Friday, September 22, 2006

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.


Blogger CrimsonLine said...

I think I've mentioned it before, but losing tax-exempt status is worth it if it enables you to speak out on Biblically-important issues from the pulpit.

I wrestle with candidate endorsements, though. It seems to me that the job of the pastor is to equip and enable the congregation to make Godly decisions themselves - rather than just telling them who to vote for. I see my task as helping my congregation to grow in their stewardship - including their stewardship of their votes.

Here's an interesting question: If it is God who raises up and sets down leaders, even in secular states (and the Bible says this explicitly) then should a Christian who is attentive to God's leading ALWAYS wind up voting for whoever wins the election? Obviously, that person was God's choice for that position in that time. So wouldn't an attentive Christian, ears open to God, know this, and vote accordingly?

September 22, 2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I agree with you about eqipping the congregation rather than telling them who to vote for.

The question you asked is complex, and I'm not sure I can answer it adequately. It makes me wonder how many Christians voted the Nazis into power, especially considering that Hitler claimed to be a Christian (though in reality, many of his beliefs could be better classified as Hindu/New Age).

September 22, 2006 5:32 PM  

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