Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I don't like talking politics. However, some of you have been asking me about news reports that the United Church of Christ is under investigation by the IRS and that the IRS is in fact threatening our denomination's tax exempt status.

The reports are true. Here is an article from the UCC site explaining the whole thing. In fact, they even supply this link to the actual letter from the IRS.

Basically, the IRS is arguing that having Barack Obama speak at General Synod constituted an endorsement of his presidential campaign by the UCC. Here's why I think they're wrong: Sen. Obama, a long time member of the UCC, was invited as one of 60 diverse speakers, all of whom were asked to speak about the intersection between their faith an their respective vocations. He was invited to do this before he announced his candidacy. Once it was clear that he was running for president, the UCC carefully researched the very laws that the IRS accuses them of breaking. The letter from the IRS mentions Sen. Obama's campaign crew being outside the convention center. They were outside the convention center because they were banned from being inside General Synod. Also... well, check this out:

Did Sen. Barack Obama's speech get too political? I don't know. Was it too political in January when both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke separately to the National Baptist Convention of America? Was it to poitical in April of 1996, when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, spoke before her denomination's General Conference? Was it too political when President Ronald Reagan gave his famous "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals? Was it too political when John F. Kennedy appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain the “so-called religious issue” and “to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.”?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that the National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, nor the Greater Houston Ministerial Association had their tax exempt status investigated by the IRS.

So here's the thing, as the general minister and president of the UCC pointed out:
"The very fact of an IRS investigation, however, is disturbing," Thomas said. "When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities."

That's why I'm a little hot under the collar about this. Not because it happened to the UCC specifically, but because it happened to anybody. The laws that the IRS are citing are supposed to be in place to keep religion from screwing up the political process and are not supposed to be interpreted so narrowly that they abridge our 1st Amendment rights to free speech. I don't like it when certain politicians trot out controversial topics with severe religious overtones during elections, but I support their 1st Amendment right to do so. I certainly think it is important for poloticians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities.

I feel the need to provide a link to the UCC's Legal Defense Fund, but I'm not going to ask you to contribute. I put it here merely to save some time for those of you who were of a mind to contribute already.

That's about all I have to say about that. I reserve the basic human right to be wrong. Perhaps Sen. Obama's speech, despite the best efforts of the UCC to abide by the law, truly did break it. I guess we'll see.

Speak your mind,
but be good to each other,
Rev. Josh


Drew said...

Before you drink the punch on this, you should read the actual complaint that outlines the rules and specifically how they were violated:


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