Tuesday, November 08, 2005

When Preaching Peace Gets You Into Trouble...

...especially with the IRS.

When folks at Eschaton begin railing against Christians, I generally keep quiet. It's not that I'm intimidated, it's that I know that the deep anger is actually directed against those Christian wannabes I call the Religious Reich, those bigoted perverters of the religion which is based in love and respect for all of creation; the religion whose central figure fought for the poor, the dispossessed, the vulnerable; the religion which works for reconciliation rather than conflict, for justice rather than revenge.

On one occasion, however, one Eschatonian challenged those of us who are Christians to point to one church that preached against the war in Iraq and against the war at home being waged on the poor, gays, women. I had to smile at that. I know churches like that: I belong to one.

That's why when the rector of my church announced on Sunday that our church had received a letter from the IRS challenging our tax-exempt status because of a sermon given by the former rector, noted peace activist George Regas, just before the November 2004 election, I was stunned. I was there for that sermon because not only do I love George, I also love his good friend, Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, who was also present. My astonishment gave way to anger yesterday when I read the LA Times story on the IRS letter.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

...he had Jesus confront both Kerry and Bush: "I will tell you what I think of your war: The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war."
[Emphasis added]

George made it clear from the start that his sermon was not electioneering, but rather prophetic. He was calling the people to task for their failures to live up to even the minimum standards of justice required of humanity, as had the prophets of the Old Testament. He also included John Kerry in his pointed comments, as well he should have: Mr. Kerry voted with his Senate colleagues to give Mr. Bush the power to go to war. This was a sermon, not a stump speech.

And here's the kicker in this nasty, politically motivated dust-up:

In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."
[Emphasis added]

Confession of wrong-doing? I think not. So did my church. It rejected the offer, as well it should have.


UPDATE at 10:25 AM

Today's LA Times has more on the story.

On Monday, Regas did a half a dozen interviews with reporters from local and national newspapers, radio and television. And he was inundated with phone calls and e-mail messages, "all positive," he said.

When he was asked if he had any regrets about his 2004 sermon, he said: "No regrets. I only wish I had preached it with greater intensity."
[Emphasis added]

Hit'em with the other chair, George!


Blogger Eli said...

This disgusts me beyond measure.

Fundie churches acting as agents of the Republicans and the Christian Right are presumably just being good Christians, but if a church speaks out against war or Republicans, they're suddenly political activists.

Absolute, total, utter bullshit, and the Republicans should be called on it. Let's see how that affects the non-fundie religious vote.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Elmo said...

Churches are throwing parties tonight all over Texas...and I mean literally, throwing parties. You see, we just added a ban to gay marriage to our constitution. WE ARE SAVED!

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Prior Aelred said...

Diane --

Believe it or don't, when I first saw this story I had forgotten that it was your parish (must be that early onset Alzheimer's) -- I have been signing petitions & the like -- this is so clearly purely partisan! Surely this will backfire! (Not the first time I've said something like this -- I have have to be right eventually, don't I?)

6:02 PM  

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