In light of the continued attention to the IRS scandal that involved the targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups, I felt it would be educational if I were to do something that I normally do not do, post an entire section from my book. It is safe to assume that many Americans have no clue why or when 501(c) status became relevant.
Below is the first section in Chapter 3 of my book, Our Virtuous Republic – entitled The Decapitation of Church and State. In support of the thesis of my entire book, the chapter looks at the history of church and state relations – which is sure to surprise most modern Americans – as well as how the federal government has acted to sever that relationship. Perhaps, most important, is the motivation behind the government’s attempt to remove or severely limit civil society’s ability to mobilize citizens and aid those who are in need. If you want to grow and expand “necessary and proper” powers for a centralized government, then wouldn’t it behoove you to decrease empowerment and the Protestant work ethic?
In the beginning of the section, I am heavy on the quotes, especially with Jefferson for obvious reasons, because modern Americans are so far off the mark as it relates to Jefferson and the entire history. Then, I look to destroy the progressive argument that holds conservatism and religion are “anti-progress.” The truth, is that civil rights and social stability would have never gained traction had it not been for God’s houses and his “Holy Warriors” who justified revolution, the abolitionist movement, and many, many other “progressive” causes. Finally, I look at how the IRS scandal is possible – even though I wrote this before the revelations – and the history is both disturbing and conclusive. The increase of secularization in American has an inverse relationship with a decrease in freedom within our once virtuous republic.
To simplify, churches were once empowering institutions that acted as both educators and social welfare institutions. However, in a “Great Society,” no such power can remain with the people, thus they were neutered for personal political gain by Lyndon B. Johnson, and also served to grow dependency on a big government that pursued monopoly on social welfare. If not for 501(c)3, then there never would have been a 501(c)4 code to violate.
The footnotes transferred as endnotes and are at the end of the section for your viewing. It is a bit long – of course, it is a book – but I hope that you take the time to read it or bookmark it if necessary to finish at a later time, because I would like to think that Our Virtuous Republic climbed its way to #20 on Amazon “Church and State” in the first few months of its release for a reason. Without further comment… Enjoy! – Richard D. Baris
Chapter 3: Virtue in Society
“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”
The Decapitation Of Church & State
The relationship between virtue and religion is consequential, that is to say, they are inseparably interwoven. Virtue, in essence, can be defined as the obedience to the universal “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Absent the acknowledgement of God, the obligation of one to care for the happiness of others becomes minimal. The only other reasonable alternative is a sense of duty to our fellow countrymen – or patriotism. However, patriotism does not provide us with a doctrine of morality. There is no standard of right and wrong, or the sense of an authority to enforce, or reinforce Nature’s moral law. Patriotism alone, always presents the danger that it can be misused to promote hyper-nationalism. Patriotism, was and is intended to compliment our obligation to God to care for the well-being of others, but cannot replace it. Anecdotal evidence, in the form of observation that a correlation exists between the secular effort to remove God from our public institutions and the waning of public virtue, is abundant in American society. The larger concern, however, is that we are becoming a people for whom the Constitution was not designed to govern. Progressives, to their credit, have long understood this to be the case. Thus, their push to a more secular society is actually an intentional effort to render the Constitution ineffective and unnecessary. In George Washington’s farewell address, our Founding Father warned us of such a folly in thinking:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion… Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle.”[i]
The term Washington chose to use, “indispensable supports,” refers to that which strengthens civil society, and “political prosperity” merely follows as a result of limited government. Virtuous habits, however, are too often overlooked as the true and only measure to limit government’s necessity, and as such, are too infrequently practiced. The simple reason for this oversight, which is why we have struggled to sustain a sufficiently strong civil society, is that virtue must be taught through principled teaching of Natural Law. Washington, as did all of our prominent Founding Fathers, understood that religion and morality are the “indispensible supports” to a civil society that remains obedient and obligated to follow nature’s moral law. Minister and historian, Joseph Tracy, wrote The Great Awakening in 1842, in which he credited the eighteenth century religious revival for the American Revolution.[ii] Although the colonies one-by-one joined in revolt against Britain for several reasons, their religion transcended all of them. More than any other element to American society it was our religion, especially the Protestant ethic, which shaped our culture.[iii] Despite the enormous differences both within and between the colonies, a common culture of values, ideals, and a general way of viewing the world was shared through the vehicle of religion.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence was, in itself, an act of obedience to the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. In signing their names, our Founding Fathers acknowledged that any manmade law that stands in conflict to the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, was in truth null and void. The opening of the Declaration reads:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,”[iv]
While we read and pay lip service to the words in many of our founding documents, we fail to stop and put them in their proper context, which waters down their meaning. The Declaration of Independence, in essence, was a humbled repudiation of the strongest government on Earth, and a solemn pledge to God that they would obey and enforce the supreme universal Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Natural Law dictates that humankind live in their natural state of freedom, that no government has the power to object to that freedom, and demands action against threats to liberty by those worthy of receiving it.
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object [disobedience to the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God] evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”[v]
Although the pretentious aristocratic class was weaker in the American colonies, nevertheless, our Founders lived in a society where political power came not from merit but birth, or the artificial aristocracy. The American merit-based society as we understand it to be was in a stage of infancy, which applied to economic mobility rather than political. Not surprisingly, in the colonies laymen assumed authority in churches of all denominations, which was representative of the American demand for equality in duty. The authority that justified the actions of subjects, whose motherland viewed as sub-standard second-class subjects, is found in the closing:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”[vi]
Considered enemies of the British Empire, facing certain demise if they were to fail in the efforts, they relied on the protection of God. When put into this context, or rather the correct context, the claims from Neo-Progressive historians such as Charles Baird are ridiculous. Revisionist like Baird, have argued the Revolution was the product of the economic interests of a few wealthy Deists. For enemies of the state who did not believe in acts of God, they certainly profess a heavy reliance on God’s protection. Our founding documents, and personal correspondences written throughout the Revolution, suggest they were motivated by something much greater.
Whether or not the Founding Fathers held Deist beliefs does not contribute much to the discussion of the intended role that religion should play in society. Firstly, there seems to be a general misunderstanding on what constitutes Deism. The constructive elements of Deism state that God exists, created the universe, and that His laws govern the universe. As was common in the Age of Enlightenment, Deists believe that God created human beings with the unique ability to use reason. Where Deism parts with traditional Theism, is the belief that reason and the observation of empirical evidence in nature, is sufficient enough to prove the existence of God. They reject miracles, prophecies, and in most forms discount the Trinity.
Skepticism surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity is to be expected from 18th century colonial Americans. They were the “children of the twice-born” who “despised the formality” of the established church; purest who followed the duty of calling and lived by the Spirit.[vii] Denominational Protestantism, although born in Europe, was grown to adulthood on American soil. The Catholic Church was, and remains to this day, under the centralized direction of the European Pope and the monarchs who were anointed by them. Our Founding Fathers feared a transplanting of sorts from European to American soil, and along with it their centralizing power. Common among the colonists, especially in New England, was the suspicion of conspiracies being hatched by the Parliament under the corrupt influence of the Catholic Church. Pamphleteers bombarded their readers with accusations of sinister plots to enslave the colonies. The passage of the Quebec and Stamp Acts reinforced the concerns harbored and expressed by citizens in local taverns, preached of in sermons, and printed in activist literature. Parliament’s efforts to reign in colonial obedience and pay for the French-Indian War, issues which seem irrelevant to the church, were in fact viewed by the colonists as an attempt to undermine religious liberty. Declaring the authority to breach the terms of colonial charters, coupled with the general willingness of Parliament to assert supremacy over colonial legislatures, made the idea more a logical conclusion than a wild conspiracy. Leading up to the Revolution, it became a dominant view that British constitutional government had already been corrupted, and their fellow Englishmen deprived of their natural rights. The threat to liberty from moral decay among British rulers was a grave concern among our Founding Fathers, which should come as no great revelation to people whose forefathers fled England to preserve virtue, frugality, and the calling. Historian, Robert Middlekauff, describes the mood in the colonies:
“Where Protestant zeal burned fiercely and where the Catholic presence in Canada seemed ominous, the conviction grew that the threat against civil liberty posed by unconstitutional taxation was partly a papist conspiracy to subvert Protestantism.”[viii]
Secondly, the most notable figures of the Revolution who have been charged with holding Deist beliefs have expanded beyond the boundaries the evidence can corroborate. Thomas Paine, who was later imprisoned for his radicalism in France of all places, was not even an original signer of the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin, who documented in his autobiography his experimentation with Deism, claimed to grow wiser and older to the nature and behavior of the Creator. The events leading up to the Revolution, the outcome of the war itself, and the cooperation that followed, all served as evidence to Franklin that his earlier inclinations regarding the Deist doctrine were flawed.[ix] In 1787, during the Constitutional Convention, he rose to speak on the subject:
“…the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men.[x]
Thomas Jefferson, a frequent target for distortions by revisionists similarly exhibited Deist tendencies, which have drawn consider attention recently. Most notable, is his later work known as the Jefferson Bible. However, redacting passages that told of miraculous events was more a rebuke of the established church and less his disbelief in God’s ability to do so. He referred to himself as an Unitarian, or one who believed that Jesus Christ was a great prophet, teacher, and in some cases the Son of God, but not God himself. As an early proponent of abolition, although a slave owner himself, Jefferson “trembled” from his belief that the sin’s of slavery would be met with “supernatural influence,” or divine intervention.[xi] As he often did while reflecting back on the war, George Washington credited the success of the Revolution to divine intervention, and regarded the adoption of the Constitution as a justification from God. In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, Washington wrote:
“The adoption of the Constitution will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it.”[xii]
There is no way to separate our founding principles from God’s law. The debate over what public role the church would have in our new society was complex, contradictory, and varied by region. Among the vast number of sects, or denominations that migrated to the colonies, only the Anglican Church was established; if by loose requirements for dissenters to register, which were largely ignored could be considered established.[xiii] However, the discussion surrounded around the role each sect would play, not whether or not they would have one at all. The New England view advocated in favor of greater public support, and provided for the church in a way unheard of in modern progressive interpretation of an intended “separation of church and state.” The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, 1780, states:
“As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provisions shall not be made voluntary.”[xiv]
The controversial issue in the New England view was not the public funding being allocated to teach religion and morality, but the exclusion of faiths that were outside the traditional Congregationalist denomination. The “preservation of civil government” was essentially dependent on “piety, religion and morality.” In New England, the Congregationalists continued to receive public support well into the 19th century; however, strict “Separates” within the Congregationalist Church refused to accept any legal benefits provided for dissenters.[xv] Benjamin Franklin wrote to the outspoken President of Yale University, Reverend Ezra Stiles, promoting the universal principles that all denominations and faiths could agree to promote publicly:
“Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be tested with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion.”[xvi]
Ever the diplomat, Franklin underscored a debate between religious toleration and religious freedom. However, these were matters to be deliberated upon the individual state level. The difference in denominations was regional, which is to say, Congregationalists in New England and Anglicans in Virginia, and so on. The misinterpretation of the 1st Amendment by progressive federal courts is fundamentally flawed. As was the purpose for the entire Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment denied the federal government jurisdiction over states’ rights, which obviously included religious freedom – that was the reason for their entire existence. The federal government was never intended to have the authority to force states to sever religious relationships. In 1787, the year of the Constitutional Convention, the same legislative body passed The Northwest Ordinance. This outlined specific parameters that new governments northwest of the Ohio River, which must be republican in principle, would have to follow to gain entrance into the confederation of states. Again, we find a shared sense of necessity to promote the principles of virtue through basic religious tenets. Article III of The Northwest Ordinance blatantly reads:
“Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”[xvii]
The idea of a “separation of church and state” was a distortion of Jefferson’s rational, when as president, he denied using his power to establish federally recognized religious holidays. Although Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty 1786, preferred equal status for all denominations he recognized the right of his neighboring to disagree. In his second inaugural address Jefferson said:
“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”[xviii]
The consensus that emerged in our early republic was that religious principles are “indispensable supports” to the family, community, and necessary for the overall public welfare. In the vast majority of states no particular denomination was to establish dominance over the other, nevertheless, the state would promote, teach, and practice these universal principles. We know from observation that this debate was resolved to satisfaction by the 19th century. A national conviction that the tenets of morality and development of virtue were more important than differences between denominations further developed into a national identity:
“The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same morals laws in the name of God…All sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same… There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”[xix]
Not only was this education necessary to sustain public virtue, but the survival of our republic literally depended upon it. The practice of cherry picking phrases that are then made to conform to a certain justice or justices’ ideology, which are absent historical accuracy, deeply undermined our ability to instill in future generations these necessary values. Ignorant to the origins of traditional American ideals such as freedom and equality, later generations became further and further detached from their identity; and the historical truth. The secular push to redefine the meaning of the commonly heard phrase “separation of church and state,” is the single biggest hoax perpetuated on We the People, which was designed to deliberately rob us of our American national identity.
Religion and American traditionalism have done more to further the promise of equality for all of our citizens than Big Government has ever, or ever will in the future, be worthy to receive credit for. Contrary to the progressive revisionist version of history, abolitionist sentiment was strong during the period of Revolution. The exclusion of citizenship for black Americans in our early republic was far from a consensus. Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and many others, all were opposed to slavery even though many at some point in their lives personally owned slaves. Washington, although upon his death provided for their release, would had done so prior if it were not for the legal restrictions and costs associated with emancipation. In 1794, out of concern that public knowledge would fracture the early republic, he quietly conspired to sell western lands to raise the money for emancipation.[xx] Of the institution of slavery he wrote:
“…there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see some plan adopted for the abolition…”[xxi]
Founders such as Franklin who belong to the former with Paine, and John Jay, Hamilton, and Burr who were members of the latter frequented the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the New York Manumission Society.[xxii] Their opposition to slavery was based on the principles of religion, morality, and Natural Law, which were celebrated during the First Great Awakening. Although abolitionist sentiment was strong during the period of Revolution, the fragility of the early republic would allow the sins of slavery to go unpunished until it was at last indicted in the houses of God across our nation. The abolitionist movement exploded during the Second Great Awakening in the first half of the nineteenth century. Equality under God’s law had demanded payment for the promise of liberty for all Americans – the promise of the American Revolution. William Lloyd Garrison, and later his followers Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglas, all being products of the revival became “Holy Warriors” giving voices to the tenets of Natural Law. James Stewart wrote:
“All people were equal in God’s sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God’s children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution.”[xxiii]
The backward-thinking label, or the regressive stigma that religion and traditionalism have assumed in modern American society is simply inaccurate. It stems from the idea that somehow religion and widespread liberty cannot coexist. As with other Progressive Era ideas, this notion was not unique to America, but originated in the statist-friendly venues of Europe. The parallels between the anti-religious wing of the philosophical movement in Europe, and the misguided academics that began in the Progressive Era and remain to this day, are nothing less than astonishing. The similarity arises from the belief among elites that religion, as a means of order is a foolish conviction held only by laymen, or small-minded people. Furthermore, a church-centered culture strengthens civil society and reduces the need for dependence on the State for fulfillment of our hierarchy of needs. However, this is the historical tradition of America, which dominated society before the Progressive Era:
“The philosophers of the eighteenth century explained in a very simple manner the gradual decay of religious faith. Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately, the facts by no means accord with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and debasement; while in America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world, the people fulfill with fervor all the outward duties of religion.”[xxiv]
The “Higher Law” has constantly challenged us to live up to our founding doctrines, and to ultimately right the wrongs that were reluctantly prioritized during the fragile early period of our republic. Our faith and traditions have given us extraordinary strength through the enormous amount of tribulations, which Americans have been subjected to in an exceptionally short amount of time. The Third Great Awakening spiritually prepared Americans for the price we would have to pay for that promise on the battlefields at Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg – countless blood baths throughout the five very dark years that led to, but didn’t end in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Despots fear the belief in God more than any other idea that can be shared among the ruled. There has never been a totalitarian state that has not, eventually, used their police powers to attack the freedom to worship one’s own God. The despots, however, can hardly be the focus of blame for the secularization of America, as they are merely pushing social changes that have proven effective in the past. It is the job of the church and family to educate subsequent generations on duty of calling and the truth in Natural Law. The negative impact that secularization has had on social and political well-being is such that no one should escape culpability. The failure of church leadership to fulfill the traditional role of social leadership has become a significant detriment to the betterment of our society. During colonial times and well into the 19th century, the church leadership consisted of laymen who enjoyed no rich endowments; nor did they shrink at the task of leading their people against the grain of relative truth coming from despotic government. Sadly, in general that is no longer the case.
The tax-exempt status pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code demands that churches refrain from any participation or intervention in any political campaign for or against any candidate for public office, whether it is direct or indirect, and declares that the prohibition extend at least to oral and written statements supporting or denouncing a candidate.[xxv] I find no fault in church pursuit of tax-exempt per se, as there is precedent in both biblical and English common law texts. Regarding the latter, the history of English church tax exemption dates back to the Middle Ages, and runs right up to colonial America.[xxvi] In the Age of Enlightenment, the rather correct rationale for exemption was that the church performed certain functions of a charitable and communal nature that the government could not perform.[xxvii] Fact in point, even if it was in government’s power, they understood the dangers of promoting idleness; the church is in the unique position among the community to ensure that assistance be provided without those in need abandoning their duty of calling. The Protestant ethic, or living by the Spirit, is ultimately what despotic elements sought to dilute in society. However, by abandoning their own duty of calling, church leadership made feasible the prospect of having the ability to not just dilute but decapitate traditional virtues.
Prior to the establishment of a federal government, church-government relations in the American colonies reflected the diversity of sects in the colonies. Congregationalists detested establishment in any form, therefore, no duty performed by Adams’ church bared a resemblance to the Anglican Church of Jefferson youth. Uniformity came as early as 1802, when Congress provided a tax exemption for churches, which continued to exempt churches during the Civil War and after the passage of the Tariff Act of 1898.[xxviii] The Progressive Movement gave rise to quiet voices that challenged 1st Amendment protections to all organizations afforded tax-exempt status. Although it was sold as an across the board consideration, the vast majority of the organizations were faith-based. In 1934, Congress attempted to enact a ban on all political activity by tax-exempt organizations, but disagreement over the protection of charitable organizations led to a ban on lobbying alone.[xxix] The Progressive Movement pushes a philosophy of equality, but their definition requires reducing the abilities of both individuals and organizations, because they are powerless to increase the abilities of those lacking them. The misguided understanding of equality that does not distinguish between equality of opportunity and equality of ability, only serves to increase the suffering of those who might have benefited from the abilities of others. The Church has the willingness and capacity to provide certain services, which cannot be rivaled by other charitable and social welfare organizations with tax-exempt status:
“The fact that churches touch so many aspects of people’s lives makes them different from other charitable and social justice organizations. A person might join Planned Parenthood or NARAL Pro-Choice America because they agree with one of the groups’ position on abortion. They might even vote for a political candidate based on whether the candidate’s views on abortion conform to their own and the groups views. However, it is unlikely that either group will provide the range of social services, let alone the moral teachings, that churches provide.”[xxx]
The existing ban on church political activity in its current form, is solely contributed to the political expediency of one of the most politically expedient politicians of the 20th century – Lyndon B. Johnson. Then Senator Johnson faced a primary challenge from millionaire oilman Dudley Dougherty. Backed by the conservative political group, the Committee for Constitutional Government, Dougherty favored restraining the treaty-making authority of the President of the United States; a winning issue in conservative Texas.[xxxi] The conservative group printed material on the issue along with an endorsement of Dudley Dougherty. Under existing Texas law the endorsement was not permitted, however, the organization did nothing to violate existing federal law. While the amendment Johnson introduced was not precipitated by a specific conflict with a church institution, it was designed with the Big Government philosophy to monopolize social welfare organizations that limit government necessity, as well as suspiciously vague language. The desire to restrain church influence had existed for some time in the Progressive Movement, but no politician could deliver the political muscle like the future “Great Society” designer. The restrictions outlined in Section 501(c)(3) apply to no other type of tax-exempt organization. Section 501(c)(3) defines a charitable organization as one that is:
“…organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition…or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals…”[xxxii]
There are two concerns over the language and manner in which Section 501(c)(3) was written. Firstly, it is evident by the language of the law that its design is to restrain organizations in support of civil society, or rather their ability to organize and influence their members to the benefit of the valuable services they provide. Progressives often make the erroneous claim that government intrusion would be unnecessary if civil institutions were sufficient, but government has actively blocked these institutions and those who support them from reaching their full potential. Secondly, the language of the law is arbitrary, which is why it results in its unjust arbitrary application. As to the first concern: why would the federal government not want to promote organizations that are in a better position logistically to be far more effective than government entities carrying out the social services mission? A civil society with a strong religious component is only a threat to a State that pursues a monopoly of social welfare services. Popular tyranny would consider the presence of civil society in the social welfare apparatus to be a double-edged sword. The potential benefits to the fiscal health of the State would certainly be desirable, as funds could potentially become readily available for special interest wealth-producing legislation; but the weight of the sword is one-sided indeed. The potential consequences outweigh the benefit to the extent that the a civil society apparatus cannot simply be used to facilitate public services per se, but could facilitate a mobilization of popular support against tyrants and their special interest allies. Furthermore, from what we know of human nature, removing options to fulfill our needs drives us to be hungry “all over” with the desire to fulfill them, thus government exceedingly becomes the preferred avenue; and of course, all of these societal shifts are occurring simultaneously with the advancement of the ultimate goal, which is the removal of the Protestant ethic from the American national identity.
Concerning the arbitrary pursuit of justice, specifically regarding churches, a recent example can be observed in the case of Branch Ministries v. Rossotti. Branch Ministries, Inc., had operated the Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, New York. Four days before the 1992 presidential election, the church ran ads in USA Today and the Washington Times entitled, “Christians Beware.” The ad warned against Bill Clinton’s positions on abortion, homosexuality and other social issues, which are contradictions to Bible scripture; therefore, they called on all Christian voters to vote against him. In the footer of the advertisement was a disclaimer informing the reader that the Church of Pierce Creek, as well as other unnamed churches and concerned Christians, had sponsored the advertisement. Along with this information was a mailing address to be used by those who wished to contribute to the cost of the advertisement. The New York Times, a progressive publication to be sure, jumped all over the churches’ advertisement. On October 31st, 1992, an article on the front page blew the whistle on the church’s plans to run the ad in 157 additional newspapers.[xxxiii] Within a month, which is incredible considering the federal government’s typical reaction time, the Regional Commissioner of the IRS had informed Branch Ministries that he had authorized an investigation into the church because he found “a reasonable belief…that you may not be tax-exempt or that you may be liable for tax.”[xxxiv] Branch Ministries initially refused to comply, which promptly resulted in their loss of tax-exempt status. Following the revocation, Branch Ministries sued asserting a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The church also claimed that the IRS engaged in selective prosecution, or arbitrary justice, which was in violation of the church’s 5th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.[xxxv]
Rather than diving into the irrelevant weeds of whether or not every church is a religious organization under the law, which the court found them to be, the court’s logic that “the sole effect of the loss of the tax exemption will be to decrease the amount of money available to the Church for its religious practices.”[xxxvi] The ruling, in and of itself, is arbitrary and represents how simple and often judges shape the law to meet the argument, instead of the argument satisfying the law. However, the statute ultimately allowed for such a ruling by the vagueness of its original design and language. Even academia has a difficult time reconciling the legal argument, although some may agree with the court’s decision:
“However, the court appears to have taken the position that this loss would be irrelevant to whether the church could continue in its ministry. That view does not give enough weight to the effect of losing tax-exempt status. It is hard to imagine that a church would be able to minister to its congregants and provide pastoral care and services at the same level if the amount of money available to it were to decrease. Loss of the tax-exemption would directly impact how a church is able to exercise its religion.”[xxxvii]
Of course, despite the justices’ claim, the loss of tax-exemption is naturally detrimental to the church’s ability to provide essential community services, if not, properly minister to their congregational member. It could be argued that the church should have simply not engaged in the political process in the first place, but that would not have legally satisfied the 5th Amendment concern. Nevertheless, it could be concluded that ill-intent is not present if the law is applied without selective, or arbitrary justice. Historically, or rather in the modern era, government has been arbitrary regardless of the motive, and it has undeniably served to benefit progressive tyranny and intolerance. Traditional churches that spread the ethic, duty of calling, true equality and virtue, are met with intolerance in the courts, the media, and popular culture. On the other hand, radical social justice “religious” institutions, which comport with the progressive ideology enjoy a very different standard of treatment:
“Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people.”[xxxviii]
Those are the words of the now infamous Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the once senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. His tenure at the radical church when then-Senator Barack Obama attended service is well documented, and not worth reiterating; however, for the purpose of supporting the argument, the ideology of the church is absolutely necessary to mention. The response to Branch Ministries was immediate by the progressive establishment media, and the coverage prompted an unusual and immediate government response. Admittedly, it would be fair to label the Wall Street Journal conservative, although it is a fact the publication segregates hard news from editorial opinion, it still is true that the revelations of Reverend Wright did not come out for years after the activity was documented. It is also true, however, that the IRS acted in a minimal capacity to appease public opinion, and no attempt to revoke the tax-exemption status of Trinity United Church of Christ was made. Whereas Branch Ministries defended traditional positions found in the Protestant ethic, and in the Christian Bible for that matter, Reverend Wright is a student and mentor of Black Liberation Theology as founded by James Hal Cone. Unlike traditional American Protestant rivals, which gave birth to events predicated on the idea of equality as the Revolution and abolition were, Cone invented a new divisive Christian theology that focused more on oppression than liberation. The views of Black Liberation Theology as articulated by Cone are compatible with the progressive ideology in that neither deals in absolutism. As the needs of the State evolve so to is it the case with Cone:
“We cannot solve ethical questions of the twentieth century by looking at what Jesus did in the first. Our choices are not the same as his. Being Christians does not mean following in his steps.”[xxxix]
In other words, they must bend their convictions to reconcile them with their cause, rather than the cause being the result of their convictions. Black Liberation Theology would have found no home in the historical abolitionist movement, as it is nothing more than social retribution masquerading as “social justice”; the two are now if they weren’t always one in the same. It rejects absolute truth in favor of theoretical flexibility to reconcile scriptural inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies. Cone incited a generation of black Americans with selective historical interpretations, which concluded that “unless white America responds positively to the theory and activity of Black Power, then a bloody, protracted civil war is inevitable.”[xl] Yet, Black Liberation Theology conveniently omits the historical culpability of West African kings who, in reality, “proved remarkably adept in accommodating European demands for captive labor with their own control of the long flourishing internal trade in slaves.”[xli] Nevertheless, religions of relativism are of little concern, or threat to the State; in fact, they can prove quite useful for their ability to incite crisis. It is worth mentioning, as well, unlike the traditional ethic Cone preached victimization. Cone frequently equated the struggle of the black community with the Exodus, however, Moses wanted no reparations or retribution from Pharaoh, nor did he expect to judge Pharaoh lest he be judged himself by God. Furthermore, Moses and the Israelites lived by a code of absolute law, unchanging and everlasting. The Israelites wanted nothing but to be free to enjoy autonomy in the promise land, and had they not been forever surrounded by hostiles, to live and let live. Cone, however, was right regarding oppression of black America, but he had directed fault at the wrong community. Preachers of Black Liberation Theology, corrupt community leaders, and progressive politicians, all play a role in denying black American the autonomy they deserve. Recently, Project 21 and other groups have emerged with the mission to dismantle these oppressive societal barriers, but for now, these influences help to explain why black Americans are “a major exception to the significant correlation between religiousness” and the denouncement of progressivism.[xlii]
Religion and private education apparatuses, which have the potential to prevent, or even overcome rational ignorance among the electorate, are clear targets in the language of the statute. Minorities, specifically black Americans, are indispensable to the progressive coalition, and as such, the government arbitrarily allows certain churches to violate the prohibition on political activity. Of course, government is acting predictably according to Natural Law when it exhibits aggression against civil society, but the behavior of church leadership is contributing to the decline in congregational participants across America.
Aside from the evident violation of 1st Amendment protected rights, it is also a violation of church leaders’ duty of calling to speak on political and social issues with their parishioners. Church leadership, however, do not seem to be taking their obligation all that serious in the modern era. On October 2, 2011, as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, out of the 450,000 churches in the United States only 539 conservative Christian pastors made what can be classified as political statements.[xliii] The Alliance Defense Fund, is a Christian legal fund that is dedicated to defend clergy from legal action against the progressive secular watchdog groups who threaten action in federal courts. The 2011 effort was an extension of the groups 2008 Pulpit Initiative, in which a mere 33 pastors found the education of principle to be a worthy burden to bear. There has been cause for optimism, as the following year brought 84 pastors to the cause, and the following 100, and so. However, as a matter of sheer statistics, this is a wholly inadequate participation rate in order to expect a significant impact on the public. It seems that church leaders are less concerned with their calling and more concerned with the preservation of the status quo – and Americans know it.
Since 1973, there has been a clear long-term decline in Americans’ confidence in church institutions. From its high of 68 percent in 1975, confidence in American churches has plummeted to 44 percent in 2012, which strongly coincides with the loss of church influence among the American people. In 1957, 69 percent of Americans saw religion increasing its influence in society, but by 2010, that number had fallen by 44 percent to 25.[xliv] Both the data from public opinion studies, as well as the actual empirical observations of the decline in traditional institutions suggests American church leaders have a significant disconnect.
A study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that evangelical Christian leaders in the Global North are significantly more pessimistic than their counterparts in the Global South regarding the outlook for evangelical Christianity. While 71 percent of church leaders in the Global South expect the state of evangelicalism to be “better than now,” only 44 percent in the Global North agree.[xlv] In the United States, a majority of evangelical leaders, or 53 percent, view the state of evangelicalism worse than the previous 5 years; and 48 percent expect it to worsen still. The deep divide stems from the leaders’ opinions of themselves, how to change the negative perception, and the causal factors for the deteriorating status of the church. American church leaders in the United States, by 92 percent overwhelmingly view secularization as a major threat to evangelical Christianity, which may explain the relative pessimism compared to leaders in the Global South who do not by such a majority, but secularization is closely followed by consumerism and popular culture – specifically sex and violence. All of those considerations indeed are valid, however, the American people are more concerned with issues of hypocrisy and immoral behavior from the church in past decades. Beginning in 1973 and continuing until 1985, “the church or organized religion” was consistently the most highly rated institution in the Gallup confidence in institutions measure, outperforming even institutions in the United States military and the U.S. Supreme Court.[xlvi] The descent in confidence occurring in the mid-late 1980’s coincided with the scandals involving televangelist preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. Just as confidence in organized religion began to recover during the late 1990’s, scandal rocked America’s other large institution when charges of child molestation by Catholic priests rocked the confidence index bottoming it out at the then-low measure of 45 percent.[xlvii] The scandal itself could only be shadowed by the subsequent cover-up engaged in by the members inside the ranks of church leadership.
The church leadership in America has yet to come to terms with the fact that they have failed to earn back the trust of the American people. Instead of viewing church failures as a threat to the future of the Christianity, the vast majority finds fault in outside influences. As a whole, only 30 percent of those interviewed reported “leading lavish lifestyles” as a major threat to the future of evangelical Christianity, which juxtapose to the traditional view in the Protestant ethic of worldly asceticism bares little resemblance. Perhaps reflecting that Protestant sects remain conscious of the Catholic sex scandals, 43 percent of U.S. church leaders view violations of sexual morals as a major threat compared with only 23 percent from other countries.
There has been numerous studies to show personal religious sentiment among Americans has actually begun to arrest the upward trend toward secularization; however, if a mere acknowledgement of the existence of God was sufficient to realize the documented benefits to religious observation, then we should not experience the damage we have to our traditional institutions i.e., family composition, civil society, etc. The willingness of Americans to keep God in their hearts and beliefs yet failing to live in the Spirit, is a reflection of failure by church leadership. Although all of the empirical data hints at a certain inconsistency, majorities in both the Global North and South see a natural conflict between being an evangelical and living in modern society, and this is even truer of the church in the United States. Worldwide, 64 percent believe the conflict to exist, whereas in the United States the figure increases to 71 percent. However, our modern government is increasingly secular, and yet church leaders are so willing to cede ground to a hostile institution. While progressives have been tirelessly working to transform social institutions into something that is unrecognizable from a traditional American institution, only 16 percent of evangelical Christian leaders see the task of reforming institutions as their duty as a member of church leadership.
The vast disconnect between how Americans view the church and how the church views themselves is reminiscent of the same “artificial aristocracy” that plagues government institutions. The American people perceive much of organized religion as a vehicle for ambitious individuals to achieve their ends, which more likely than not can explain public skepticism over the prospect of a closer relationship between religion and government.
It is inconceivable that Jonathan Mayhew, Pastor of the West Church in Boston, would have refrained from delivering his sermon on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I; in which he asserted that resistance to a tyrant was a “glorious” Christian duty.[xlviii] Preaching moral sanction for political and military resistance, Mayhew articulated the position that most ministers took during the conflict with Britain; that civil and religious liberty was ordained by God. The most important political parson of the American Revolution, John Witherspoon, would not have been present in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence had he refrained from professing his political views. Theodore D. Weld, William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, all were the products of preachers like Lyman Beecher. Beecher, Nathaniel Taylor, and Charles G. Finney stressed each person’s responsibility to uphold their obligation to God in society. Sadly, progressive social justice preachers have perverted the moral imperative preached during the Second Great Awakening, which for the time being is still useful to the despotic cause. Progressive special interest continues to fight to diminish influence of church leaders and church tenets. Despite the rich history of positive effects in the 17th – 19th centuries, many of these groups wish for no religious element to remain in America society. It is equally inconceivable to imagine what the 20th century would have looked like with respect to civil rights had Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not engaged the political process. As Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. King organized the Montgomery bus boycott. As a result of Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat on the bus, the Supreme Court ended segregation in public transportation.[xlix] Reverend King’s methods, as well as other leaders who followed him in furthering the cause of civil rights, were not limited to protests while abstaining from the political process. Politicians sympathetic to the civil rights movement were the beneficiaries of church mobilization at the ballot box, and church leaders mobilized church members:
“There can be little doubt that the ‘church’ and the teachings of the ‘church’ played a prominent role in Reverend King’s leadership and in the lives of the thousands who participated in the civil rights movement because of him. It is not overstating the issue to say that the modern civil tights movement would not have been successful were it not for the support of Reverend King’s church and other black churches.”[l]
Almost 300 years have passed since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans. The movement of colonists to New England, known as the “Great Migration,” was predominantly of families who held a vision of a new society, not just economic opportunity, but a “Shining City upon a Hill.”[li] The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit and politically innovative culture, which is still present within modern Americans. They hoped this new land would serve as a “redeemer nation.” They fled England and in America attempted to create a community designed to be an example for all of Europe. The mothers and fathers of our Founding Fathers fled to America to escape the immorality of Europe in search of religious liberty, and their children spilt their blood in obedience to God to preserve it; but now, we have regressed against Natural Law for the false promise of “progress.”
[i] Washington’s Farewell Address. Huszar, George B.; Littlefield, Henry W.; and Littlefield, Arthur W. Basic American Documents. Ames, Iowa: Littlefield, Adams & Co. 1953
[ii] Tracy, Joseph. The Great Awakening. New York: Arno, 1969
[iii] Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789 Revised & Expanded Edition. pg. 51 Oxford University Press 2005
[iv] Declaration of Independence. Brown, Richard D. Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution 1760 – 1791 2nd Edition, pg. 170 University of Connecticut 2000
[vii] Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789 Revised & Expanded Edition. pg. 46 Oxford University Press 2005
[viii] Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789 Revised & Expanded Edition. pg. 131 Oxford University Press 2005
[ix] Franklin, Benjamin. On the Providence of God in the Government of the World. 1730
[x] The Records of the Federal Convention, 1787. Edited by Max Farrand Vol. 1 pg. 451 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966
[xi] Quoted from Frazer, Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders, p. 128 quoting Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, 1800. p. 164
[xii] To the Marquis de Lafayette, 7 Feb. 1788. The Writings of George Washington. Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, Vol. 29 pg. 409 Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office 1931 – 1944
[xiii] Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. pg. 248 Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University Press, 1992
[xiv] The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, Art III 1780. Taylor, Robert J. Massachusetts, Colony to Commonwealth. Pg. 129 – 130 Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press 1961
[xv] Goen, C.C. Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740 – 1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962
[xvi] Franklin, Benjamin. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. ed. Smyth, Henry A. Vol. 10 pg. 84 New York: Macmillan Company 1905 – 1907
[xvii] The Northwest Ordinance, 1787. Federal and State Constitutions: Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies, Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America. Vol. 2 pg. 957 – 964 Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1909
[xviii] Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. ed. Berg, Albert E. Vol. 3 pg. 378 Washington: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association 1907
[xix] Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America, 1840. Vol. 1 pg. 314 New York: Vintage Books, 1945
[xx] Higginbotham, Don. George Washington Reconsidered. pg. 127 – 128 Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2001
[xxi] Quotes and Lafayette plans: Twohig, Dorothy. ‘That Species of Property’: Washington’s Role in the Controversy over Slavery. Higginbotham, Don. George Washington Reconsidered. pg. 121 – 122 Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2001
[xxii] Kennedy, Roger G. Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character. pg. 92 New York: Oxford University Press, 2000
[xxiii] Stewart, James B. Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery. New York: Hill & Wang, 1976
[xxiv] Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America, 1840. Vol. 1 pg. 319 New York: Vintage Books, 1945
[xxv] 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (2007).
[xxvi] Selborne, Roundell Palmer. Ancient Facts and Fictions concerning Churches and Tithes. pg. 36 London: Macmillan, 1888
[xxvii] John Witte, Jr. Tax Exemption of Church Property: Historical Anomaly or Valid Constitutional Practice? 64 S. CAL. L. REV. 363, 369 (1991).
[xxviii] Vaugh, James, E. The African – American Church, Political Activity and Tax Exemption, 37 Seton Hall Law Review. 371, 376 (2007).
[xxix] Houck, Oliver A. On the Limits of Charity: Lobbying, Litigation, and Electoral Politics by Charitable Organizations under the Internal Revenue Code and Related Laws, 69 Brooklyn Law Review 1, 23 (2003).
[xxx] Blair, Keith. Praying For A Tax Break: Churches, Political Speech, And The Loss Of Section 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status. pg. 413 Denver University Law Review May 19th, 2009
[xxxi] Houck, Oliver A. On the Limits of Charity: Lobbying, Litigation, and Electoral Politics by Charitable Organizations under the Internal Revenue Code and Related Laws, 69 Brooklyn Law Review 1, 24 (2003).
[xxxii] 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (2007).
[xxxiii] Applebome, Peter. Religious Right Intensifies Campaign for Bush. New York Times. A1 October 31st, 1992.
[xxxiv] Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137, 140 (D.C. Cir. 1998).
[xxxv] Ibid. pg. 141
[xxxvi] Ibid. 142
[xxxvii] Blair, Keith. Praying For A Tax Break: Churches, Political Speech, And The Loss Of Section 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status. pg. 420 Denver University Law Review May 19th, 2009
[xxxviii] Sataline, Suzanne. Obama Pastors’ Sermons May Violate Tax Law. WALL STREET JOURNAL. A1 March 10th, 2008.
[xxxix] Cone, James H. Black Theology and Black Power (20th Anniversary Edition) pg. 139 New York: Harper, 1989
[xl] Ibid. 143
[xli] Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970. pg. 1168 Bicentennial Edition. Washington D.C., 1975 and Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789 Revised & Expanded Edition. pg. 32 Oxford University Press 2005
[xlii] Newport, Frank. Gallup: Seven in 10 Americans Are Very or Moderately Religious but Protestant population is shrinking as “unbranded” religion grows. December 4th, 2012
[xliii] Birky, Andy. Few Consequences Currently Faced by Pastors Who Endorse from Pulpit. iowaindependent.com, October 6th, 2011
[xliv] Newport, Frank. Gallup Study: Near-Record High See Religion Losing Influence in America. Dec. 29th, 2010. See also Saad, Lydia. Gallup: U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point. July 12th. 2012.
[xlv] Unless otherwise specified all data on church leaders was collected in study by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders. June 22nd, 2011.
[xlvi] Saad, Lydia. Gallup: U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point. July 12th. 2012.
[xlviii] Mayhew. Jonathan. Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers. Boston: D. Fowle and D. Gookin, 1750 Library of Congress (83)
[xlix] Kirk, John. Martin Luther King Jr. pg. 19 – 36 London: Pearson Education Limited, 2005 see also: Brenman, Marc. Transportation Inequality in the United States: A Historical Overview. 34 HUM. RTS., Summer 2007
[l] Blair, Keith. Praying For A Tax Break: Churches, Political Speech, And The Loss Of Section 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status. pg. 411 Denver University Law Review May 19th, 2009
[li] Winthrop, John. A Model of Christian Charity. Sermon written on board the Arbella in 1630.