Grow Up With God

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.

: 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?

12 thoughts on “Grow Up With God

  1. Troll, eh?
    All I said yesterday was conservative churches also were investigated by the IRS.
    But hey, you wanna spin it and call me names, go right ahead. I was neither abusive nor profane. I made two small posts to try to inform you
    If this blog is merely an echo chamber for a clique, so be it
    But I was right

  2. OK, folks, let’s examine how stupid Don Surber actually is:

    I posted a link and commentary to a Los Angeles Times story titled “Conservatives Also Irked by IRS Probe of Churches.” The story says that the National Association of Evangelicals sided with the liberal All Saints Church regarding their IRS problems. I commended the evangelical group for this and said I agree with their position.

    Then Surber, who truly cannot read, gets on my blog and says nyah nyah nyah, you are wrong, and btw you should read this Los Angeles Times Story titled “Conservatives Also Irked by IRS Probe of Churches” that proves how wrong you are.

    Yes, folks, Surber challenged me to read the same story I had just linked and commented on, approvingly.

    Now, the question is, how stupid does one have to be to have done that? Real stupid, I’d say.

  3. Listening for the secret, searching for the sound….
    but I can only hear the preacher and the baying of his hounds….
    -Unbroken Chain by the Grateful Dead.
    It is good to hear that there are churches coming out against this. I never question peoples belief but their actions, on the other hand…

  4. Reading is fundamental. Even when dealing with fundamental churches. Particularly when people have fundamental differences. When people bring their conclusions with them and don’t read . . . people make fun of the mental dishonesty. Is that like mental or what?
    I am all in favor of whatever moral leaders there are out there speaking their minds in this moral wilderness we wander. Nobody needs to put on a hairshirt and go hermetic in a cave to see that silence and willful ignorance are the bane of these less soulful times when we must talk with each other if we are to survive.
    We get what we give for good and for bad.
    Who doesn’t yearn for something better, more honesty for one?

  5. Careful with Pastor Ted there.

    He is blatantly political. What he wants usually goes in Colorado Springs, through his voting bloc/congregation or his proxies (Mayor Lionel Rivera).

    The city, under Mayor Rivera, cut the health benefits for same-sex couples and revoked support for a returning soldiers health care project because the founder had the nerve to make an anti-war statement.

    So, he may want the Pasadena church to have its say so he can have his – and he has a helluva lot more to say than most any other church leader in the nation.

  6. Haggard’s looking out for his on ass. He could care less about the principle or the other church. It’s his tax-exempt he’s worried about. I say pull them all, Haggard’s first.

  7. I can’t figure out why all churches are not against war…Not very Christian from my point of view.

  8. I’m an atheist. I say pull tax-exempt status from the whole pesky lot. Where in hell did they get it? Why? If I’m ever given a chance to vote against tax-exemption for churches, I will. So help me. . .Whomever.

  9. I do not presume Mr. Surber represents all reactionaries, fascists or conservatives.But certainly, the least literate people are more likely to be on the right, simply because responses based on emotionalism and bias are easier than knowing your ABCs.

    For guys like Surber, however, I tried to set my spam filter so commenters have to verify that they’ve been successfully potty-trained, so they won’t embarrass themselves by smearing doody on themselves. But it’s clear it’s not foolproof….. please pass the deodorant!

  10. I’m posting this comment in hopes of helping get the right action out of the liberal community. I’ve posted this on Americablog based on some of the postings there:

    I’m a member of All Saints Church in Pasadena. I resent the calls by those on the left who would lump our progressive faith community with the “Christian” community as defined by the media.

    It is my faith that served as the underlying foundation for my wife’s and my work for Howard Dean. We are called to embody Christ’s life. Christ’s life was always about inclusive love of one another. Taking care of the least of these. Trying to co-create the kingdom of heaven here and now (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”).

    Our faith community has the radical notion that there are many ways to get to God and we don’t claim to have a lock on what that is. It is why, before communion, these words are spoken – “Wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.” An invitation to ALL to participate in the central liturgy of our worship service. (look up George Regas’ sermon delivered at the Riverside Church in NYC in which he talks about this most clearly).

    Too often people on the left dismiss people of faith as being part of the problem. I’m tired of this kind of ignorance. It is people like us whom you should be relying on more and encouraging to be involved in the political process. I suggest going to these sites to see just how important we people of faith will be if the Left is ever going to succeed in its work – and or even to here to read past sermons from our church.

    Church and politics do mix. Past rectors at All Saints have repeated this phrase time and time again, “to hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”. Our faith calls us into the world, into our communities to make it and them better places to live for all.

    Salvation is not some other worldly place after we are dead – it is right here and now, each of us realizing our fullest human potential to heal the world and each other in whatever ways our talents and passions call us to. You can see this in the Lord’s Prayer in these words “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

    Our community, ideally, is one which shows up on Sunday, is inspired, and goes out into the world the other 6 days seeking in our own unique ways to make this a better place to be.

    Don’t disregard us and don’t disrespect us by not taking a strong stand against this anti-democratic action by the IRS. We are among your strongest most capable organizers and activists.


    Patrick Briggs,
    Pasadena, CA

  11. strait talk – I am not certain of the source of tax exemption for churches but while it is flagrantly abused by some churches it is critical to the survival of many churches – often churches who are realy doing great things for their communities. Just like many charities abuse their status and the trust of those who contribute. Would you call for the removal of their tax exempt status as well? I would agree that some better standard should be applied but unfortunately the abusers are the ones with the most political clout. Perversely their lobby power does help those who legitamately serve their communities – I oft wonder at what cost though. . .

    The problem with pegging all “conservatives” and “fundamentalists” is that many of them are conservative on a few select issues. Or, as happens on occasion, they are kind, wonderfull people who are seriously misguided. In the church I attend I doubt you would find 5 people who all share all the same views on abortion, the war, capital punishment, gun laws, welfare, education or gay rights. Yet, with few exceptions, everyone in the church has given money they can’t well afford to help victims of the myriad natural disasters this year and others. Some even opening their homes to those in need. Our youth volunteer for communitee services to other poor folk in the communitee even worse off than them. Many at my church would be labeled conservative, some fundies, while many are spread across the spectrum falling to the left – some more than even myself. Yet they are all good people – some are just misguided. Even my pastor, who used to own an insurance agency and is/was a bigtime bushnut, agreed with me that the Catholic church has thrown their tax status into jeopardy by there support of Bush, while when I discussed the above cited case felt that the IRS is way out of line. Believe me, he is a hardcore conservative but he also believes in the rule of law and respects that. It doesn’t matter to a lot of conservatives that their fellow conservatives are the ones breaking the rules – they still want to see them treated fairly, even if it means they are penalized.

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