep of His pasture and the proxies for executing His will on Earth.  We are His hands extended.  It is only through the actions of men that the will of God forms the dust of the earth to fashion His desired works.  It is only through the gathered and agreed will of His people that large works are accomplished.  For such purposes, men must come together for reason, decision, and action.  The secular struggles of life require dedication of mind, heart, and energy to the daily work of commerce, war, and governance, but all efforts produce better fruit when following the will and way of God.  


The church need not be the forum for considering and managing every act of secular life, but events and seasons happen when mankind strays from the charge of creating His Kingdom on Earth.  The church should teach the generalities of moral action, and the individual should take that wisdom and apply it to his trade and the duties of life conduct.


But there are times when specific social issues rise, and the body of Christ should act en masse to effect righteous social change.  The church should be the focal point of unifying the minds and resolve of the brethren. When necessary, we should use the time of gathering to mobilize bring unity to the body for the purpose of action and bringing His kingdom on Earth.  Discussion, exhortation, and commentary from the perspective of the Word is both helpful and grounding in sanctifying secular efforts.


In this world, movement is preceded by force, and the great force of group projects is only assembled by unifying the will and action of men through words that create desire and commitment to purpose.  The heartiest effort is mobilized when men recognize their duty as absolute, true, and Right.  Inside each man's heart lies the courage of a lion to stand against all opponents when he knows his stand is in defense of Truth.  That sacred space, once opened, releases the passion to serve God and risk all for the glory of eternity and Righteousness.


As His people, we should include regular consideration of the current issues of legislation, economics, public morality, and character from the pulpit.  There is no right rudder for society other than the wisdom of God, Scripture, and leading of the Holy Spirit.  Society needs the guidance of the church.  We must speak our concerns, discuss the issues, come to group consensus, and take action by enrollment and ultimately voting.  


The Christian perspective is the most important voice in the political debate, but the church, the body of Christ, must first come together in unity of mind and speak that word with clarity, reason, and resolve.  Our voice should be included in the political debate; it will affect the political climate.  When the church comes to agreement, and the body of Christ votes dependably for Righteousness, the nation will return to governance by the principles of our Christian heritage.  


There is no need to take up arms while the people have an effective voice in their government and the ballot box accurately reflects the will of the people.  The media has become the primary shaper of public belief and opinion, and the church must balance the secular agenda with a Godly perspective from the pulpit.  If we let this time of waning freedom pass, we may find that forceful resistance is the only option to regain lost freedom.


To return our nation to its obedience and service to God and His way, the church and clergy must take advantage of the freedom of speech we still have.  We must use that speech to resist imposing even more stringent restrictions, and push back and retake lost ground.  As laity, we must encourage the clergy to address the issues of legislation, public morality, and involvement in the political process from the Christian perspective.  The clergy must take the lead in bringing the flock into a right understanding of the issues and mobilize the voice of the church in influencing public policy.


On the IRS website the history of the ban on church involvement in politics is listed. "In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity.  To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, the ban has been strengthened.  The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates."  Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one "which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."


James Davidson of Purdue offers the following explanation of the origin of the ban on church political involvement: "Why Churches Cannot Endorse or Oppose Political Candidates".  Churches cannot favor or oppose particular candidates for political office.  The ban on electioneering has nothing to do with the First Amendment or Jeffersonian principles of separation of church and state.  Instead, the ban is based on a provision in the 1954 tax reform act prohibiting all tax-exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates.  That the provision grew out of the anti-communist frenzy of the 1950s and was directed at right-wing organizations such as Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government.  It was introduced by Lyndon Johnson as part of his effort to end McCarthyism, protect the loyalist wing of the Texas Democratic Party, and win reelection to the Senate in 1954.  These historical acts and dramas have had strong implications on the potency of church social efficacy.


In summary, the IRS will penalize the church for supporting specific candidates.  While silencing the church on all political issues was not the overt statement of the legislation, this law has been used as the de facto law used to silence the church’s public voice.  The ACLU and its numerous kindred organizations (People For the American Way, etc…) actually operate with intent to completely silence the voice of Christianity in the culture.  These groups have leveraged the color of law, to intimidate the public voice of churches with litigation threats.


In a representative democracy, the voter's intervention in the political process, is largely about choosing men of character.  The society suffers a grave loss when the church is prevented from influencing the choice of representative.  We must reverse the 1954 legislation restricting involvement of 501 (c)(3) organizations in endorsing or opposing candidates.  The Constitutional intent of free political speech must be restored, especially for the Christian community.


Still, at this time, the church may legally and without fear of tax repercussions, engage in significant political activity by taking stands on issues. See the 10 Myths essay by Jeffrey Tannebaum, Esq.  Clearly, the church that chooses to support or oppose candidates will suffer the tax consequences of opposing this law.  But, as the body of Christ, the church we must begin to take the risk of speaking out on the issues.  The nation will continue steady on its course toward increased secularization if the church does not stand up.  If we remain silent, overt legislation will eventually forcibly silence the use of Jesus’ name in all public discourse.




1/28/2011

As I was reading through the history of the Black Regiment, the following passage jumped out at me as germane to the conversation about the relevance and appropriateness of political consideration from the pulpit. 


Normally Romans 13:1-7 is used to justify silence by the Church on politics from the pulpit.  Many take it to mean that we are to simply submit to the rule of the king/government. 


But, Rev. Mayhew, one of the Black Regiment, took this passage to mean exactly the opposite, that we should obey government if its laws were righteous, and to preach against, and mobilize the parishioners, if the laws and acts of the government opposed God's Law. 

 

The following is a quote from Jerry Newcomb in his chapter on the Black Regiment.  Note: the ministers of the Revolutionary era were called the Black Regiment because of the color of their Clergy robes.


Rev. Mayhew was among the first to see the lethal consequences to Christian freedom that such a parliamentary directive would have had. So, as the British Parliament was discussing the possibility of imposing the Church of England as the State Church in America, Rev. Mayhew preached a message entitled, "Concerning Unlimited Submission to the Higher Powers, to the Council and House of Representatives in Colonial New England." In that message, preached on January 30, 1750, his Scripture passage was Romans 13:1-7; but Rev. Mayhew did not instruct his flock to submit to a tyrant king. He believed there was a time and a place to discuss politics from the pulpit: 

13:1  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
2  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
3  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
4  For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
5  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.
6  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing.
7  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
8  Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

"It is hoped that but few will think the subject of it an improper one to be discoursed on in the pulpit, under a notion that this is preaching politics, instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that "all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Why, then, should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the desk, as well as others?"

"And while I am speaking of loyalty to our earthly Prince, suffer me just to put you in mind to be loyal also to the supreme RULER of the universe, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice."

Rev. Jonathan Mayhew