Pulpit Initiative Has Financial Implications

(Originally published as an article within ECCU’s former e-publication, Ministry Banking Today.)

Each year, it’s hard to keep track of all the new legislation and tax laws affecting ministries. One reliable source for this information is Dan Busby, acting president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Recently, Busby keynoted a Financial Forum for Ministries in Arlington, Texas, where church and ministry leaders heard updates from several noted presenters on the most important financial issues affecting them today.

One of these issues, the Pulpit Initiative, could have profound financial implications for ministries. What is the Pulpit Initiative?

For 54 years, the IRS has contended that if a pastor speaks from the pulpit about a political candidate, they can pull the tax exempt status of that pastor’s church. The intent of the Pulpit Initiative, according to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), is to “restore now missing aspects of the First Amendment to our nation’s spiritual leaders.”

As part of the initiative, some church leaders who consider the IRS position unconstitutional participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on September 28, 2008. From their pulpits, these pastors chose to “advise their congregation what scripture says about today’s issues and apply those issues to the candidates standing for election” according to the ADF, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona.

Church leaders are divided on the initiative, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State has launched a campaign to counter it. The result could be a challenge in a number of federal courts. Churches choosing to endorse candidates could face significant tax implications if the current law is upheld and should seek legal counsel to fully understand those implications.

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