We’re continuing to examine a series of Difficult Questions related to disability ministry over the course of the summer. Today, we’ll examine the question of if and when leaders involved with disability ministry should publicly discuss political issues.
A fellow ministry leader recently inquired about Key Ministry’s policies on commentary regarding political issues. Can’t imagine why that topic came up recently!
First, to quote from a guy our ministry team greatly admires, the Kingdom we’re hoping to build is not one of this world. We’re seeking to contribute to the re-establishment of Jesus’ Kingdom by helping to connect churches, kids with disabilities and their families. Our agenda is decidedly non-political as most people define “politics.”
I’m also proud that in a time of incredible divisiveness in the U.S. (and the church) around matters of public policy that we have team members representing both major parties who can put aside political differences to work together for the common purpose of helping kids and families experience the love of Jesus Christ and the fellowship found in local churches.
At the same time, many of the people who serve on our team as either Board members, ministry staff or volunteers are involved with provision of direct service to kids with disabilities and their families, or are parents/family members of a child with a disability. Most of us are passionate in our advocacy for kids with disabilities. Given the extent to which access to needed medical, educational and social services is determined by elected officials on a national, state and local level, folks who do what we do are, sooner or later, likely to apply whatever influence we exercise to matters of public policy.
So…How should organizations involved with disability ministry respond when confronted with very controversial and divisive issues related to public policy? Here are a few thoughts:
Scripture clearly obligates us to submit to the laws and regulations imposed by legitimately established government. The IRS regulations addressing involvement of 501(c)(3) organizations in political campaigns are eminently clear…
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Those section 501(c)(3) organizations that are private foundations are subject to additional restrictions that are not described in this fact sheet.
Our ministry organization is NEVER going to make an endorsement of any politician or political party. It’s clearly not appropriate for us to to so…we’d be violating God’s directives.
At the same time, we’re called as individual followers of Christ to be agents of redemption in EVERY area of life. We would be abandoning our responsibility to care for the sick and advocate for “the least of these” if we remain silent as our society (through the political process) allocates resources to meet competing needs. In exercising our advocacy as individuals, we’re obligated to conduct ourselves with grace and demonstrate diligence in sharing truth because our day-to-day witness is a reflection of Christ to others. But we are completely within our rights as individuals to exercise our rights as citizens to advocate within the political process. Again, from the IRS:
The political campaign intervention prohibition is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax exempt under section 501(c)(3), leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization. To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of organization functions and publications, organization leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.
If you come across my personal Facebook page or Twitter account or Linked In account, there’s a possibility you may find comments that are very political. You may encounter opinions from my colleagues on their personal pages or accounts espousing positions diametrically opposed to mine. But that’s the privilege…and the responsibility all of us bear as citizens. Through free speech and the free exchange of ideas we elect representatives and make policy decisions in the best interests of all of our people. Nowhere do leaders lose their individual rights or responsibilities by virtue of serving in a paid or volunteer position in a ministry organization as long as their opinions are personal.
Two final thoughts…The moral authority of Christ’s followers when carrying out Christ’s work has been EXTREMELY THREATENING to those in power from the time of Jesus’ ministry here on Earth. We shouldn’t be surprised when authorities act as they do when they perceive their influence or authority is threatened.
Finally, while God requires us to submit to legitimate authorities, we NEVER serve the purposes of God by violating the principles of God. I ran this post past the Executive Committee of our Board. Libby Peterson (a family ministry director and our VP) shared a great clarifying quote in response to this comment…
“Of all the principles of God you refer to at the end, the greatest of these is love. We can stand for principles we believe in without compromising our hearts of love toward those with whom we disagree…especially if we stick together and help each other in this way.”
If you’re planning to attend the North American Christian Convention (NACC) in Orlando from July 10-13, be sure to checkout Harmony Hensley’s presentation on Thursday, July 12th. Her topic will be Inclusion Ministry and Disability: Getting Outside the Box.
Thanks, Steve! This is so balanced and clear!
Ann…thanks for the kind words. Folks in the church need to be aware of the changes coming down the road in how families of kids with disabilities are able to access necessary services to position ourselves to stand in the gaps and respond to the most heartfelt needs.