Arguments for and against the Johnson Amendment are more complicated than they might first appear to be.

On the one hand, there is little danger that SDA pastors will run afoul of the law if they follow the policies and recommendations that have been in place in our denomination for as long as I can remember, i.e. that pastors not endorse political parties or political candidates and that they not address political issues except the one issue of civil governments not promoting religious beliefs, requiring religious practices or enforcing religious prohibitions.

In my lifetime, it has been common among Adventists to insist that civil governments should not legislate on such topics as idolatry, profanity/blasphemy or a weekly holy day but that it is appropriate for civil governments to legislate with regard to murder, theft and perjury.

To place civil laws about adultery in the latter of those categories raises some question, however. The definition of adultery depends to a large degree on the definition of marriage, and definitions of marriage vary among various religious groups. Even among professed Christians, for example, some don’t consider a couple married until or unless a ceremony conducted by a an agent for a specific religious organization has “solemnized” the union. Which leaves the question of whether two people are married after the ceremony but before the union has been consummated.

Another ostensibly Christian perspective with regard to marriage holds that there is no such thing as divorce with regard to eligibility to remarry (i.e. divorce pertains only to division of property, money, etc.).

Other professed Christians believe there is no biblical prohibition against polygamy.

Other professed Christians are content to use whatever definition of marriage is part of the legal code of the countries in which they live—which definitions vary widely from one country to another.

In discussing this subject with our daughter recently, she asked the question (I think she meant it as rhetorical), “So which prohibitions are religious?”

I belong to a religious organization the membership requisites of which include not using alcoholic beverages or tobacco in any form. Are those “religious” prohibition for me? If so, is it inappropriate for me to work in the political arena to (or even vote to) impose those prohibitions on others? Or to impose “sin taxes” on those products?

There is abundant evidence that professed Christians in the West, for at least a thousand years, considered personhood to begin at birth—i.e. with the first breath. Even the incarnation of Jesus was considered to have occurred at his birth.

I’m as opposed to elective abortion as anybody but for me to try to make that a religious issue raises huge questions about the interface (or lack thereof) between religion and civil government. It is one thing for me to vote for political candidates who are philosophically opposed to elective abortion. It is quite another thing for me to vote for political candidates who consider it to be a moral issue and who want to legislate morality.

I don’t expect to ever have the wherewithal to create an new religious organization (and, even if I did, it would include bylaws to prevent it from becoming a “church” organization) but I have given much thought to what precautions I would take if I could start such an organization. I am almost certain I would avoid incorporating it as a “non-profit” organization (even if I didn’t expect it to ever make a “profit” as defined by the IRS). Why? So as to, as much as possible, avoid questions of what, exactly, constitutes involvement of the organization or its agents in the political process.

If there is a reason to repeal the Johnson Amendment it is because it is difficult to enforce and non-enforcement or selective enforcement tends to engender disrespect for that law in particular and civil laws in general.

Roger Metzger
Milo, Maine