Is A Church A Political Action Committee?

By Daniel King

Newspapers in West Tennessee have been buzzing recently over a dispute between certain of the churches there and local government. The Paris Post-Intelligencer for Thursday, September 6, 1984, reported that State Attorney General Mike Cody ordered eight Jackson, Tennessee churches to file financial disclosure statements. They were ordered to do so after they made financial contributions to a group called Citizens Against Drug Abuse (CADA), which campaigned successfully against liquor-by-the-drink in a referendum August 2.

Cody pointed out that, as he reads the state’s campaign disclosure law, a political action committee is any combination of two or more individuals who financially support a candidate or cause. “We realize that such groups do not ordinarily consider themselves to be ‘political action committees’ and in some cases have not thought that they were obligated to file campaign financial disclosure statements,” Cody said.

The comment offered by the local paper was this: “Although any referendum related to the use of alcohol is considered a moral as well as a political issue and arouses emotions that other elections do not, if churches can help sway the outcome of the political process, the attorney general was correct in his ruling that they have assumed the role of political action committees.”

We certainly sympathize with those who fought to stop the legalization of liquor-by-the-drink in their fair city. This was a positive moral issue and all such require that Christians exert whatever influence they scripturally and ethically may on the side of right. But in recent years it has become popular for churches, as churches, to become directly involved in politics, and that we consider a mistake.

We have come to expect that many of the denominational churches will do such things, since most have little regard for the pattern left us by the early church and her apostles. They were quick to enter into the thought – world of the social gospel, attempting to establish the Kingdom of God on earth through social change. But churches of Christ tended to steer clear of politics because they considered this one of the areas where the individual rather than the church is to act. The early church never attempted to make of herself a political movement. She obeyed those in positions of authority (Tit. 3: 1) and prayed for rulers and those in high places (1 Tim. 2:1-2). The teachings of the New Testament had ramifications which reached into the world of politics. Yet the church did not, until centuries later when she slid into apostasy on many issues, try to make of herself a force to be reckoned with in either local or imperial politics. For an earlier generation of Christians that was enough.

The fact that the Word of God did not sanction such involvement kept them away from putting the church into the position of endorsing particular political candidates. The weight of those biblical teachings which instructed the church on the subject of her work and how those funds collected on the first day of the week were to be used in the Lord’s service, was sufficient to turn the balances against political or social service involvement.

A new attitude has come of age in the churches over the past several years, however. Spurred on by the desire to compete with some of the denominations in the social service area, some brethren opened the door to all sorts of things by establishing human institutions to carry out these functions (colleges, orphan homes, homes for unwed mothers, rest homes for the aged, child-care agencies, etc.) and then hitching the churches onto them by seeking church support. The question whether or not they had a right to exist was one thing. The Bible does not stand in the way of individuals who wish to create businesses of this kind. Christians have every right to establish and administrate a means for securing their livelihood. But when the churches were solicited for contributions, that represented another thing altogether. On the one hand, the church was making a contribution to an organization of man’s devising, a human institution. She was not buying a service. She was making a contribution. This assumed that the institution was doing the work of the church. And, the church was accomplishing her work through the agency of an institution engineered by man and not God. This further assumed that the church was insufficient to carry out the work God gave her to do, whereas Scripture said the opposite (Eph. 1:23).

In order to avoid the obvious force of the arguments leveled at them from brethren who opposed these machinations, the advocates of this new theory of financing and accomplishing the work of the church reasoned that ‘anything the individual can do with his money, the church can do with hers.” Never mind the distinction made in the Bible between the individual and the church (1 Tim. 5:16; etc.)! At the first this view was only accepted in principle. It came to be put into practice much more slowly. In fact, some of the brethren who first made this argument balked at accepting some of its implications when they saw what it eventually led to. When churches began building gymnasiums and swimming pools and threw themselves “hook, line, and sinker” into the social gospel, a few men were heard to mildly protest, but not above the din of the mob that went along.

Where did they end up? They ended up going into politics too. You see, to get back to our newspaper article, one of the churches which made a political contribution to the CADA was the Wallace Road Church of Christ in Jackson, Tennessee. They contributed $760 to this political pressure group, and so entered the realm of politics. That made them a ‘Political Action Committee.’ They didn’t think so, but that is what they became. And the Attorney General for the state of Tennessee made them file a financial disclosure statement.

There will probably be nothing said in opposition to this among our liberal brethren. In fact, they will likely protest only the harsh treatment of their comrades by Mike Cody and bemoan the erosion of our political rights under the Supreme Court in recent decades. They will never think to ask whether or not the church may legitimately enter into politics. After all, what the individual can do, the church can do. Or so they think!

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 20, pp. 625-626
October 18, 1984