May 16, 2005

Politics in Church

If you've been following the news at all, you have surely heard about East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, NC, where the pastor told church members who refused to support President Bush in the last election that they should leave the church. Not surprisingly, this has become a heated issue. First, we learned that the exiled churchgoers were exploring legal options. Next, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State asked the IRS to investigate violations of the church's tax-exempt status. Now we learn that the pastor of the church has resigned. By the way, am I the only one who finds it hilarious that this guy's name is Rev. Chan Chandler?

Anyway, the central issue here is about taxes - specifically the portion of the IRS rules which prohibits this sort of political activity by tax-exempt groups. I have always thought that granting churches tax exempt status was absurd, and now there is another reason why: many are violating the laws that pertain to their exempt status by endorsing political candidates, etc. For more information about the IRS rules and how they apply in these situations, read this.

I expect that Christian groups are already mobilizing to cast this as an attack on religion. Here is one example of the sort of response we are likely to see. Many probably welcome an IRS investigation because it will help make their case that they are persecuted. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the core of one's identity as a Christian extremist involves the conviction that the persecution of Christians in America is widespread.

Before I go off on that tangent, there is something else you should know. Christians have decided to attack the tax law itself. Yes, Christian politicians are now considering overturning the rules prohibiting clergy from endorsing political candidates. When laws run contrary to the preferences of conservative Christian extremists, it is time to change the laws. We should all monitor this situation and be prepared to express our concern to our elected representatives, local media outlets, etc. Allowing churches to maintain their tax-exempt status while removing restrictions on their politicking would clearly open the door to theocracy even wider.

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