Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who is head of the church—Jesus or the state?

This is another question raised by critics of 501 (c)3 status, including Peter Kershaw, author of “The Church and Caesar: A Look at Incorporation and 501 (c)3.” To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The church's mandate: speak truth to power

The following article, "Religious Right Needs To Defend All Saints Episcopal," was written by Pastor Chuck Baldwin and is available online.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that "the Internal Revenue Service ordered a liberal Pasadena parish to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates.

"All Saints Episcopal Church and its rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, have until Sept. 29 to present the sermons, newsletters and electronic communications.

"The IRS investigation was triggered by an antiwar sermon delivered by its former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, at the church two days before the 2004 presidential election. The summons even requests utility bills to establish costs associated with hosting Regas' speech. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11."

That Rev. Regas and All Saints Episcopal represent a liberal point of view must not cloud the fact that what is at stake here is religious liberty. From the very beginning of our constitutional republic, America's pastors and ministers have courageously engaged the culture. We must not allow the IRS, or any other government agency, to now trample this heritage.

Can one imagine the potential outcome for religious freedom should the IRS be allowed to stifle religious dissent? Think of the voter registration drives, the get-out-the-vote campaigns, and public forums that take place in America's churches.

Beyond that, there is not a local, state, or federal election that takes place that ministers of every stripe and color do not boldly express their convictions and provide spiritual consideration on salient issues that will be directly affected by those elections. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, liberal, conservative, moderate, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish: they all freely voice their concerns. I say, more power to them!

Yet, there is an even bigger issue here. Not only do ministers have a fundamental right under our Constitution to speak freely regarding their agreements or disagreements with "the powers that be," they also have a moral and Biblical mandate to do so.

I'm sure the IRS would accuse John the Baptist of "getting into politics" when he denounced King Herod's adultery. However, not only did John keep preaching, but the Lord Jesus commended John, saying there was none greater than he ever born.

The truth is, it is virtually impossible for a minister to faithfully preach the Scriptures without dealing with current events, including those that bleed over into politics. For example, the Bible condemned abortion a long time before it became a football in American politics. Therefore, to be faithful to Scripture, preachers must deal with the abortion issue.

What about homosexuality, adultery, greed, falsehood, thievery, etc.? When those issues become political or impact political candidates and office holders, must preachers remove themselves from the debate? Perish the thought.

Preachers form America's collective conscience and provide a collective moral authority for those in and out of politics. To demand that preachers be silent on political issues would be to throw America into a moral and spiritual vacuum from which there would be no return.

However, under President George W. Bush, the IRS has become extremely aggressive in using acts of intimidation against churches and other organizations. During the past two years alone, using its new enforcement program, the Political Activity Compliance Initiative, the IRS has investigated more than 200 organizations nationwide, including 40 churches.

The IRS attack against All Saints Episcopal has occurred even though Rev. Regas' sermon "did not endorse or oppose any of the candidates, [but] addressed the moral and religious implications of various social issues facing the nation at the time." Good grief! There is hardly a pastor in the country that has not done the same thing. Will all of us pastors and our churches be the next targets of the IRS?

I doubt that I have much in common with the Rev. Bob Edgar, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, but I whole-heartedly agree with him when he said, "I'm outraged. Preachers ought to have the liberty to speak truth to power." Amen!

If this were the Clinton administration's IRS threatening a conservative evangelical church, the Religious Right would be screaming to the heavens. Yet, the Religious Right needs to look beyond the liberalism of the Rev. Regas and All Saints Episcopal and come quickly and vehemently to their defense, realizing that religious liberty either applies to us all or it applies to none of us at all. As someone once said so well, "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it."

The American political system is not threatened by Rev. Regas, but religious liberty is most assuredly being threatened by the Internal Revenue Service. The Religious Right, especially, needs to realize that fact.

© Chuck Baldwin
September 19, 2006

Friday, September 22, 2006

The 501(c)3 Church: a Creature of the State?

The following is an excerpt from “501 (c)3: Is it worth it?” by Russ Jones, editor/publisher of the Colorado Springs Chronicle, September 2006.

Two primary institutions built the American Republic: the Christian family and the colonial pulpit. From America’s founding days in Plymouth and Jamestown and well into the 19th century, families gathered in their local congregations to hear sermons before selecting its civil leaders. The preacher would extol the duties of the magistrate before the Lord, and the criterion whereby citizens may select such men for office. These messages were called Election Day sermons. They were the vehicle whereby the local church communicated to the Christian people of the land the God-ordained vision for selecting as leaders only those men who fear the Lord.

But recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been warning churches and nonprofit organizations that improper campaigning in the upcoming political season could endanger their tax-exempt status. In notices to more than 15,000 tax-exempt organizations [and] numerous church denominations, the agency has detailed its new enforcement program, called the Political Activity Compliance Initiative. Under the initiative, the IRS plans to expedite investigations into claims of improper campaigning, no longer waiting for an annual tax return to be filed or the tax year to end before launching a probe.

“The rule against political campaign intervention by charities and churches is long established,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said in a statement. “We are stepping up our efforts to enforce it.”

Recently, OMB Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit government watchdog group, issued a report criticizing the IRS enforcement program and said the program could prompt retaliatory and harassment complaints unless the agency develops clear guidelines. “I don’t think this is a case of bad faith,” said Kay Guinane, author of the report. “I just think it’s a poorly structured program.”

The Internal Revenue Service, however, has assumed the role of monitoring what houses of worship say. In 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson sought a legislative route to silence some of his anticommunist critics. Encouraged by Johnson, the U.S. Senate passed a major tax-code revision by a voice vote. Although Johnson’s revision was targeted specifically at nonprofit groups that were contesting his seat, churches—which also are nonprofit organizations—fell under the little-noticed new tax code provisions. The code barred all tax-exempt groups—including churches—from participating in political activities. The penalty: loss of tax-exempt status. Some would say a heavy price to pay for exercising their free speech rights.

In Bob Jones University v. United States (461 U.S. 574), the U.S. Supreme Court noted the following about the government’s intended purpose for the 501c3:

The Court asserts that an exempt organization must “be in harmony with the public interest,” must have a purpose that comports with “the community conscience,” and must not act in a manner “affirmatively at odds with [the] declared purposes of the whole Government.” Taken together, these phrases suggest that “the primary function of a tax-exempt organization is to act on behalf of the Government in carrying out governmentally approved policies.”

While it may be appropriate for many nonprofit organizations to waive their right to intervene in political campaigns, or influence legislation, is this the right thing for a church to do?

Many believe waiving such rights is to waive one’s freedom of speech. Waiving one’s right to influence legislation is especially problematic. The inevitable result has been that the church has abandoned its responsibility to influence its elected representatives to craft legislation that is biblical and that comports with the Constitution. Many would say the unchurched, and even those who are openly hostile to the church, have taken over that influence and are now seeing to it that their legislators craft statutes which are unbiblical, immoral, and unconstitutional.

John Adams stated while he was president, “The church is the moral compass of society.” But in order to remain a true and faithful compass, the church must remain separate and independent of the influences of that society, particularly its civil government. It must be a “free church.” Should the church become subordinate, or in any way controlled or co-opted by the civil government (a “state-church” system), it can no longer effectively serve as that society’s moral compass.

State-church systems are inevitably compromised and governed by pragmatism, rather than genuine Christian faithfulness. It should surprise no one that the 501c3 church in America has lost its prophetic voice, has lost the respect it once held, and is no longer “the moral compass of society.”

Churches are not required to register as 501c3 organizations, though many of them do. Some say pastors today have become silent in matters of political and social issues for fear of losing the church’s tax-exempt status.

Mr. Jones concludes his article with the following questions:

1) Does taking a deduction for supporting God’s work pervert our reason for giving?

2) Is God asking us to take a stand?

3) Is the Christian church to be blamed for the low moral standing of our elected officials?

4) Is the tax-exempt number the reason we as a body are not affecting our nation’s moral standing?

5) What would God have us do?

501(c)3—worth the price?

The Colorado Springs edition of The Chronicle, a Christian newspaper, posed this question in its September issue. Written by editor/publisher Russ Jones, the article begins by citing the Tax Code for nonprofit organizations:

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 501(c)3 organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly and indirectly participating in, or interfering in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

According to Jones, “Since 2004, the IRS has investigated more than 200 organizations.” On September 15, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, received an Internal Revenue Service summons ordering the church to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates. Writing for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Fred Ortega reports that “the congregation. . . cheered defiantly when it was suggested that the church might not comply with [the] summons, foreshadowing what could turn into a legal battle between all Saints and the federal government. At stake is the church’s tax-exempt status as a religious organization.”

Ortega says the summons resulted from a guest sermon by former rector George Regas, given two days before the November 2004 election, in which he criticized several of President Bush’s policies, including the war in Iraq, but “stopped short of endorsing either presidential candidate.” The church’s current rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, said that if the IRS is successful in its efforts against All Saints, other religious groups across the country would be inhibited from speaking out on politically charged moral issues.

“Bacon suggested that ignoring the IRS request would give the church the chance to make its case in a court of law, a prospect which drew applause and a standing ovation from the congregation, which filled nearly every pew in the church,” says Ortega.

In Matthew 22, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus silenced them with the exhortation to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (verse 21). Based on this passage, are we to assume that All Saints Episcopal is obligated to give the IRS everything it is asking for? Are churches obliged to remain silent on the important political issues of the day if Caesar commands their silence? When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” does that mean everything—including the Church itself—belongs to Caesar? How would pastors in colonial times have responded to Caesar’s demands?

My next few posts will continue this discussion.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why do Christians love telling the world how offended we are?

Christians in the West, and America in particular, are spoiled. We really have no idea what it’s like to suffer for our faith, yet we imagine we are persecuted when lost and hurting people are used by the enemy to shock and offend us. A case in point is an e-mail alert sent out by Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, calling upon Christians to complain to NBC about a special it plans to air that features Madonna wearing a sparkly crown of thorns on a mirror-covered cross. Focus wants believers to tell the network’s entertainment president that “mocking the crucifixion of Christ for the sake of controversy-driven publicity and ratings is offensive to Christians.”

As Christians, why are we so quick to take offense? Is this the message we want to send people who are desperately in need of Christ’s love and forgiveness? Is this how Jesus taught us to evangelize—by telling the lost how much they offend us? Will complaining about NBC’s depiction of Madonna in a crown of thorns lead one network executive to Christ? I doubt it. If anything, it will alienate the very people we should be trying to reach with His love.

Instead of whining to NBC about how “offensive” their programming is, why not tell them how much Jesus loves them? How about showing them the same forgiveness Jesus demonstrated when He took our sins to the cross and said, “Father, forgive them…”?

Now wouldn’t that be a radical message?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Test nonlethal weapons on U.S. citizens, official says

WASHINGTON - Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne.

"(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn't likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved.

Nonlethal weapons can weaken people if they are hit with the beam.

Some of the weapons can emit short, intense energy pulses that also disable some electronic devices.

By Lolita C. Balder
Associated Press, Sept. 13, 2006

This article is availabe online here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Who is the enemy?

by Omar Al-Rikabi

I have been on the road a lot in the last three months, taking different road-trips to New Orleans, New York City, Nashville, and Dallas. Constantly in the shadow of the endless line of 18-wheelers, I noticed that one particular trucking company had this sign posted on most of their trucks:

Support our troops whenever we go!
No aid or comfort to the enemy!

No way!

So who is the enemy?

Last summer my older cousin Ali was able to come in from Ohio to be at our wedding. I think it was really good for my dad to have someone from back home who was able to be there, and he filled in as my grandmother's escort, sitting with her on the front row.

Ali was forced to serve in the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War. Other cousins were also conscripted, stationed on the front lines and in Kuwait City. Some of them were rounded up in the mass-surrenders after the ground war began, and they all made it home. But Ali had a different story. He was a field surgeon on the front lines with the Republican Guard. Sadaam thought that if he placed the medical units close enough to the rest of the soldiers then the Americans wouldn't bomb and shell them. He was wrong.

Somehow the Iraqis knew when the American ground troops would be coming over the dunes, and so they were given a five-day pass to go home to Baghdad and say their goodbyes. Ali knew it would be a meat-grinder, and he knew that under Sadaam desertion meant death and trouble for your family. So while he was in Baghdad he had another surgeon friend take out his perfectly good appendix. While he was in the hospital, his entire unit was annihilated.

Around that same time a Marine friend of mine named Nelson had been part of an artillery outfit that was shelling Iraqi positions inside Kuwait. Suddenly an Iraqi artillery shell slammed into the hood of the truck Nelson was standing next to, but it was a dud and didn't go off. He lived to come home and tell me that story.

Also at our wedding, only four rows back from Ali, was my friend Joe, who is an Army Ranger veteran. On the other side of the isle from Ali was one of my two mothers-in-law, whose stepbrother was part of the Army forces that moved through the same area of Kuwait where Ali had been. On another pew was my friend Johanna, whose husband has served in Afghanistan and is now training for Special Forces duty in the Middle East.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The best phrase came from a taxi driver in Cairo, right after the invasion of Iraq three years ago, who upon finding out that my brother was half Iraqi and half American said, "Ahhh ... is funny. Your country is attacking your country."

I have often become frustrated when I have heard people in my church make statements like, "Remember who we're fighting here," before they lead prayers for our military victory. A professor here at Asbury once said that the only two choices we have is to either "convert them or keep them from hurting us."

Well ... first of all you can't fight and win a "war on terror." Terrorism is a method, not a country or ideology. I once heard it said that fighting a war on terror is like having the flu and declaring a war on sneezing: you're only attacking the symptoms. As long as there have been people, there has been terrorism.

But what frightens me is the mindset in this country, and in the church, that seems to think terrorism was born and raised in the Middle East, and if we can take out the Muslim Arabs then the world will be a safer place. Put this idea up against the idea in large segments of the Arab world that America has, in a sense, created terror herself with her policies toward the Middle East. So the cycle continues, and we have "become a monster to defeat a monster."

So who is the enemy? I believe that on this side of the cross, according to the scriptures, that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12)

If you track through the whole story of Scripture, you see that while God may have fought battles on Israel's behalf in the Old Testament, the trajectory was always towards to the cross, which redeemed God's intention for creation. Jesus set for us an example of living and witnessing that intention through loving, serving, and forgiving our enemies. The way of Christ was not to kill and destroy those who had abused and killed him.

Imagine what would have happened if the entire mass community of Christians who prayed so fervently for our troops to "defeat the enemy" would have instead prayed against the real Enemy and for peace between humanity.

So who is the enemy? We must first remember that the enemies of America are not the enemies of God. I have Iraqi Army veteran family and U.S. Army veteran friends. I have been raised by Southern Methodists and Shiite Muslims. I cannot abdicate the gospel message of Christ to a bomb, but can only bear the cross: the ultimate battlefield victory over the Enemy.

Omar Al-Rikabi is the son of a Southern Methodist mother from Texas and a Shiite Muslim father from Iraq. He is in his final year of earning a Masters of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a declared candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. His article appeared in Sohomail, an e-zine of Sojourners on September 14.

And now a note from Julie: Some of you may think that because I posted such an article on my blog, it means I am a pacifist. I am not. However, I do believe that far too many Christians embrace war rather than pray for peace. We pray for the annihilation of our enemies rather than their salvation. Even at my own church, I have heard intercessors pray that the bullets our solider's fire will hit their mark, because those bullets are flying on behalf of God. Whose God? The God who sent His only Son to die for the very people we are fighting? The God who said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"? The One who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers"? I am not saying that war is never justified. Nor am I saying that it's wrong to pray for victory. But I hope that in praying for our troops, we will not neglect to pray for those they are fighting.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The lottery no one wanted to win

“The day New York’s Twin Towers were destroyed by hijacked planes, hundreds of widows were left destitute. During the feverish days following the attack, Congress established a billion-dollar compensation fund, and grieving widows became overnight millionaires…” In “The Curse of the 9/11 Widows,” Zoe Brennan reveals their heartbreaking stories of injustice, loneliness, and ruined family relationships.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years after 9/11: What does liberty mean?

We hear a lot of rhetoric connecting the War on Terror to the battle for America's freedom, but what exactly does that concept mean? In another post from The Rutherford Institute, Rachel King, a professor at Harvard University School of Law, asks the same question. To read her article, click here.

PS: I do not support the International Criminal Court, a creation of the United Nations, which is referenced in the article.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Police brutality: the new American way?

The following article, entitled “Totalitarianism, American-Style,” by John W. Whitehead, appeared in The Rutherford Institute’s Faith and Freedom Newsletter on 8/21/2006. As someone whose father-in-law was a police officer, I realize that many "peace officers," as they used to be known, are true public servants. But, as my father-in-law often acknowledged, there are those who have no regard for the lives or liberties of those they profess to serve.

With reports of police brutality cropping up nationwide, it’s little wonder that more and more Americans are concerned that law enforcement officials are becoming a law unto themselves.

In Rock Hill, S.C., a 75-year-old woman, who was suffering from arthritis and six broken ribs, was subjected to a 50,000-volt shock from a police taser gun because she had refused to leave a nursing home before making sure that a friend who lived there was safe.

In Portland, Ore., a 71-year-old woman was pepper-sprayed and tasered after trying to prevent her personal property from being removed from her yard after government officials determined that her yard was too unsightly.

And in Seattle, Wash., two police officers tasered an eight-month-pregnant woman during a traffic stop after she refused to sign a traffic ticket.

These incidents are not the norm. Unquestionably, there are many law-abiding police officers who strive to abide by their oath of honor to uphold the Constitution and serve and protect the citizens of their communities. And rarely do these public servants get the appreciation they deserve for their efforts to maintain the peace in our communities.

However, we are witnessing a change in the way that law enforcement views its role, from one that was a servant to the people to one that is the arm of an increasingly totalitarian government.

An incident in Miami during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit highlights the problem.

Hundreds of mostly college-aged demonstrators had gathered to voice their concerns about the detrimental effect of a trade pact on developing countries. In anticipation of protests, police had equipped themselves with riot gear and guns designed to fire rubber bullets and prepared to face off with the demonstrators.

Coral Gables attorney Elizabeth Ritter joined the protesters on one of the summit’s final days. However, it wasn’t trade issues that prompted her to pick up a protest sign and join the throngs. She was upset because the police had all but shut down the city that week, including the courthouse. “My city, my hometown, was becoming a police state,” she said.

Video footage (see below) from that day shows Ritter walking alone, wearing a red suit jacket and waving a hastily drawn sign that proclaimed, “Fear Totalitarianism.” When approached by a squad of law enforcement officials in riot gear, Ritter turned to face them and raised her sign. The police began firing rubber bullets, which often leave welts and bruises and at close range can even break the skin. Ritter knelt down, using her sign as a shield. Five times she was shot, in the legs, upper body and shoulders. One of the rubber bullets tore through the sign and hit her directly on the head. Stunned, she stood up, facing the police, and asked, “Why did you hit me? Is a woman in a business suit a threat?”

In a police training video that was recorded the following day and only recently released, police officers are shown praising each other for shooting the summit protesters with rubber bullets. One policeman refers to the protesters as “scurrying cockroaches”; another jokes about a protester who was hit in the head with a rubber bullet, saying, “And the lady in the red dress…I don’t know who got her, but it went right through the sign and hit her smack dab in the middle of the head!” The police officers erupt in laughter.

A civilian panel investigating charges of excessive police force used at the 2003 summit has now concluded that police indiscriminately used weapons such as stun guns and conducted unlawful searches and arrests during the summit. Moreover, a number of lawsuits claiming that police officers used excessive force and made false arrests while attempting to control the crowds have been filed against the various law enforcement agencies, including the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami Police and Miami-Dade Police. But it is the laughing response of the police officers in the training video, more than the riot gear, stun guns or the indiscriminate use of force to quell dissent at the summit, including rubber bullets, that has struck a nerve.

Riding roughshod over the Constitution is no laughing matter. With every incident of excessive police force that is allowed to occur unchecked, we slip further into a police state.

We should all heed the advice of the lady in the red dress: “Fear Totalitarianism.”

Available online.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Will your home—or church—be next?

Elected Officials Threatening Property Rights
From Texas Straight Talk, Rep. Ron Paul's weekly column, September 4, 2006

In recent weeks I've written about the threat of rising property taxes posed by state and local governments hungry for more and more of your money; and the threat of widespread eminent domain actions posed by a planned North American superhighway running straight through Texas. It's clear that many political and business interests are only too willing to drive people literally out of their homes to make way for the grand schemes of those in power.

This is why every American needs to understand that property rights are the foundation of a free society. Without property rights, all citizens live subject to the whims of government officials. When government can seize your property without your consent, all of your other rights are negated. Our founders would roll over in their graves if they knew that the takings clause in the Fifth Amendment was being used to justify unholy alliances between private developers and tax-hungry local governments.

Now one year removed from the notorious Kelo decision by the Supreme Court, Americans are still reeling from the shock of having our nation's highest tribunal endorse using government power to condemn private homes to benefit a property developer. The silver lining, however, is that many Americans have been stirred to action and are demanding new state laws to prohibit the Kelo scenario from repeating itself in their cities.

The Kelo case demonstrates that local government can be as tyrannical as centralized government. Decentralized power is always preferable, of course, since it's easier to fight city hall than Congress. But government power is ever and always dangerous, and must be zealously guarded against. Most people in New London, Connecticut, like most people in America, would rather not involve themselves in politics. The reality is that politics involves itself with us whether we like it or not. We can bury our heads in the sand and hope things don't get too bad, or we can fight back when government treats us as its servant rather than its master.

Congress can and should act to prevent the federal government from seizing private property. I've introduced and cosponsored several bills that prohibit or severely limit the power of Washington agencies to seize private property in locations around the nation. But the primary fight against local eminent domain actions must take place at the local level. The people of New London, Connecticut, like the people of Texas, could start by removing from office local officials who have so little respect for property rights.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Gay rights: Live and let live?

This is a difficult subject for me to blog about because someone I am close to is gay, and I love this person dearly. The article featured in my blog today was written by someone who, like me, does not believe in using the power of the state to force unredeemed people—gay or straight—to behave in redeemed ways. However, the author, a Libertarian, contends that the current gay rights movement is no longer about defending the concept of “live and let live”; it’s about shoving religion into the closet. To read the article in full, click here.