Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning -

Having myself prepared and delivered several sermons in my own Episcopal church challenging the Commander-in-Chief and war in Iraq; this article got my attention.

November 7, 2005

# All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.

By Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch, Times Staff Writers

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

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."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The letter went on to say that "our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article."

The IRS cited The Times story's description of the sermon as a "searing indictment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq" and noted that the sermon described "tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus."

As Bacon spoke, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a co-celebrant of Sunday's Requiem Eucharist, looked on.

"We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate," Bacon said in a later interview.

"One of the strongest sermons I've ever given was against President Clinton's fraying of the social safety net."

Telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles were not returned.

On a day when churches throughout California took stands on both sides of Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors unless parents are notified, some at All Saints feared the politically active church had been singled out.

"I think obviously we were a bit shocked and dismayed," said Bob Long, senior warden for the church's oversight board. "We felt somewhat targeted."

Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And he told the congregation: "It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts."

After the initial inquiry, the church provided the IRS with a copy of all literature given out before the election and copies of its policies, Bacon said.

But the IRS recently informed the church that it was not satisfied by those materials, and would proceed with a formal examination. Soon after that, church officials decided to inform the congregation about the dispute.

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."

more at Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning - Los Angeles Times


Patrick Briggs said...

I'm posting this comment in hopes of helping get the right action out of the liberal community. I've posted this on Americablog based on some of the postings there:

I'm a member of All Saints Church in Pasadena. I resent the calls by those on the left who would lump our progressive faith community with the "Christian" community as defined by the media.

It is my faith that served as the underlying foundation for my wife's and my work for Howard Dean. We are called to embody Christ's life. Christ's life was always about inclusive love of one another. Taking care of the least of these. Trying to co-create the kingdom of heaven here and now ("thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven").

Our faith community has the radical notion that there are many ways to get to God and we don't claim to have a lock on what that is. It is why, before communion, these words are spoken - "Wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here." An invitation to ALL to participate in the central liturgy of our worship service. (look up George Regas' sermon delivered at the Riverside Church in NYC in which he talks about this most clearly).

Too often people on the left dismiss people of faith as being part of the problem. I'm tired of this kind of ignorance. It is people like us whom you should be relying on more and encouraging to be involved in the political process. I suggest going to these sites to see just how important we people of faith will be if the Left is ever going to succeed in its work - http://www.sojo.net/ and http://www.tikkun.org/ or even to here http://www.allsaints-pas.org/all_saints_church.htm to read past sermons from our church.

Church and politics do mix. Past rectors at All Saints have repeated this phrase time and time again, "to hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other". Our faith calls us into the world, into our communities to make it and them better places to live for all.

Salvation is not some other worldly place after we are dead - it is right here and now, each of us realizing our fullest human potential to heal the world and each other in whatever ways our talents and passions call us to. You can see this in the Lord's Prayer in these words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven".

Our community, ideally, is one which shows up on Sunday, is inspired, and goes out into the world the other 6 days seeking in our own unique ways to make this a better place to be.

Don't disregard us and don't disrespect us by not taking a strong stand against this anti-democratic action by the IRS. We are among your strongest most capable organizers and activists.


Patrick Briggs,
Pasadena, CA

Lietta Ruger said...

Thank you Patrick for your comment. I have sent email to Rector J. Edwin Bacon to thank him, supporting efforts of Episcopals with courage to speak out on war in Iraq.

President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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