CNN recently interviewed Jim Wallis and Erik Stanley about the Alliance Defense Fund‘s attempt to let pastors make political endorsements from the pulpit. Watch the video below, or click here to see it on YouTube.
What’s wrong here is painfully obvious. In his typical fervor to infuse politics with non-partisan religious activism on social issues like poverty, Jim Wallis forgets to mention the black-and-white issue that puts this needless debate to rest: it’s your tax-exempt status, stupid.
Nobody’s saying that American citizens and normal, tax-paying businesses can’t make political endorsements. The whole point is that churches are typically non-profit organizations that are voluntarily limited by the same laws that apply to other organizations that get those tax breaks: they can’t be politically partisan. CNN mentioned this question at the beginning of the interview, but then no one addressed it at all until they read a random message board comment at the end–which ended up speaking more clearly about what’s really going on than Wallis and Stanley combined.
Besides awkwardly waltzing around the real issue, here’s what really bothered me about this video: Erik Stanley predictably set up the debate as a religious persecution issue, and no one called him out on it. Instead of acknowledging that pastors/churches are voluntarily surrendering their freedom of speech in this one area in order to attain tax-exempt status, he pretends like pastors are being persecuted by a government that is hell-bent on suppressing the free exercise of religion and crossing the “boundary between church and state” that he’s now so willing to talk about in a positive light (surprise!). I can’t imagine a set of circumstances that would make his plea appear more disingenuous: if you want separation of church and state, give up your special federal status, pay your taxes like everyone else, and watch this issue magically disappear.