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Pulpit politics

Religion | With Kerry at the altar, IRS rules need not apply

Issue: "Post-party election blues?," Nov. 6, 2004

The Kerry campaign's aggressive politicking in black churches in the final weeks of the presidential election landed some of those churches in hot water. Press accounts told of numerous campaign visits to churches in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Miami, and elsewhere in Florida by Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Ted Kennedy, former presidential candidate Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others. The speeches, unabashedly partisan and fear-mongering, lambasted President Bush. In some of the pulpits, pastors openly endorsed Mr. Kerry and urged church members to vote for him.

Under federal tax law, it's OK for churches to encourage voter turnout, but endorsements and other partisan activities aimed at influencing an election are forbidden and can result in the loss of a church's tax-exempt status. Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Oct. 26 said it had sent complaint letters to the IRS about two churches: Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia and Allen Temple AME church in Cincinnati. Other cases are under consideration.

At Mt. Airy, Pastor Ernest C. Morris followed Sen. Kennedy in the pulpit and said, "I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you what my mamma told me last week: 'Stay out of the Bushes.'" The congregation roared with laughter. At Allen Temple, where Sen. Edwards had spoken, Pastor Donald H. Jordan, a Kerry backer, boasted: "I'm not worried about the law; I'm asking you to support him."

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It can take years for the IRS to investigate a complaint, and its findings are confidential. Only one church in recent memory, a conservative one (The Church at Pierce Creek in New York), is known to have lost its exemption over partisan politics.

Proposed legislation in Congress, H.R. 235, would abolish the tax law provisions in the name of freedom of speech and religion. But "it's not going anywhere," Americans United spokesman Rob Boston told WORLD.

Religion briefs

• In a first, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last month that public-school teachers have the right to participate in the Good News Club immediately after school on the same campus where they teach during the day. The case involved elementary teacher Barbara Wigg, who volunteered to lead the club for Child Evangelism Fellowship. Officials at the school in Sioux Falls, S.D., forbade her doing so on constitutional grounds.

• Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) told reporters in London that he believed he was right in consecrating V. Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, as a bishop last year, and that he "probably" would do it again. His was among initial reactions to a compromise nonbinding report on the unity crisis over biblical authority in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Conservatives lamented the report's failure to enforce traditional Anglican teachings regarding human sexuality. The conservative Anglican Communion Network and American Anglican Council in ECUSA issued a joint statement rejecting the report's key positions. "We cannot in good conscience . . . support such unity at the expense of truth," they declared.

• Members of Maranatha Church in Ambon City in Indonesia's Moluccas province discovered at least 15 homemade bombs in a suitcase at the end of a service on Oct. 22. Police defused them. Two days earlier, similar devices were found at Silo Church, the oldest and largest Protestant church in the city. Muslims have clashed with Christians in the province since 1999, resulting in more than 5,000 deaths and 500,000 refugees. A shaky peace accord took effect in 2002, but sporadic attacks on Christians and churches persist.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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