Following up the last post — Jason Felch and Patricia Ward Biederman write in today’s Los Angeles Times that the conservative National Association of Evangelicals has reached across the doctrinal aisle to support All Saints Church of Pasedena. The church is being hassled by the IRS for preaching that Jesus didn’t like war.
The evangelicals’ act is a welcome contrast to the juvenile gloatings of a couple of trolls; see this, this, and this. I want to point this out because I don’t believe all conservative Christians are pubescent, literacy-challenged Kool Aiders. It just seems that way because pubescent, literacy-challenged Kool Aiders tend to run things in Rightie World. But in this case the evangelicals are behaving like adults:
When Ted Haggard, head of the 30-million-member National Assn. of Evangelicals, heard about the All Saints case Monday, he told his staff to contact the National Council of Churches, a more liberal group.
Haggard said he personally supports the war in Iraq and probably would not agree with much in the Rev. George Regas’ 2004 sermon at All Saints, which was cited by the IRS as the basis for its investigation. But Haggard said he wants to work with the council of churches “in doing whatever it takes to get the IRS to stop” such actions.
For the record, even the Southern Baptist Convention was mightily pissed off by the attempt to exploit churches on behalf of the Bush campaign, as described in the last post.
Haggard’s act was welcomed by the National Council of Churches.
Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, cheered when he heard of Haggard’s offer, which Edgar said represented a rare reaching out by the evangelical group to the council.
Edgar, a United Methodist minister, former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and ex-president of the Claremont School of Theology, said the IRS move against All Saints appeared to be “a political witch hunt on George Regas and progressive ideology. It’s got to stop.” He stressed that Regas did not endorse a candidate in the sermon.
The article goes on to explain the distinction between issue advocacy and candidate endorsement:
The tax code prohibits nonprofits from “participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.” The ban includes endorsements, donations, fundraising or any other activity “that may be beneficial or detrimental to any particular candidate.”
Advocating for ballot initiatives, as many California churches have done in advance of today’s special election, is a separate issue, tax experts said. Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are allowed to engage in lobbying as long as “a substantial part of the organization’s activities is not intended to influence legislation.”
Savvy churches make sure they don’t draw unwanted attention from the IRS, church officials and others said.
When elections near, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles sometimes sends reminders to local parishes of its guidelines on political action. “We don’t endorse or oppose candidates, but we can endorse ballot propositions when there is a moral or ethical issue involved,” said archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg, who knew of no local Catholic churches under IRS scrutiny.
This weekend, during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Archbishop Roger Mahony endorsed Proposition 73, the state ballot initiative requiring parental notification before an abortion can be performed on a minor.
Seems to me that advocating for or against a ballot initiative is intended to influence legislation, but let’s go on … throughout American history, religions have been engaged in the nation’s hot-button issues. There was preaching both for and against slavery and secession, for example. Church groups worked to prohibit the sale of liquor and to stop child labor laws (yeah, you read that right; conservative churches wanted six-year-olds to work in factories). More recently, conservative churches have pushed hard to stop legal abortion. African-American churches were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. This is a role American churches and other religious institutions have played from the beginning of our history, and I think it’s a legitimate role. And I have no problem with treating churches as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, as long as they are genuinely nonprofit and not fronts for something that would otherwise be taxed.
However, I agree that tax-exempt organizations should be prohibited from actively campaigning or endorsing parties or candidates. Otherwise, you’d soon have “churches” that were nothing more than fronts for political campaigns. Political parties could take over established churches through generous “donations” in exchange for endorsements and a compliant ministry. Ministers could find themselves serving two masters–God and the Party. The wall of separation so many conservatives want to tear down protects religious independence of politics.
Update: Don’t miss flaming idiot Don Surber’s comment to this post (here and here) and my response. You will laugh your butt off, unless you are Don Surber. And what is it with righties that they can’t read the bleeping posts they comment on?