Is It Time for Churches to Abandon Tax-Exempt Status to Protect Religious Freedom?

Mike Huckabee has gained prominence as both a faith leader and a politician. And on Monday, he straddled these two worlds as he spoke at a pastors’ conference in Houston, Texas. His comments, which were delivered before the start of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, invoked themes of religious freedom and churches’ interaction with the federal government. Of particular note, Huckabee said that it may be time for faith leaders to separate from the government in order to maintain their freedoms.

The former Arkansas governor and pastor decried the most recent revelation that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted conservative groups and he offered up some contentious cautions for people of faith.

“The recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting people of faith — people who are conservative, people who are pro-Israel — and have been picking out the parts of belief and speech and faith that government seems to approve and that which it doesn’t approve has brought up a very important reality that I think, sooner or later, as believers, we need to confront,” he said, according to quotes published by the Associated Baptist Press.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (Photo Credit: AP)

Admitting that the audience might not agree with or appreciate his subsequent comments, Huckabee encouraged Christian leaders to at least hear him out and to prayerfully consider his words.

“I think we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God, and if it means that we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me permission to say what God wants me to say,” he continued.

Huckabee seemed to be telling the crowd that it may be time for churches to simply leave behind the coveted 501(c)(3) status to give themselves more freedom (IRS rules restrict political endorsements and other partisan speech from the pulpit). In the former presidential candidate’s view, freedom is more important than “financial benefit.”

Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee signs copies of his new book “Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett” at Family Christian Stores on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. Credit: AP

“I must be very honest and tell you; I have never given a dime to God that I gave solely because it was a tax decision,” Huckabee continued. “And if you’ve got people in your church who are giving because it’s a tax decision, then they ought to keep their money. They need it more than God does.”

The conservative also said that the GOP should tread carefully and that Christians should remain true to the Bible, even if societal trends run against its teachings.

(H/T: Associated Baptist Press)

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