Trump again says he wants the repeal of the Johnson amendment, which restricts politicking at church

During his campaign, Donald Trump said several times that he is against the Johnson Amendment.  This amendment, approved in 1954, takes away the tax exempt status of churches involved in politics and lobbying.

To be more precise, this story describes the Johnson amendment more fully:

Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) and passed by Congress in 1954, the law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party, and supporting or opposing candidates for office. Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code bestows tax-exempt status upon nonprofit groups as long as they don’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for office.” (The “in opposition to” clause was added in 1986.)

The Johnson Amendment is now applied most scrupulously to churches and faith-based organizations, which are barred from translating their community organizing into political activism of any kind. A Southern Baptist congregation opposed to abortion, for example, is prohibited from explicitly supporting a pro-life Republican running for Congress solely because of the church’s nonprofit status.

Through the Johnson Amendment, the Internal Revenue Service exercises the power to stifle a religious organization’s right to free speech. In effect, an evangelical pastor, Orthodox rabbi, Muslim imam, or Catholic priest who wishes to urge support for a religious freedom bill or oppose Obamacare’s contraception mandate can be muzzled under federal law.

The suppressive nature of the Johnson Amendment can be traced to its origins in the 1950s—a period that the Left usually condemns as “conformist” and hostile to free speech — and Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man criticized for his low political morals. Running for re-election in 1954, then-Sen. Johnson faced a difficult challenge from his Democratic primary opponent, Dudley Dougherty, who received backing from two conservative nonprofit groups in Texas. The nonprofits churned out campaign materials calling for the election of Dougherty — much to the chagrin of Johnson. Shortly thereafter, the Texas senator urged Congress to take up a proposed change to the U.S. tax code that would prohibit outside groups—like those supporting his primary opponent—from political organizing. Aimed at punishing Sen. Johnson’s enemies, the Johnson Amendment now applies to a wide range of nonprofit organizations, including churches.

At the National Prayer Breakfast today, Trump reaffirmed he wants to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment.  What that really means, I guess, is that he wants Congress to pass a law overturning the Johnson amendment, and he will sign it.

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to the Johnson amendment for churches.

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An Unexpected Revelation

In episode three of our Revelations in Context Series, host Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Matthew McBride of the Church History Department about his essay entitled “The Vision.”

In 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon reported receiving a vision at the John Johnson home. Apparently while working on a revision of the New Testament, Joseph had just completed “translating” John 5:29 when the vision commenced.

The early nineteenth century culture was highly religious and most Christian sects believed that the Bible was all sufficient. For Joseph Smith to revise what was already considered to be complete was radical. What he and Sidney saw in vision was even more surprising.

The vision touched on matters dealing with one of the most contentious religious debates of the time: who is saved? Suprisingly, the revelation confirmed the least popular position.

Brigham Young, arguably one of Joseph’s most loyal supporters, struggled with this Universalist position for quite a time. Other members had difficulty accepting this paradigm shift as well.

Matthew McBride uses this historical backdrop to provide a powerful metaphor for modern-day members to use when dealing with doctrine that may be difficult to accept.

This is an episode you won’t want to miss.

A non-hysterical response to the Trump refugee ban

(Warning: this post will present many different viewpoints on a complex issue.)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly wants its members to have charity for refugees.

Go to lds.org.  Put in the word “refugees” in a search.  87 stories came up emphasizing the importance of Christ-like love and support for refugees.

Take a look here.

In my stake in Colorado, the stake presidency has emphasized creating welcome baskets for any refugees in our area.  The Church has put out two statements in the last 13 months asking members to have charity for refugees.

And then there is this video from Elder Uchtdorf:

I think it is impossible to watch this video and not feel heartbreak for refugees.

Now having said all this, I have seen a very large number of normally reasonable people go   over the edge on Trump’s refugee ban.   Way too many people are reacting with hysteria, scorn and hatred.   Don’t get me wrong: you can oppose the steps taken by Trump.  You can march and hold peaceful protests.  But it is a sure sign you are being motivated by the wrong forces if you respond with outrage and anger.

Meanwhile, there are some things to consider.

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Church issues statement on refugees

I quote from this Deseret News story:

Amid the controversy swirling around President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim countries, the LDS Church issued a statement late Saturday night urging solutions that relieve refugee suffering.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned about the temporal and spiritual welfare of all of God’s children across the earth,” the statement said, “with special concern for those who are fleeing physical violence, war and religious persecution. The church urges all people and governments to cooperate fully in seeking the best solutions to meet human needs and relieve suffering.”

On Friday afternoon, Trump signed an executive order that suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program for four months. It also cut the number of refugees the United States will accept this year to 50,000, down from the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama.

A federal judge blocked part of the order on Saturday.

The order barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocked entry to anyone from countries with terrorism concerns for 90 days. The State Department said those countries are seven predominantly Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

That led religious faiths throughout the United States to voice concerns about religious freedom.

This is the second time the LDS Church has responded to Trump’s calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a strong statement in December 2015 soon after Trump on the campaign trail called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States.

Like Saturday’s statement, the December 2015 statement did not name Trump or refer specifically to the controversy, but it said that while the faith is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns, “it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”

 

The Book of Mormon as a really interesting, well, piece of literature

Grant Hardy became intrigued with world religions, especially those of East Asia, as a young missionary. He has reasearched and written widely on various topics, but his study of the Book of Mormon led him to publish two landmark books that share important insights.

In his brief overview to Understanding the Book of Mormon, Hardy gives us ten observations about the Book of Mormon:

  1. It is a long book.
  2. It is written in a somewhat awkward, repetitious form of English.
  3. It imitates the style of the King James Version.
  4. It claims to be history.
  5. It presents a complicated narrative.
  6. It is a religious text.
  7. It is basically a tragedy.
  8. It is very didactic.
  9. It is a human artifact.
  10. Its basic structure is derived from the three narrators.

It is this last observation that forms the thesis for the majority of his work. Hardy contends that “If you’re not seeing the narrators at every turn, you’re not really reading the Book of Mormon–because that’s how the book is constructed, regardless of who the author(s) may have been.”

The three main narrators (Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni) each had distinct approaches as they presented history and revelation in their writings.

Join Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast as she has an enjoyable back-and-forth with an outstanding Book of Mormon scholar.

Check out LDS Perspectives for links to materials referenced in this podcast.