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Omdahl: Political preachers may be coming to churches

By Staff | Apr 21, 2017

Somewhere deep in the bowels of Congress, a committee is drafting language to repeal that section of the Internal Revenue Code that prohibits charities, including churches, from endorsing political candidates.

For some evangelical pastors, the Gospel is no longer sufficient so they’re supporting the repeal so they can use partisan politics to fix the ills of the American soul.

President Donald Trump promised his evangelical backers that he would get this provision repealed as a reward for their loyal support. While he thinks he is indebted to evangelicals, he doesn’t know that they voted Republican long before he crashed into the China shop.

They voted big time for Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney. However, their support was highlighted in 2016 when the media folks started reading poll results. That led to the great “outing” of evangelical partisanship.

If public opinion has any influence, it is unlikely that the Johnson Amendment (named for Lyndon Johnson when he was still a senator) will be repealed. But you never know anything for sure these days.

A Lifeway poll found that a strong majority (79 percent) of Americans believe it is inappropriate for preachers to use the pulpit to vent their political biases. A survey of evangelical leaders by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 90 percent of them opposed pulpit politics.

According to the Christian Barna research group, 44 percent of parishioners go to church to feel close to God, 27 percent to learn about God, and the rest for fellowship. None go to feel close to a political candidate.

Even with the restraints of the Johnson provision, politicization of churches occurred in the 2016 election and resulted in an exodus of churchgoers. Researchers found that parishioners who felt they disagreed with their pastors over Trump in September were the ones who left by November.

According to Barna, the group of 30 and younger who were no longer going to church felt that God was missing in the church. Over the past 70 years, the number of Americans claiming no church affiliation has grown from two percent to over 20 percent.

While the church is losing ground, 90 percent of practicing Christians have a concern for the moral condition of the nation. The evangelical pastors who want to preach more politics and less God see moral decline as a good reason to support candidates that would to endorse new edicts to bring moral laggards into line.

If America is experiencing a decline in moral values, it is difficult to blame the 20 percent who have left the faith when the preponderance of influence rests with the remaining 80 percent who describe themselves as Christians. God is hard to find in Congress or the Legislature.

If the Johnson Amendment is repealed, we will not only see a rapid rise of new denominations devoted to politics but we will see divided congregations struggling to stay together.

In those churches with congregational governments, party caucuses will be formed to choose the favorite candidate for the church. In churches run from the top down, the majority will be allowed to sit in the sanctuary and the minority will be sent to the choir loft.

There probably will be Sundays during campaigns when some parishioners will demand equal time in the pulpit or just shout “liar” as they do in Congress. Perhaps there will be campaign banners, balloons and fist fights.

When you think of it, church services will be more exciting and attendance will set new records. Of course, that means spreading the Good News will be left to the Lions, the Rotary and other public-spirited organizations.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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