The Johnson Amendment – It’s Not About Money

The GOP-backed tax plan has made it through the House and the Senate. You’ve heard people praise it, question it, and despise it. The Senate version stands at over 500 pages long, and let’s be real – if you’re reading this, I’m 99% sure you didn’t read the whole thing. Heck I’m 95% sure that 90% of Congress didn’t read it all before passing it, but that’s how legislation works in the country now, so I’m not surprised.

Anyway…

Tucked into the House version, and potentially being put into the Conference Committee Report (which is the compromise between the House and Senate versions) is a clause that repeals the “Johnson Amendment”. This little amendment to the IRS tax code added in 1954 by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson was never a household name, or even a political topic du jour until in 2016, when President Donald Trump promised to work to repeal the amendment.

For those playing catch up a bit, the Johnson Amendment prevents any organization who files as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the IRS from partaking in electioneering – endorsing candidates, making political contributions, and otherwise engaging in political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. (Note: nonprofits can engage in limited amounts of lobbying and unlimited amounts of advocacy, but that’s getting into the weeds a bit.)

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment (JA for short in this post) became a polarizing issue due to the hefty support of the evangelical right voting block for then candidate Donald Trump. Supporters of Trump believe that the restrictions placed on their own pastors, preventing their faith leaders from voicing political opinions from the pulpit, not only violated their pastor’s First Amendment rights, but also the rights of the church community from financially supporting those political causes closest to their faith.

But on the other side of the coin, repealing the JA, according to critics, would create a situation where previously nonpartisan organizations would be able to pick sides, and in turn accept politically motivated donations aimed at supporting particular candidates, thus turning churches into political fundraising machines.

I don’t really care which side of the coin you fall on here, but the only thing I want to be sure to get across is this:

It is not about money, it’s about mission.

Let us not forget, the JA applies to all 501(c)3 nonprofits, of which churches representing only a portion. Your local food bank, Meals on Wheels, your after-school program, and even my own employer – they’re all nonprofits that can impacted by this change.

Personally, I’m wholly against repealing the JA, but not because I necessarily line up with the mainstream critics. Rather, for me, it opens the doors for nonprofit organizations to stray away from their mission.

Nonprofits are guided by mission, not profit or politics. Our missions are nonpartisan, and our delivery methods are bipartisan. Or at least they should be.

As a community of nonprofits, and most especially faith based organizations, we should not concern ourselves with who is in power. We should only concern ourselves with implementing our mission – regardless of who is elected.

You want to impact the politics with your mission? Educate every single politician of the impact your work has on the community. Demonstrate need and highlight level of service. Do not sit and complain – find a way to have your mission reach every politician, not just a select few.

To put it another way – if you’re unable to justify your mission with any brand of politician, whether you personally support them or not, is your mission worth justifying? Our missions should inform an individual’s political views, not direct them.

Repealing the Johnson Amendment is a mistake. Plain and simple.

 

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