CNN’s Glenn Beck isn’t particularly civil or constructive, and he’d probably admit as much. What he wouldn’t admit – but is no less true – is that he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Last night Beck had Rev. Walter Coleman of Chicago’s Adalberto United Methodist Church (of New Sanctuary fame) on his show, and in addition to badgering, serially interrupting and being generally disrespectful to Coleman, Beck said his church should forfeit his church’s tax-exempt status for “making political statements.”
I can’t fault Beck for not having a lawyer’s command of tax-exemption guidelines, but that’s no excuse for being transparently ridiculous. In Beckworld, is there no church speech on any political issue at all? Would Martin Luther King’s 16th St. Baptist church have to forfeit its tax exemption for “making political statements” about integration? Should the Catholic church forfeit its tax exemption for “making political statements” about abortion, war, or immigration? Or is it just people who irritate Beck on his show?
Just to clarify, Glenn, IRS guidelines don’t prohibit political statements about issues; they prohibit campaigning for political candidates.
“IRS DROPS THE CASEâ€ proclaims the homepage of All Saints Church, announcing that the Pasadena, California church is free of an IRS investigation into a 2004 election-eve sermon — but not exactly cleared of wrongdoing. In short, the IRS has said that the church’s tax-exempt status is no longer endangered, but that sermon was still an illegal intervention in the 2004 election.*
All Saints, continuing its courageous stand for freedom of the pulpit, is not content to let bygones be bygones. The church is demanding that the Treasury Department investigate several legal and procedural errors that might indicate intervention–politically-motivated intervention (imagine that!) — by the Department of Justice.
In a press release posted on the church’s website the Church’s rector, the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. said:
“While we are pleased that the IRS examination is finally over, the IRS has failed to explain its conclusion regarding the single sermon at issue. Synagogues, mosques, and churches across America have no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process over two long years ago. The impact of this letter leaves a chilling effect cast over the freedom of America’s pulpits to preach core moral values.â€
It’s that chilling effect that worries me and should be worrying us all. Just last week, I used the word “Democratsâ€ in a blog, and a colleague advised that I take it out, lest my words be construed as intervention into the 2008 elections.
We are looking over our shoulders because of the All Saints case. We are unclear about what constitutes illegal politicking, and it’s my experience that most folks in the pews (or the pulpits) think that any mention of politics in church constitutes “a violation of church and state.â€
Whether or not the IRS gets clear in its explanation of the All Saints investigation, and the difference between issue advocacy and partisan electioneering, we who speak for justice and peace need to be loud and clear: it’s OK, and more than that, morally imperative, for Christian preachers to speak out for peace, and against war, to speak up for justice, and against the powers of domination. If we need to find the right (and yes, legal) words to back us up, all we need do is quote Mary and her radical Magnificat, or Jesus and his revolutionary Beatitudes, and let those who have ears hear.
The IRS might want to keep the waters murky enough to chill us to the bone, but we need to be crystal clear about our responsibility to the truth and our right to proclaim it.
As one of our colleagues (Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California) said, in a quote picked up by today’s Los Angeles Times: “We need to work together to prevent intimidation.â€
*If you don’t remember this whole saga, this sorry business started with a letter from the IRS that arrived at the church in June 2005, stating that the church’s tax-exempt status was in jeopardy because of a guest sermon preached shortly before election day 2004 by retired All Saints Rector George F. Regas. (BTW, as an “alumâ€ of All Saints I am proud to say that Dr. Regas is one of my heroes and one of our nation’s greatest social justice preachers! In that sermon, Dr Regas imagined Jesus in a debate with both Bush and Kerry. He of course did not endorse either candidate, saying that “good people of profound faith will be for either George Bush or John Kerry for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.â€ But he criticized the war in Iraq. The IRS declared that this sermon was political intervention into the election.
The project is an interesting example of coordinated activity in the blogosphere. Blogging is becoming more widely accepted as a source of news and analysis, but the use of blogging for coordinated political advocacy is less well charted territory. Hopefully this campaign, which united bloggers of various belief systems and faiths, is only the beginning of coordinated action on a range of issues. It would be extremely encouraging if this or a similar group could move to playing defense against religious oppression to other pro-active campaigns.
Throughout the weekend, the BAT folks recorded several hundred posts in support of the separation of church and state. The Neoskeptic writes about Jefferson’s role in shaping religion and American politics (appropriate that he’s a UVA alum). Over at Street Prophets, wiscmass writes about the fruits of theocracy. Here’s all Street Prophet diaries tagged “Blog Against Theocracy.”
Gary Hart talks about God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics. In this new and sure-to-be controversial book, Hart takes the religious right to task for their assumption of political power, noting that they are both defining faith too narrowly and failing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. In the process, Hart identifies the proper role of religion in democracy.
Hat-tip to Erik Kleefeld over at TPMCafe for this clip of Gov. Romney and a faith-based heckler at a recent event. Romney’s Mormonism is already generating pages of press coverage. I don’t have a good sense yet of how influential folks like the heckler are. Sure the crowd turns against the heckler (and Romney handles it all gracefully), but when citizens step into the booth to vote in primaries, will these doubts come back into play? Also worth noting that Mitt’s response is that ‘we need a person of faith to lead the country.’ Paging President Eisenhower…