By Simon Hradecky, created Friday, Jan 26, 2018 12:16:04More than one in five US Christians say they would not attend church if it were not for a tax-exempt religious organization like the Cottonwood Church, a Christian nonprofit that works to promote the Bible as a universal text of ethical morality.
The denomination is a non-profit tax-deductible 501(c)(3) and is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to “promoting a free, open, and secular America” and to supporting the rights of Christians, according to its website.
The Cottonwood church does not endorse any specific political party or candidate, but instead advocates for the preservation of Christianity and its role in society.
The church has seen a significant spike in membership since Trump was elected, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, with the church claiming over 1,000 new members in the last month.
“I do not believe the government should be involved in your personal affairs, but I do believe that the government has a role to play in protecting the sanctity of human life and the right to privacy,” Cottonwood founder Michael Henningsen said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Henningsens wife, Ann, told the Christian Post she was inspired by her father’s example.
Ann, who also serves on the Cottonwoods executive board, said her father would “not be a Christian if he had to spend time at church.”
“We are not a political party, we are a church,” she said.
“We do not want a government that is interested in your religious views.
We want a civil society where all people can live as they choose.”
While the Cottontons are not the only faith-based organization that faces such questions, they are certainly the most visible.
The Southern Poverty Laws Center, which tracks hate groups, says the church is “not the only political entity to be targeted by a right-wing group.”
“While they’re not the first religious group to face a threat of legal action for the exercise of its religious freedoms, the Cottontones are likely the most prominent and well-known,” said Rachel Borenstein, the director of SPLC’s Hate Crimes Center.
“The Cottontones have been the target of harassment and threats by far-right activists and hate groups alike, including the Traditionalist Worker Party, the American Family Association, and the Anti-Defamation League.”
The church is also the subject of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which alleges it has been singled out for intimidation and persecution.
“These organizations have taken steps to target religious organizations for their beliefs,” ACLU Staff Attorney Roberta Kaplan told the AP.
“We expect the Cottonstones to continue to fight this discriminatory targeting, and we urge them to do so.”
In an interview, Cottonwood Executive Director Mike Hennensen said he is concerned that his church’s efforts to promote Christianity to the public are being mischaracterized by some.
“It’s just the way they’re being framed, I’m not going to give them credit for the way that they’re framing it,” Henninsen said.
“But it’s not true that we don’t have to have a message that is good for people.
People have the right of free speech and expression and I believe that we have the same right.”