This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, November 5, 2014:
The Black Robe Regiment is enjoying a welcome revival, thanks to IRS waffling and dithering. Its initial iteration dates back to 1776 when Reverend John Peter Muhlenberg concluded his Sunday sermon with this:
In the language of the Holy Writ, there was a time for all things: a time to preach and a time to pray. But those times have passed away.
There is a time to fight and that time is now coming!
He then threw off his black robe revealing a full military uniform and marched to the back of his church where he demanded: “Who among you is with me?” 300 men from his congregation stood up and joined Muhlenberg that day.
The “regiment” of patriot-pastors grew to the point during the Revolutionary War that British Prime Minister Horace Walpole remarked: “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson!”
The second iteration was ignited by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in 2008 with its declaration that the first Sunday in October would be Pulpit Freedom Day and urging black-robed pastors of like mind to speak freely about politics, in contravention of the Johnson Amendment of 1954 beneath which most American pastors have labored – some would say acquiesced – silently for 60 years. That year, 33 pastors dared to challenge the enemy – the IRS – and spoke truth to power.
In October this year, more than 1,600 black-robed pastors did the same thing. This naturally outraged people at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which had sued the IRS in 2012 for dereliction of duty in its failure to prosecute those pastors so willing to risk their positions, their credibility, and their tax exemptions to exercise their First Amendment rights to speak freely in public. The IRS settled the lawsuit, claiming that it “has a procedure in place … to initiate church tax investigations and examinations.”
But when present IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was asked about those “investigations and examinations” waiting to be applied to intransigent preachers, he waffled. There was a gross misunderstanding, he said, about just what the IRS was going to do about these wayward preachers exercising their First Amendment rights without his permission. He said that word got out “that somehow we are doing something very different and [that] we are going to show up either more aggressively or more often in a different way than we have in the past.”
This no doubt grieved both the ADF and the FFRF, for different reasons. The ADF is spoiling for a fight with the IRS, hoping that it would initiate a lawsuit against one of the black-robed regiment so it could, with its whole host of freelance pro-bono lawyers aching for a chance to join the fray, defend the pastor, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The FFRF, on the other hand – also enjoying tax-exempt status from the IRS but not worried in the least about transgressing the Johnson Amendment in its efforts to rid the body politic of the last vestiges of the Holy Scriptures – no doubt sees the IRS’ dithering as a setback.
In the meantime, other preachers are seeing an opening and taking advantage of it. Many are turning every Sunday into Pulpit Freedom Sunday and speaking truth to power in the clearest possible terms.
Rev. Mark Cowart, senior pastor at the Church for All Nations in Colorado Springs, Colorado said to his flock on Sunday, October 19:
[Republican candidate Bob] Beauprez is against more gun control, does not support abortion and he does protect the man-woman marriage – [he’s] the one I’m voting for.
I’m endorsing Biblical principles.
Cowart also endorsed from the pulpit the candidacy of Republican Cory Gardner in his race to unseat hard-left Democrat Senator Marx (Mark) Udall, telling them that “we need to see [Udall] out.”
Rev. Kevin Baird of Legacy Church in Charleston, S.C., questioned from his pulpit the integrity of a local Republican incumbent who called himself “pro-life” but didn’t lift a finger on that issue while in office.
Southern Baptist preacher Mark Harris told his congregation in Charlotte, N.C. that he supported Republican Thom Tillis over incumbent Senator Kay Hagan, decrying her pro-choice and gay marriage stances in a sermon entitled “Deeds of Darkness.”
Rev. Jeff Whitmire used his sermon last month to express his support for two Republican candidates for public office over their Democrat opponents.
These are reminiscent of similar expressions uttered by black-robed clergy dating back to the birth of the republic. Said Rev. Matthias Burnett in 1803:
Look well to the characters and qualifications of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust….
Let the wise counsel of Jethro [father-in-law of Moses] … be your guide: “Choose ye out from among you able men, such as fear God, men of truth and hating covetousness” and set them to rule over you.
Rev. Charles Finney, a leader of America’s Second Great Awakening, said in 1835:
The church must take right ground in regard to politics…. Politics are a part of a religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as part of their duty to God….
God will bless or curse this nation according to the course [Christians] take [in politics].
Thirty years later, Finney hadn’t changed one whit:
The time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics….
Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter….
God cannot sustain this free and blessed country which we love and pray for unless the Church will take right ground….
It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it, and He will bless or curse the nation according to the course [Christians] take.
The newly-christened and rapidly growing black robe regiment is also getting a push from Americans tired of being told what they can or can’t say and do in the public square. On September 22, Pew Research announced that “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in US politics … [and that] churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues.” Pew added that the percentage of Americans who feel that way has grown from 40 percent to 49 percent in just the last two years.
All of which begs the question as to why pastors of any denomination would assent to the strictures under the Johnson Amendment in the first place. Can the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment be abrogated in exchange for tax-exempt status? Can silence in the public square and from the pulpit be sold for such a mess of putrid porridge?
Former Governor Mike Huckabee doesn’t think so:
I think we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God….
If that means that we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me [in exchange for] permission to say what God wants me to say.
The New American: 1500 Pastors Defy IRS, Preach on Social & Political Issues
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