What does the IRS Think of Christians Engaging Politically?
A strange letter from the IRS tells us what they think, and some reflections on trusting Jesus.
What in the World…
The last four to five years has been tumultuous for Christians and their politics. As much as any time in my adult life, Christians have argued about the dynamic of holding to the Christian faith and voting one way or another. We have watched the tendency of Christians of different theological persuasions to (sometimes strongly) associate their faith with one political party or another.
Coming up to the 2020 American Presidential election, some Christians vociferously argued that no self-respecting follower of Jesus could vote for Trump. It was said over and over that, “Character matters.” All the while, very little self-reflection went on among progressive Christians about the parties and individuals they were willing to vote for. By the same token, research showed that Americans who self-identified as evangelical, but who attended church rarely (or not at all), were the most likely to put all their hopes on Trump. Many of them substituted church with their politics.
So, despite all the social media mudslinging, is there an answer to the question of which political party is more in line with traditional Christian orthodoxy? A bizarre and heavy-handed letter from the IRS tells us what they think.
In the middle of June 2021, the IRS denied non-profit status to Christians Engaged, an organization that encourages people to pray, be engaged in the political process, and vote according to biblical principles. The IRS denied their request because the values they stand for align with only one political party, which in the non-profit world, is a game-ender. Part of the letter simply said,
“[B]ible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates.”
In other words, because the IRS recognized the principles of Christians Engaged as supporting the Republican Party, and opposing the Democrat Party, they denied 501c3 status.
A couple of things strike me with this ruling.
The first is, “no kidding.” All one needs to do is listen to the stated goals of national Democrat candidates, and their list of priorities do not align well with Christian orthodoxy. When individuals say they do align, they usually use general terms and fuzzy concepts like, “social justice”, “equity”, “immigration”, “kids in cages”, and so forth. Groups like Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden were shocked by Biden’s support of the pro-choice movement. They should not have been.
A look at the DNC platform should dispel any idea that the DNC aligns itself with Christian teachings on the family, human sexuality, abortion, or economics. Then, adding fuel to the fire burning the ties between the DNC and orthodox Christianity, 60 Democrat legislators signed an open letter admonishing the Catholic Church to not withhold the eucharist from pro-choice legislators, concluding the letter with the sentiment: We have just as much a claim on the church as it has on us. No church worth its salt, Catholic or otherwise, will agree with that self-important claim.
My second thought is, I am not surprised this is how a Christian group has their 501c3 status revoked. It should not be controversial to say that most of the D.C. bureaucracy is progressive, and that part of the current progressive political philosophy is censure instead of public debate. So, if they decide that simply encouraging people to vote and advocate according to Christian values does harm to the DNC, then this will be a reason to deny the application.
In the end, Christians belong to only one kingdom – the kingdom of God. But we are placed here on earth in a particular nation and political situation, commanded by God to be good citizens and loving neighbors. None of that requires us to unswervingly connect ourselves to a political movement, but it does require us to be more thoughtful and discerning than maybe many of us have been.
While we may be in a time when the political winds are against orthodox Christianity, but that is never a reason to accommodate the truths we have received from the saints (Jude 1:3) in order to maintain some level of respectability from an institution that may not like us in the first place.
His Character Is Different Than Ours
There is a curious passage at the end of The Gospel of John chapter 2. It does not appear to have a direct connection either to the story before it or the famous one that follows. Yet, it is a necessary glimpse into both, as well as an insight into Jesus and those who follow him.
John 2:23-25 says that Jesus continued to do many signs and many people saw them and believed. Then it tells us that Jesus did not entrust himself to human beings because he knew what was in them and did not need anyone to explain the hearts of men and women to him. It is not apparent in most English translations, but when John says that “many believed” in him and then that Jesus did not “entrust himself” to them, he uses the same word for “believed” and “entrust”. We could easily say that people trusted Jesus, but Jesus did not trust people.
The simplest answer may be the most insightful: because his character is different than ours.
Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus carried the perfections of God’s moral character, wisdom, and power into human flesh with him. While Jesus choose to “empty himself” (Phil 2:6-7) of some of those privileges while walking around on dusty earth, his perfections did not suddenly tarnish. His character is still without shadow (James 1:17). There is no unexpected turn in the corridors of relationship with Christ where you find a dark alley or suspicious doorway, behind which he is suddenly unloving or duplicitous or cruel. He is love and his love is steadfast and perfect. As much as it stretches our rational capacities, Jesus is perfectly gracious and merciful while also being perfect in judgement and justice.
There is nothing not to trust in Jesus.
On the other hand, there is plenty to not trust in human beings. We are broken souls in human flesh. Whatever power or wisdom we have attained is stunted or only occasionally helpful. Our characters are tarnished from the start, making trust an attainment, not a natural capacity. We may be trustworthy to a point, but we cannot carry the weight of another’s soul, meaning, or hopes. Our characters are full of shadows and unlit corridors. We do not even know what is around some of our own corners.
Emily Dickenson wrote in One Need Not Be A Chamber To Be Haunted,
One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.
There is no benefit to be gained by refusing trust in Jesus Christ and placing it in anything else. And it is a false choice when we think we can either trust Christ or not put our trust in anything. We will trust. The only question is in whom or in what.
With whom will you replace the Creator of all Things? Your favorite politician? The philosopher you enjoyed reading in college? A political or economic scheme that promises a this-worldly utopia if only enough people vote the right way and give enough money? Yourself? Can you trust yourself to not sin by tomorrow at noon?
There is no rational substitute for putting your trust in Jesus Christ.
What I’m Reading
I have been motivated lately to study more about the ideological differences between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The two events may share the same name (“Revolution”), but they could not be more different. A recent book by a very wise man tracks the political philosophies that shaped the West from Exodus to the revolutions of the 1700’s. Os Guinness’s book, “The Magna Carta of Humanity” has been a predictably insightful and rich book. It will undoubtedly become part of my current Tuesday Night series.