Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The IRS Strikes Again

Now they're after the UCC (United Church of Christ). And note, that's the WHOLE United Church of Christ ... not just a congregation: the whole-enchilada DENOMINATION!

Here's the UCC statement ... and here's some commentary from a blog called "Progressive Involvement:"

In a move reminiscent of the IRS's move against All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, CA, the IRS is now going to investigate an entire denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC). With over a million members, the UCC is one of the larger protestant denominations in the United States.

The issue, supposedly, is a speech given by Sen. Barack Obama at the church's national convention in 2007. In a statement, the UCC said:

Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.

(UCC President John) Thomas said the IRS's investigation implies that Obama, a UCC member, is not free to speak openly to fellow UCC members about his faith.

Let's get this straight: The IRS does not investigate Jerry Falwell, who accused the President of the United States of murder. The IRS does not investigate the blatantly political Pat Robertson, or D. James Kennedy, or James Dobson. The IRS does not investigate the outfit from Colorado Springs that sent me a CD, two days before the 2004 election, promoting George Bush. The IRS does not investigate the myriad of conservative religious organizations openly participating in various elections. (May I add, I don't think they should either.)
But the IRS does investigate the progressive All Saints Episcopal Church because, before the 2004 election, the Rector gave a speech denouncing the Iraq War. Imagine the temerity! A Christian pastor raises questions about a war. (Note: It was the rector-emeritus, but let's not quibble!)

Then, the IRS investigates an entire (liberal) denomination because one of its own members spoke to his fellow Christians about "his personal faith journey" and about how religion had been used to divide the country.

Moreover, the UCC appears to have bent over backwards to make certain that the speech could not be construed as a political campaign speech. No campaigning of any kind was allowed inside the convention center.
In any case, so what if it was? Political leaders--especially when campaigning--routinely speak at national church conventions. Usually, these speeches are given to religious organizations of which they are not members themselves. Ronald Reagan regularly spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals. John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech on church-state relations to the Houston Ministerial Association. Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke at the Lutheran Youth Conference I attended in 1965!

That doesn't even count the great number of politicians who speak in individual churches all the time, sometimes even preaching the sermon. Jesse Jackson preached at my seminary during the Iowa caucuses in 1988. It is beyond ludicrous that a prominent politician can't speak to members of his own denomination about faith, or politics, or whatever he feels like talking about.
So there you have it. Stay tuned on this one ... there is clearly going to be more to this story!


Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

This assault on the basic freedom of religion and assembly is one of the most egregious of our time. And that's saying a lot considering all the loss of freedoms we are faced with.
People of all beliefs and religions should be together in fighting this attack on the most basic of freedoms.
On this maybe we can all agree.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

p.s. As I said before the IRS is the devil.

Suzer said...

I had a Southern Baptist co-worker who, during the 2000 elections, proceeded to hand out the "voting guide" her pastor distributed at church. It said -- literally -- who to vote for, who the "Christian candidates" were, and who NOT to vote for. I was floored, and offended, to say the least, that a pastor had the temerity to put such obvious politicking on paper and hand it out during church, and encourage his flock to hand out copies at work, school, etc.

And of course, no action was taken against the pastor or church.

So I'm afraid it doesn't surprise me to see the IRS investigating liberal congregations, while leaving out a whole bunch of egregious and rule-breaking behavior by conservative churches. That said, the IRS is investigating a few more popular "prosperity gospel" preachers as well, who tend to be more on the conservative side. So the generalization may not hold true in the end.

tapps said...

ok. i feel very un-american right now... but doesn't the IRS just do "revenue"... like ... money? (you know.. like the name of the organization suggests) why is this being "investigated?" is this like an audit of some sort? or does the IRS control more of our "lives" than i know about?

Muthah+ said...

This kind of harrassment it beyond belief. Sic 'em, UCC!

RonF said...

I quite agree with you on this matter, Susan. This is not the church taking a position of endorsing a specific political candidate, so it should not affect their not-for-profit status.

RonF said...


And of course, no action was taken against the pastor or church.

Well - did anyone report it? An address by a Presidential candidate at a national convention is going to get noticed. A pastor handing out a flyer to his parish is not.


Churches can have a not-for-profit status that enables them to have income without having to pay taxes on it. There are regulations for attaining NFP status that include not being involved in political campaigning. The IRS is tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations governing tax collections, including these. They even have their own courts to do this.

RonF said...

I quite agree with you on this matter, Susan. This is not the church taking a position of endorsing a specific political candidate, so it should not affect their not-for-profit status.

Beryl Simkins said...

What I think is sad, is that the investigation represents the hijinks that take place in the political process in our country. Someone, republicans or competing democrats, initiated this investigation to create problems for Barack Obama. Were there ever any days in this country when elections just allowed people to present their viewpoints and we could make educated decisions. No, we have to have all this going on behind the scenes.

Gary (NJ) said...

This fascism will stop when Obama moves into the White House!

Suzer said...

Hi there Ron! I only know how it was dealt with within my company -- the lady who handed out the flyers was reprimanded. The church itself likely wasn't reported. This is Georgia, after all. Call me cynical, but it's very well known that this happens all the time in Southern Baptist churches here, and I think most IRS officials would have a chuckle (with their Southern Baptist pastors) about the idea of any charges being brought.

Yeah, I guess I'm pretty cynical! :)

frantom said...

Interesting. My Southern Baptist aunt called the other day to say that Mike Huckabee gave an inspiring sermon at her church a few weeks ago. ..

JimB said...

IRS regulations get really obtuse in a big hurry. The Congress actually has created a special court system for tax cases.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell used to routinely say that the Liberty Baptist Church could not say it favored a candidate, but he could. He was correct.

Southern Baptists in particular are really good at walking the line. I will bet that if we checked, we would find that the guide was not officially part of the service. It may have been distributed by the church's members, but it was not endorsed by its board. :-) The SBC actually offers its clergy seminars on this stuff -- something that TEC should consider.

I hold an FCC "Ham" amateur radio license. I have sat on the board of a radio club. We held Chp. 5 not-for-profit status. We were permitted to have a "candidate's night" at which politicians could come and talk about things we care about (antenna regulations for instance) without violating our status. We also could have members who were politicians and spoke about how being a ham impacted their politics ;-). We could not however say, please vote for Sam because we agree with him on some Federal antenna rule.

A Scout (boy or girl) can invite candidates as part of a civics program without violating its ch. 5 status. It cannot endorse a candidate.

So, IRS gets to figure all this ;;errr;; 'stuff' out. It is often a mess.

I think the law should define profit, and tax it. It should not be hard for churches to prove we don't have any!