The scene was at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California on the Sunday before the Presidential election. Reverend George F. Regas preached a sermon entitled, “If Jesus debated Senator Kerry and President Bush.” Father Regas, it would seem, gave the debate to Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) because in that priest’s view Kerry’s views were more in line with those of Jesus Christ than were those of the President.
Someone complained to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the IRS has threatened to take away the tax- exempt status of All Saints based upon that sermon. The Internal Revenue code states that section 501(c)(3) organizations (such as a church) are “prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or opposition to, any candidate.”
After years of ignoring blatantly partisan sermons by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and the Reverend Al Sharpton and their followers (both men having run for President) in independent and Black Baptist Churches all over America, and after ignoring collections taken up in Greek Orthodox Churches on behalf of Presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, IRS is targetting religion over a single sermon which began with a partisan disclaimer on a single Sunday.
All Saints’ Rector, Reverend J. Edward Bacon, put it this way: “If the IRS interpretation stands, that means that a preacher cannot speak boldly about the core values about his or her faith community without fear of government recrimination.” Well put.
If, upon hearing about this case, you think that IRS should crack down on these liberal churches, think again. IRS traditionally has recognized churches as being off limits. The IRS position has included churches in which the civil rights movement, under the tutelage of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., gained legitimacy. Yes, churches in this country have a long political tradition - the Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the Anti-Viet Nam War movement. Likewise, the long-sought reaction to decades of liberalism which brought about groups, such as the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, began in the churches.