In an effort to make good on a campaign promise he made to conservative Christian groups, President Donald Trump has recently indicated his intention to seek the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.

Advanced by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson as an amendment to the 1954 Internal Revenue Code, the Johnson Amendment bars nonprofits, including churches, organized as 501(c)(3) institutions from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office.

Most arguments against repeal say that would effectively make contributions to political candidates tax-deductible. Whereas I do not refute the validity of these arguments, I want to put forward an argument against repeal based on a much more disturbing consequence.

Repeal of the Johnson Amendment could very well result in churches — or synagogues, temples and mosques — coalescing around political parties, positions or candidates, rather than uniting on the basis of shared faith.

Without the protection of the Johnson Amendment, Thomas Jefferson's “wall of separation” between church and state would be breached, and churches could devolve into little more than political action committees, subject to the whims of parties and politicians. Acts of charity would be tainted, and perceived as efforts to sway political opinion or garner votes. Sunday sermons would impart little more than political rhetoric.

To co-opt a cautionary word from Jesus, “What shall it profit the church if she gain the world, but lose her soul?” 

J. Neil Sherouse