IRS Commissioner Mark Everson is warning churches not to speak out on political issues. Churches who violate IRS regulations could lose their tax-exempt status and be forced to pay a ten percent excise tax on all donations. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), led by Executive Director Barry Lynn, has been monitoring the content of Sunday sermons since 2004. If these self-appointed snitches don’t like what they hear, that is, if what a pastor says is “too political” and contrary to a liberal political agenda, they will send video and audio tapes to the IRS for investigation. The goal, of course, is to get a church’s tax exempt status revoked. A new IRS report and memorandum are designed to strike fear into pastors who are already intimidated by a threat of an audit.
When Martin Niemoeller used his pulpit to expose Adolf Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.” Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:
Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.
In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller made it clear to those in attendance had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.” A few days later, he was arrested. His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.”
The “Special Courts” set up by the Nazis made claims against pastors who spoke out against Hitler’s policies. Niemoeller was not the only one singled out by the Gestapo. “Some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years.” A group of Confessional Churches in Germany, founded by Pastor Niemoeller and other Protestant ministers, drew up a proclamation to confront the political changes taking place in Germany that threatened the people “with a deadly danger. The danger lies in a new religion,” the proclamation declared. “The church has by order of its Master to see to it that in our people Christ is given the honor that is proper to the Judge of the world . . . The First Commandment says ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ The new religion is a rejection of the First Commandment.” Five hundred pastors who read the proclamation from their pulpits were arrested.
The IRS regulations governing non-profit organizations are being interpreted in such a narrow way as to make it impossible for a pastor to discuss moral issues that have become political issues. The Bible addressed abortion and homosexuality long before there were IRS regulations. The 1954 law rammed through Congress by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson is now being used as a political hammer to restrict churches from speaking freely on topics they have addressed for nearly two millennia.
Churches are permitted to hand out information on what candidates believe on specific political issues. One candidate says he’s “pro-choice” (pro-abortion), while another candidate says he’s “pro-life” (anti-abortion). The pastor gets up in the pulpit one Sunday morning and preaches a sermon on Exodus 21:22–25, showing how this passage and others like it teach that abortion is a moral and civil wrong. Citing freedom of expression and the constitutional right to change laws through the political process, the pastor exhorts his people to vote in terms of what the Bible says on the issue. He’s obligated to do this by the nature of his prophetic office. Should the minister be faulted if those listening to him are smart enough to connect the dots?
The First Amendment protects pastors who speak out on today’s moral issues: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The other four freedoms—speech, press, assembly, and petition—should not be separated from the first freedom. This amendment is so clear in its language, logic, and history that groups like Americans United repeatedly misstate it. If the 1954 regulations are being interpreted by the IRS to prohibit ministers from speaking freely on what the Bible says about moral issues, even if they relate to politics and specific candidates, then these regulations are unconstitutional and should be ignored. If enough churches stood firm on this issue, refusing to be intimidated, the IRS’s Gestapo tactics would fail.
Writing his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a liberal icon for so many on the political left, based his refusal to follow certain man-made laws on the claim that they were a violation of the permanent nature of the moral law. He further supported his argument by an appeal to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bible:
We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights.
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman empire.
I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle.
It was “through the Negro church” that the struggle for civil rights became a reality. How can moral wrongs ever be made right if the very people who are protesting these moral wrongs are silenced in terms of laws that were written and are being enforced by unelected bureaucrats? David L. Lewis, in his biography of King, sums up the argument: “Finally, [King] reminded his fellow ministers that the laws of Hitler’s Reich had been ‘legal.’” If officials at the IRS were to apply their Gestapo tactics retroactively, they would have issued a press release commending the “Special Courts” in Germany for taking action against activist pastors who used their pulpits for “political purposes.”
William Shirer paints a depressing picture of the state of the Christian church in 1938. “Not many Germans lost much sleep over the arrests of a few thousand pastors and priests.” Martin Borman said publicly in 1941, “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.” Today’s liberals have adopted the slogan and want it made law, and they will use Gestapo tactics to make it happen. You have been warned.
 Brendan Miniter, “Bullying the Pulpits” (March 10, 2006): www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110008074
 Basil Miller, Martin Niemoeller: Hero of the Concentration Camp, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112.  Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175.  Quoted in William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 239.  Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 239.  Quoted in Eugene Davidson, The Trials of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-Two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press,  1997), 275.  David L. Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1970), 190.  Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 240.  Quoted in Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 240.