A church-state watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service over a sermon that Greg Locke preached in which he told congregants that Christians cannot vote Democrat.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a complaint to the IRS on Monday, arguing that Locke’s sermon at Global Vision Bible Church of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, on Sunday violated the Johnson Amendment.
“Though Locke stated he was not a ‘full-fledged Republican,’ he clearly told his congregants to vote against the Democrats, from the pulpit of his church. In the complaint letter, this violates the law, and we ask for an investigation into Locke’s conduct under 26 U.S.C. [paragraph] 7611,” wrote Ian Smith, an attorney with Americans United.
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, told The Christian Post that several people told her organization about the Locke sermon posted online.
“Several folks alerted us to a video of his Sunday sermon that violated the Johnson Amendment on social media, but we’ve been aware of Pastor Locke’s inflammatory rhetoric for several years,” said Laser, noting that Locke prayed for the Proud Boys group on the eve of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“In 2019, he burned a book written by Andrew L. Seidel, our VP of Strategic Communications. And as Americans United was working during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure public health orders were applied equally to religious and secular organizations, Pastor Locke’s refusal to allow his church to follow health guidelines such as social distancing and mask-wearing was well known.”
Laser also told CP that since IRS investigations are considered confidential, she does not expect a response from them as they look into Locke and if he violated the Johnson Amendment.
Laser blasted Locke’s rhetoric, telling CP that “Locke was not only taking sides in a partisan political fight but also threatening another insurrection and taking power ‘by force.’”
“That’s fundamentally undemocratic and un-American,” she added. “Tax exemption is a privilege, not a right, and Pastor Locke is abusing that privilege in truly gruesome fashion.”
In his sermon, Locke called Democrats "God-denying demons that butcher babies and hate this nation" and demanded that any Democrats belonging to his church leave.
Locke also referred to President Joe Biden as a "sleepy old fool," claimed that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election and promoted an event at the U.S. Supreme Court building where he would be speaking to promote an end to abortion.
"Everyone wanna talk about the insurrection? Mmmm. ... Let me tell you something: You ain’t seen the insurrection yet," said Locke, getting applause from his congregation.
"You keep on pushing our buttons, you low-down, sorry compromisers, you God-hating communists; maybe you’ll find out what an insurrection is."
Adopted in 1954 and named after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson who proposed the measure the Johnson Amendment prohibits nonprofits from maintaining a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status if they engage in partisan political activism.
The Johnson Amendment has been a source of controversy, as many conservatives believe that the measure unjustly denies churches and clergy the right to take political stances.
In 2017, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding more leniency for churches defying the Johnson Amendment, with some claiming that Trump had repealed it.
CP reached out to Locke on Tuesday for this story, with the pastor explaining that he was confident that the IRS would not punish his church for the recent sermon.
“I’m not going to stop speaking the truth,” said Locke. “I don’t really care what the AU thinks, and I stand by my statements. I do not believe you can be a biblical Christian and vote Democrat in this culture in which we live.”
Locke told CP that “the IRS is not going to come after me” because his church is “squeaky clean financially” and that the measure was rarely ever enforced.
“This would literally be the biggest fight constitutionally against a church that the IRS has ever been involved in, and they’re just not going to pick that war; they’re just not,” he continued.