Whom Do We Obey?

Recently, the press reported about a disturbing trend–the investigation of U.S. churches by the Internal Revenue Service [IRS]. According to an article of the LA Times, dated November 8, 2005, the IRS has engaged in a “controversial federal investigation of political activity at churches and nonprofit groups.”

Under the federal tax code, tax-exempt organizations, including churches, are prohibited from endorsing a political candidate, and from intervening in political campaigns and elections. It has been long understood that, because of the separation between Church and State, churches should not be involved in politics. There is historical precedence which justifies such prohibition. When a church tries to engage in politics, as has happened and as is happening in other countries, bad results are often the consequence. In Austria, prior to the “Anschluss” or “unification” between Germany and Austria, Catholic priests enjoined their Austrian parishioners from the pulpit to vote for Adolph Hitler and to welcome the “Anschluss,” as–so it was said–“each true Catholic must support their Catholic Fuehrer.”

On the other hand, observers are concerned that certain IRS regulations might be in violation of the US Constitution, as they define or apply “politics” in very broad terms. Recently, a pastor in a Pasadena-based church gave an anti-war sermon just prior to the most recent presidential election, especially criticizing the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. It is noteworthy that the pastor reportedly did not endorse a political candidate, stating that both candidates were people of profound faith who could be voted for. Still, the IRS apparently felt that giving an anti-war sermon two days prior to elections was engaging in politics.

Such a position appears to be in violation of the US Constitution. Unfortunately, the IRS has in times past engaged in similar “interpretations” of “political conduct.” As will be recalled, they threatened the Catholic Church or some of their archdioceses with revocation of their tax exemption because of their strong stance against abortion, labeling that stance as “political.” Again, such a position appears to be unconstitutional.

We in the Church of the Eternal God and in our affiliate organizations do not support any war fought by human beings; we don’t serve in a combatant capacity; we do not vote in presidential elections; and we do not judge as jurors. We also strongly oppose abortion. All of these issues are inseparable. And they are clearly not political, or politically motivated, but they are Biblical injunctions which we, as part of the Church of God, the spiritual Body of Christ, will have to apply and to preach. We are a tax-exempt organization in the USA and in Canada, and we abide by the tax code, as long as its injunctions are not contrary to the Word of God. If we were asked by the IRS to stop preaching God’s Word, whether in season or out of season, we could not and would not be able to comply–no matter what consequences this might entail (compare 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

We always have to follow Peter’s bold and courageous stand, when he was ordered by the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, to discontinue preaching in the name of Jesus. He simply told them: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge… We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19; 5:29). And even though Peter and the other apostles were beaten and “commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus,” they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42). It is not different today. It still boils down to the fundamental question: Whom Do We Obey–God or Caesar?

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