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Why the Plan to Politicize Church Isn’t Working

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced recently the creation of a task force whose primary task will be to save Jesus.

To be fair, that is not how Sessions described the work of the task force. He said that the goal was to defend and promote religious liberty.

The inspiration for this divine task was an executive order issued by President Trump directing all departments of the United States government to protect religious liberty and political speech.

Those last two words, “political speech,” are important, and we will have reason to revisit them later.

So, the question hanging before us is: How did Jesus’ followers become so deprived of liberty that a Justice Department task force is needed to save them?

Am I wrong about there being a Christian church on virtually every corner in America? Is it not true that 99 percent of the members of the House and Senate claim affiliation with some Christian fellowship?

Is our country not adorned with several significant Christian universities, the gravitas of some that rival any university in the world?

Where did Jesus go silent?

Baptist, Methodist and Catholic hospitals are often the premier medical centers in the communities where they are found.

And our imagination falters to understand how Jesus has been driven to the margins of society when no less than seven outlets on cable television daily broadcast his good news.

And let’s not forget the official slogans already adopted by our government that favor the Christian religion. “Under God’ was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954. “In God We Trust” was added to our currency in 1956.

So, Jeff, where did Jesus fail you? Where and how was he silenced amid a veritable choir of Christian influence?

Some Christians believe that Jesus was silenced by a 1963 challenge to teacher-led prayer and Bible reading in public schools.

The Supreme Court ruled these activities violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of government establishing a religion as the official faith of the country.

Evangelical followers of Jesus took offense at this decision and thus a six-decade battle with the courts was born.

That’s why we hear so much today about the significance of appointing Supreme Court justices who are willing to overturn these long-established rulings.

By the way, it is not just the overtly religious rulings that give followers of Jesus pain.

In 1973, the court ruled that a woman had the constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy. Roe v. Wade has been the rallying call to segments of Jesus’ followers, who have decided that on this one decision rests the salvation of the country.

And in an oblique way, to save Jesus too.

In the summer of 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson was frustrated with the influence of business-connected nonprofit organizations using their tax-exempt advantage to undermine and threaten his Senate seat.

Johnson’s solution was swift and final. He managed to usher through changes to the IRS code that prohibited tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan politics.

It doesn’t appear that he was necessarily focused on followers of Jesus, but they got hit by the impact of the change in the law.

More debate and court decisions have refined the law over time. Where we are now can be summed up like this: Nonprofits (churches included) are not permitted to engage in partisan politics. They cannot endorse candidates or political parties. They are also restricted in the amount of lobbying they can do around specific issues.

Here’s where Sessions rides into the fray, brandishing his presidential executive order and filled with a fiery passion to save Jesus.

Sorry for the hyperbole, but it’s not far from the mark.

For a while now, certain followers of Jesus have cast themselves as a battered and bleak minority.

Not able to promote from their pulpits candidates they believe will help them get what they want, these beleaguered followers of Jesus have turned to demagogues who tell them what they want to hear.

All that is needed, they are told, is for the faithful to donate their money to ordained candidates and vote for so-called conservatives who will champion their causes.

To which I say, “How is that working out for you?”

We keep electing conservatives, and school prayer is still illegal, and a woman’s right to choose is still legal.

I’m not taking sides, but the plan to politicize the church is not working, and it distracts the church from its legitimate mission.

These ordained candidates are political wolves trying to pass themselves off as sheep.

They don’t really care about the deep spiritual concerns of people of faith. They only want our money and our vote.

And if Sessions and his task force succeed in changing the law allowing churches to participate fully in the political process, the wolves will not only have the sheep but the farm as well.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on al.com. It was written for Alabama Media Group and is used with permission.

James L. Evans

James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies" (Abingdon Press (2011). He has recently launched a religious/political opinion column dubbed “Faith Matters 2020.”