The church pulpit v. the bully pulpit

Last week a friend asked if I had addressed the issue of the kind of blatant Not-For-Profit violations that are often seen in liberal and minority churches. It’s well known and talked about generally, but few people are willing to file complaints against churches that use their pulpits for partisan endorsements of candidates and political agendas.

We’ve all read the news accounts of high profile examples – Reverends Wright, Farrakhan, Pfleger, Jackson, and we know of churches where only one candidate is invited to address the congregation. My friend’s question is a good one: why are they getting away with it year after year?

The Internal Revenue Service has published guidelines – found here – but it’s clear that not everyone bothers to follow them.

The non profit arena is enormous in 2008 America and honest 501(c)3 boards from coast to coast are careful to steer clear of partisan politics despite the fact that their mission clearly puts them in favor of one political camp and opposed to the other. My friend wrote to me that many “Catholic pastors are almost paranoid about getting involved in ANY political campaigns, even to the point of disregarding the activities that ARE allowed; again, for fear of IRS action against them.”

My friend pointed out that there are churches both on the left and the right that think the IRS has no business regulating speech. North Carolina Republican Congressman Walter Jones introduced a bill a few years ago to address this – the bill’s title explained its purpose, and the link here goes to a good summary produced by Concerned Women for America (CWA): “The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act.”

One lawyer and activist who promoted the bill wrote an op ed (see here) which included this:

“This bill won’t result in churches or houses of worship being turned into political machines. It will make it easier, though, for people of faith to speak out about the issues that shape their lives and affect their future.

During these troubling times, free speech is more important than ever – especially in the pulpit. It’s a precious freedom worth defending. We have an important opportunity to correct the errors of the past.”

Until the regulations are changed, non profits are limited in what they can do. A good outline of what is allowed can be found in “Political Guidelines for Churches and Pastors,” a publication of CWA. Of course a lot more commentary and analysis on the topic can be found by typing “501c3 political activities” into a Google search.

I’ve weighed in on the topic a couple of times as well, but my argument is that the churches should drop their 501c3 status and quit leaving the culture war to others. Here, in part, is what I wrote:

Christians are free to detach their spiritual life from the world if they want. They can continue to think that what takes place in church on Sunday is somehow not directly related to myriad foreign and domestic policies they support or oppose.

But make no mistake, the left and their various pseudo-religions (the extreme environmentalists, the socialists, and the homosexual and gender confused communities) don’t separate their perverse “faith” from government. They attempt to drive policy actively and they raise and spend many million of dollars doing so.

All that takes place while Christians take the bribe. By being tax-exempt the government allows them to keep all of the money they raise inside the church. When you compare that to the cost culturally and economically, I’d say it’s a bad deal. Those few extra bucks the church has to buy those extra nice pews won’t mean much when the country around them goes to hell – and I’m not talking about the hell that’s located in the hereafter.

My recommendation to Christians is to get real and stop being bought off. Build a more modest church and tell the pastor get a part time job so they can rejoin the fight to defend Western Culture…

The left wing proselytizing that goes on in the public schools isn’t going to be properly checked, to name just one example, if churches are hiding behind their tax-exempt status. If they think church is primarily about the hereafter, I’d suggest that this century might play out in a way their children and grandchildren might not appreciate.

My friend counters with a good point:

“Although some Christians feel that the IRS SHOULD NOT be making these prohibitions – I feel that they should. Too many pastors force their partisan political opinions down the throats of their flock…mostly in favor of Democrats.”

My friend also isn’t going to sit idly by while violations occur. The IRS was contacted and their recommendation was to send an anonymous letter of complaint to this address:

IRS
EO Classification
4910  DAL
1100 Commerce Street
Dallas, TX  75242-1198

Here is a sample letter that was sent to me should anyone have an interest in filing their own complaint.

IRS:

I am writing to protest violations to the Tax Guide committed by various pastors/religious leaders [fill in details here]. These pastors are high-profile individuals, mostly from minority churches, who year after year have used their pulpits or altars as effective political stages for the endorsement and promotion of partisan candidates for office – usually Democratic candidates.

The Internal Revenue Code states:

  “All section 501 (c)(3) organizations are ABSOLUTELY prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Further guidelines state:

“Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention.

Distributing statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate for public office will also violate the prohibition. Allowing a candidate to use an organization’s assets or facilities will also violate the prohibition if other candidates are not given an equivalent opportunity.

Although section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in some activities to promote voter registration, encourage voter participation, and provide voter education, they will violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention if they engage in an activity that favors or opposes any candidate for public office. Certain activities will require an evaluation of all the facts and circumstances to determine whether they result in political campaign intervention.”

While the majority of tax-exempt churches and NFPs in the Chicago area strictly abide by these IRS Codes, it is quite evident from news reports and personal witnesses that the following pastors/leaders don’t: [Fill in names of pastors and churches here].

I would request that the IRS investigate these violations and impose the proper penalties, as stipulated in the tax code. These persons should not continue to believe that they are exempt from rules and above the law.

 ©2008 John Francis Biver