On Monday, former Arkansas Governor and Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee brought a huge white elephant to the Southern Baptist Convention. When he got up to address the pastors who’d converged on Houston for the annual event, he forced everyone’s attention on it, telling the group of conservative religious leaders that churches should unilaterally agree to start paying taxes — and stop letting the Federal government tell them what to do.
Then Huckabee got on Twitter the next day and offered a powerfully distilled version of his argument:
It’s time for churches to reject tax exempt status completely; freedom is more important than government financial favors.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) June 11, 2013
Huckabee, himself the President of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention, explained in Houston that churches are easy fodder for the same kind of scrutiny the Federal government, using the enforcement and bureaucratic power of the Internal Revenue Service, wielded against conservative and Tea Party nonprofit groups.
“You may not clap real loud for this, but at least hear me out and think about it and pray about it,” he told the Baptist ministers:
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.
…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.
Back in 2007, when Huckabee was still in the hunt for the Republican Presidential nomination, he garnered a lot of Christian support. The IRS was all over it, making sure that no church-affiliated nonprofit organization of any kind was endangering its nonprofit status by officially endorsing him.
So far, there hasn’t been enough reaction to measure how Huckabee’s message will be received. Twitter has lit up with mostly positive endorsements of the idea from private individuals, but it’s tough to envision some religious leaders — who often work for organizations that have massive real estate holdings, service programs, schools and medical facilities — embracing either the messenger or the message.