National Commentary

Anything But Straight: Ax The Tax-Exemption From Rebel Churches




Earlier this month, I went to Alaska to counter Focus on the Family’s sexual engineering festival, Love Won Out, where they claim to help people pray away the gay.

The event became national news after Sarah Palin’s church was caught promoting the event. Everywhere I went, including her hometown of Wasilla, people were talking politics. The excitement of the election reached a fevered pitch when Palin made her long-awaited journey home. (presumably to check up on Russia to make sure they weren’t up to any funny business in her absence)

Yet, when I went to the Metropolitan Community Church of Anchorage to speak, I refrained from endorsing political candidates. Now, as a political animal, I had the desire to bark out my choice for president. However, because I represented Truth Wins Out and spoke in a church that was also a tax-exempt organization, I refrained from engaging in illegal political activity.

As an individual, the first amendment gives me the right to speak my mind, including whom I will vote for president. And, in my weekly column I have repeatedly expressed my preference for Barrack Obama. However, I have never posted such columns on the Truth Wins Out website because I respect the law. In order for donors to get a tax break for giving to our charitable work, I make a pact with the government that I will not abuse this privilege by having taxpayers subsidize my political opinions or ambitions.

On Sunday, a band of anti-gay churches brazenly decided they are owed special rights and don’t have to play by the same rules. Sponsored by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, 33 pastors in 22 states loudly trumpeted their support for John McCain within their church walls. In doing so, they defiled the law and openly defied the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the Associated Press, the ADF provided these renegade pastors with “legal assistance” to “ensure maximum effectiveness in challenging the IRS.” Armed with his legal brief, a suburban Milwaukee pastor, Rev. Luke Emrich, thundered to his New Life Church, “I’m telling you straight up, I would choose life…I would like to vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin.”

The IRS responded by saying that it “will monitor the situation and take appropriate action.” Well, the preachers have spoken and now their churches must be stripped of their tax-exempt status. To flout the rules so flagrantly can only be met with the maximum punishment. Letting these churches get away with such audacious behavior while forcing other non-profits to abide by the law is far worse than inequality. It is a gross violation of the constitution because it essentially establishes a state church with supremacy over civil society.

Now, I can understand why these holy men thought they could get away with such lawlessness. Under the Bush administration, religious organizations have been showered with undeserved faith-based money. And, thanks to ambitious politicians (Obama and McCain) pandering for “values voters,” the wall between church and state has become rather porous.

I can also understand the allure of politics and gaining the ear of powerful leaders in Washington. It is certainly more enticing than speaking to the same flock each week and dealing with their marital problems.

Indeed, former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson once commented on the movie stars that would flock to watch his team by saying that they wanted to be him and he dreamed of being them. In much the same way, it seems politicians want to be preachers, while the preachers want to be politicians. So, they make periodic forays into each other’s universes.

But, this is a nation of laws. If these reverends are dissatisfied with their careers, they can run for office – as did former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. However, they have no right to transform their churches into crass political machines at the expense of the taxpayer.

The American Bar Association ought to also consider slapping down lawyers at the ADF who are aiding and abetting this criminal activity. It is one thing to defend a client and quite another to organize this stunt less than two months before a presidential election. In my view, it seems that the ADF is urging churches to break the law to give McCain a last minute boost. Sure, these churches might get in trouble, but they figure it would be worth it to put McCain and Palin into the White House. This outrageous political ploy is unacceptable and must be stopped immediately.

In America, there should be no special privileges given to elitist clergy who think they are better than the rest of us. If they can’t play by the rules, they should be taken out of the game. The IRS should move swiftly to ax the tax exemption from these political action committees posing as churches.

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