The warring Church.
November 7, 2005 6:59 AM   Subscribe

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena recently received a letter warning of a revocation of its tax exempt status due to its "anti-war sermons."
posted by The Jesse Helms (50 comments total)
It's unlikely that anything will come of this, and dubious that it reflects anything but an overzealous and/or pissed off IRS clerk who decided to flex a little dick muscle.
posted by illovich at 7:04 AM on November 7, 2005

Wow, that seems crazy. I hope illovich is right.

(But there is a certain irony to the fact that the problematic sermon took the position that tax cuts are "inimical to the values of Jesus," while the Church is worried about losing its tax-exempt status).
posted by pardonyou? at 7:14 AM on November 7, 2005

But seriously, now that I look at that third link.... that blog is titled in Klingon, right? I wouldn't have thought it was a transliterated middle eastern language, except for the mah'flooj looks suspiciously like Klingon to me.

Does anyone know WTF "Shekoo Shmakoo? Shinu hal tar'baga? Shinu hal ulooj ya mah'flooj?" means in any language?
posted by illovich at 7:15 AM on November 7, 2005

The Bishops of thirteen American Episcopal Church diocese were suspended during the civil war because they refused to pray the line: "Abraham our President" during the prayers of the people recognizing only "Jefferson our President."

They went on then to try an court the British into the war effort for the south by building an exile branch of the church closer to the Church of England including the formation of a university on the Oxford model.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:23 AM on November 7, 2005

The post could be better organized/phrased. For clarification of the post:

Church A warned it might lose tax-exempt status for anti-war sermon.

Church B had virtual military operated recruitment event without same threat.
posted by Atreides at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2005

Yeah, that third link has some sort of "registry cleaner" bullshit that pops up and it tries to prevent you from navigating away from the page.
posted by bshort at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2005

Who is "Marcus of Queensbury?"
posted by bashos_frog at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2005

He meant the Marquis of Queensbury! The formalised, gentlemanly rules that govern the "sport" of boxing.
posted by Wilder at 7:38 AM on November 7, 2005

Tax-exempt status for ANY church (or synagogue, or mosque) is a violation of common sense, and should be done away with. Churches increasingly operate like businesses, and our tax code should reflect that.

"Clergyman" is arguably the second-oldest profession in the world, and inarguably has much in common with the "oldest profession."

That being said, it's idiotic to see a church's tax-exempt status being used as a political cudgel because the priest expressed some unpopular opinions. Nothing will come of it.
posted by enrevanche at 7:45 AM on November 7, 2005

Who is "Marcus of Queensbury?"

He meant the Marquis of Queensbury! The formalized, gentlemanly rules that govern the "sport" of boxing.

Are you sure he might have mean Dr. Mark Marcus, I hear "he actually makes getting braces enjoyable." I wonder what that's all about?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:51 AM on November 7, 2005

Churches are now almost indistinguishable from corporations with some serious lobbying muscle.

They should all have their tax exempt status revoked.
posted by sourwookie at 7:52 AM on November 7, 2005

The answer in the second Q&A on the last link is so wrong. They state Romans 13:4 as justification for killing another person during war. Put into context is does not apply.

(3)For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. (4)For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

This passage is talking about a nation punishing it's own citizens for wrongdoing, not other nations.
posted by internal at 7:56 AM on November 7, 2005

Tax exemption is supposed to encourage the freedom of religion. If churches were taxable, a bias legislative could eventually tax them out of existence.

People make the choice to go to church. People can make the choice on how to deal with an anti-war or pro-war message at their churches. Leave the tax exempt status alone and let the congregation decided how their church is used.
posted by Atreides at 7:58 AM on November 7, 2005

If churches were taxable, a bias(ed) legislative could eventually tax them out of existence.

...and a big boo-fucking-hoo to that.
posted by longbaugh at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2005

If churches were taxable, a bias(ed) legislative could eventually tax them out of existence

...and a big boo-fucking-hoo to that.

It's actually more likely that small, underfunded and obscure religious organizations would be taxed out of existence, and big wealthy churches would still do just fine. The tax-exempt status of religious organizations actually helps insure freedom of religion in this country.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2005

Tax-exempt status for ANY church (or synagogue, or mosque) is a violation of common sense,

You guys have no idea what you're talking about. Churches are tax exempt because they almost indistinguishable from any other non-profit organization. Yes, churches are tax exempt, and you might not like that, but so are explicitly political (but supposedly "non-partisan") organizations like The American Enterprise Institute and I have no idea why this concept is so difficult for people to understand. Whenever any mention of churches comes up, there is consistently a number of brain-dead people who appear claiming that churches should not be tax-exempt for reasons they typically have no understanding of.
posted by deanc at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2005

I like the leaflet promoting the Baptist Men's Ministry meeting on "Honoring the US Military", especially:

Proverbs 27:17: As steel sharpens steel, so one man sharpens another

... which must be the gayest Christian quote evar.

Clearly, the pro-Bush, pro-Wealth, pro-War churches should have their tax exemption removed, since they're playing party politics straight down the line, in direct contravention of everything their supposed religion teaches.

And if the rest of the churches also had their tax exemption removed, that would also be fine by me. Maybe the poor could be helped with the money, instead of building all those ugly palaces for God to live in.
posted by cleardawn at 8:59 AM on November 7, 2005

Has the IRS ever gone after (or threatened to go after) the Catholic church for similar reasons? The Catholics have a pretty consistent record of urging parishoners to vote pro-life, even to the point of naming candidates in sermons, IIRC. There was even some media coverage of that phenomenon just before the 2004 election.

I suspect that the Catholic church, being (relative to the hundreds of splintered Protestant sects) large, wealthy, and organized, is simply too powerful to push around this way. I suppose it shouldn't be too shocking if the rules don't get applied equally.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc, how many non-profit organizations, other than churches, have inherited vast tracts of real estate and routinely practice brainwashing on small children?

The churches have far too much power in the US, and anything that reduces that power would be a good thing.
posted by cleardawn at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc, how many non-profit organizations, other than churches, have inherited vast tracts of real estate

I think just about every college and university would qualify (also tax-exempt).

and routinely practice brainwashing on small children?

Just about every education-policy non-profit on all sides of the political spectrum has been accused of such. (Try as I might, I was unable to find a "For Kids!" section of the American Enterprise Institute website, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it existed.)
posted by deanc at 9:16 AM on November 7, 2005

Yes this is really frightening:
I overheard my daughter tell a derogatory ethnic joke to her friends. Doesn't she realize what she's doing is wrong?

A. She probably does-but at your daughter's age, the pull of friends often is stronger than the pull of the Holy Spirit. However, learning how to value people's differences is an extremely important lesson for today's children. By 2025, when your child's a young adult, 52 percent of preschoolers will be white, 25 percent Hispanic, 16 percent African American, and 7 percent Asian and Pacific Islander. Now is the time your daughter should be developing Jesus-pleasing attitudes toward people of different cultures, languages, skin colors, gender, and body types.

We must end tax exempt status for churches because they are brainwashing small defenseless children into possibly being nice to other people in the name of religion. Zounds!
posted by oneirodynia at 9:17 AM on November 7, 2005

I went to a christmas service 2 years ago at a shithead redneck Baptist church in VA., and the service started with a pro war message and an plea to support George Bush. It even included blatant lies about what was going on at the time. If these scumbags want to play this game, then let's go. Tax these fuckers into the ground and slap a lien on chruch property when they can't pay up.
posted by 2sheets at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2005

He meant the Marquis of Queensbury! The formalized, gentlemanly rules that govern the "sport" of boxing

Um, you mean 'The man who formalised the gentlemanly rules that govern the sport of boxing', surely? (Inverted commas removed because I really like boxing ;-p)

The very same Marquis who set the boxing rules (the 9th, I think) got rather hot and bothered about Oscar Wilde shagging his son Lord Alfred Douglas (aka Bosie), and provoked poor Oscar into suing him for libel - he called him a Somdomite (sic!) - a trial which ultimately led to Wilde's imprisonment, and death. Funny that one of my favourite sports and one of my favourite playwrights are linked by a deranged old homophobe who couldn't even spell.

Er, sorry - in the name of all that is tax exempt, that was quite a derail.
posted by jack_mo at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2005

Very selective quote, oneirodynia. Of course that's always been a part of what the churches do - it's their loss leader - they spend 10% of the time promoting obvious, decent ethical values, which are common to all cultures, and then falsely claim the credit for inventing them. They then use those agreed decent values to con people into believeing a whole lot of other baggage.

In any case, it's not a great argument to talk to a child as though the only reason to oppose racism is to please Jesus! For fuck's sake.

If that's the only reason you can think of, then the kid is obviously not going to follow that behavior. Nobody believes those lies, least of all kids. That's exactly why Christians tend to be among the most virulently racist, selfish, and generally unethical of people. Again, check the Bush family for a great example of how that kind of teaching works in practice.

There are good reasons for genuine ethical behavior. Christianity tends to obscure them with lies.
posted by cleardawn at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2005

Well if no one believes those lies, than no one is being brainwashed, right?

My earlier point still stands- most of the religious organizations that benefit most from tax exempt status are tiny, non mainstream organizations. I happen to live in West Oakland where Baptist organizations meet in cinderblock "churches" or in parking lots, buddhists get together in the basement of an old victorian, and there's a crumbling muslim center a few blocks from me. They recently got some new tanbark for their weed-filled playground. If only they were not tax exempt- then that money could have been taken by Our Government and given directly to "poor people". Cause government is really good at that sort of thing.

I firmly believe that mega-churches and mainstream organizations contribute greatly to causes and politics that I don't believe in, but they wouldn't suffer by having to pay taxes, wheras the organizations operating in my neighborhood would.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:45 AM on November 7, 2005

(Apologies for the flippant tone of my last post. I'm leaving for Berlin tomorrow and it's having a giddifying effect on me.)
posted by oneirodynia at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc - I (and I would guess most people who share my opinion) would probably agree that any group that wishes to take part in the political process should share the same responsibility regarding taxation. I don't care whether you're a truckers union, the ACLU or you worship Zoltan - if you want a mouth in politics you can damn well pay your way (besides - the more tax they pay the less money they can give politicians to influence policy).

on preview - I see you are using the "religious people donate time/money to causes" argument. That's fine, generous people will still be generous even if the church they belongs to is turned into a parking lot to generate some surplus pocket money for the parent organisation.
posted by longbaugh at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2005

Government is potentially very good at redistributing wealth to those in need. It's the only organization that can possibly do that with any degree of fairness.

Of course the present American government, run by self-described "Christians" who despise the poor, won't do that. Instead, they'll give every available tax dollar to their friends in "faith-based" organizations, as indeed they do.

Little local groups sound lovely and cuddly, until you start looking at the details of the cashflow options. For example, why should the funding to your local public hospital be reduced, in order to subsidize Muslim meeting houses or Buddhist temples?

If people want to build those things, that's fine by me. But the worshippers (including me) should pay for their own religious organizations, not be subsidized by the taxpayer.

Thousands of times larger, of course, is the vast tax-free income from the vast tax-free property portfolios of the large, lie-promoting, Christian churches.

If the TV evangelists were taxed, perhaps that would make enough money for .... ? Fill in the blank. Hospitals, schools, universities, homeless shelters, contributions to genuine charitable causes...?
posted by cleardawn at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2005

If the TV evangelists were taxed...

TV evangelists pay income taxes on the money they make just like everyone else.

the worshippers (including me) should pay for their own religious organizations,

They do. It happens that those voluntary donations that pay for their religious organizations are tax-deductible (assuming you itemize), in the same way that donations to any other non-profit organization are tax-deductible.

longbaugh: I (and I would guess most people who share my opinion) would probably agree...

Really? No kidding!
posted by deanc at 10:13 AM on November 7, 2005

TV evangelists pay income taxes on the money they make just like everyone else.

Not when they "don't make any income" rather the money goes to their "ministries." Ministers also pay no income taxes on "housing expenses" which in the case of Jim and Tammy included a two story air conditioned dog house.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:18 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc, perhaps I should have been more precise. What I mean is: If contributions made to the 501c corporations set up by TV evangelists ("churches") were taxed...

The argument, of course, still holds. Better uses could easily be found for that money.
posted by cleardawn at 10:19 AM on November 7, 2005

It sounds good, cleardawn, but I just can't believe that federal taxes levied on religious organizations are going to filter back down to local hospitals and charities. It's a nice idea, but relies too heavily on a well-run, socialist leaning government that has not already warred and tax-cutted and overspent its way into debt. Federal tax income is spent at the whim of those in power, and I just don't see it making it's way to state and city run hospitals is a nice neat assembly line sort of way.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2005

If contributions made to the 501c corporations set up by TV evangelists ("churches") were taxed

But they wouldn't be, because they're 501(c) corporations. People set up 501c non-profits to promote all sorts of things I don't really agree with, but part of being a mature adult is to realize that people are free to benefit from government policies even when they're doing things you don't like. It seems you believe that churches should be a different class of non-profit, separate from, say, the AEI, Cato Institute, Hillsdale College, and ACLU in the sense that it is not tax-exempt. You simply have a mindless hostility to churches being classified as non-profits without providing any rational reason why they should lose their tax-exempt status.

In your world, in the same way that Scientology might declare itself a religion to become tax-exempt, what you'd have is that a church would incorporate itself as "a public interest non-profit think tank and charity." I.e., no difference, because the two organizations are inherently non-profits.
posted by deanc at 10:36 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc - editing other people's comments in your favour is considered somewhat dickish but if you've no interest in being an adult I see no point in arguing with you.
posted by longbaugh at 10:48 AM on November 7, 2005

The real overriding reason I personally object to religious groups being taxed is that it goves the government far too much control over who can and can't worship in a particular way. Perhaps your entire congregation is made up of homeless people. Perhaps you belong to a tiny sect that meets on a few folding chairs in someone's living room. Perhaps a major tenant of your beliefs is practicing poverty. How do groups like these pay taxes? They don't, the IRS comes after them, and they either go away or go underground. As a human who supports people being able to practice any faith they want, I don't find either of those options acceptable.
I have no problem with increased oversight and regulation of what is deemed appropriate use of funds by tax-exempt groups (as I'm taking a huge leap of faith thinking that this might possibly be done fairly annd judiciously). I have no problem with this chuch being audited- I hope they all are at some point, and I hope it's done fairly and-non politically, even if the chances are slim.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:57 AM on November 7, 2005

How do groups like these pay taxes?

How would you tax an organization that meets in a living room? If they can't even afford meeting space, what are you going to tax? If you really aren't working for profit, then you have no profits to be taxed.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:03 AM on November 7, 2005

longbaugh, I was more interested in just poking fun of a statement that came across sounding like a tautology. Of course people who share your opinion agree. What's considered dickish is editing a post to make it sound like a person holds a view they don't actually hold. I merely took a sentence out of context to poke fun of the clumsy use of language.

But I've noticed that certain people go on a rampage regarding "churches should be taxed to death!" but I here a lot of silence on the taxation of non-profits when it comes to think-tanks, universities, or charities that support dubious causes.

The only non-profits that are taxed are political organizations (PACs, political parties, etc.). In that sense, it is the exception for a non-profit to be taxed, not the rule. Churches are, in this case, not getting "special treatment," but merely being treated like everyone else. Few people in MeFi come out against the tax-exempt status of non-profits in general, but they come out of the woodwork when it comes to churches.
posted by deanc at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2005

When the church is essentially a PAC, tax it like a PAC.
posted by gimonca at 11:10 AM on November 7, 2005

I could not agree more strongly with deanc. The point is that under the laws governing this country, you have to look at all groups equally. It doesn't matter if you think religion is a farce, what the actual beliefs of the non-profits are is not for the government to divine.
posted by cell divide at 11:12 AM on November 7, 2005

When the church is essentially a PAC, tax it like a PAC.

Right, and now we're back to square one. Was the church who's minister preached against the war acting as a PAC or as a church?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:15 AM on November 7, 2005

deanc - my bad on the sentence construction (and yes, it is a bit redundent) and so I withdraw my accusation of dickishness. In my defence I am supposedly at work and can only devote 99% of my attention to MeFi...

My original point was that if you want a part in the political game then you have to pay for the priviledge, whoever you may be. If that means that lobbying groups that I might agree with are taxed then so be it.
posted by longbaugh at 11:23 AM on November 7, 2005

i suggest people go to and do searches on guys like Billy Graham and Pat Robertson. you'll see that these "religious" ministries are incredibly wealthy, and pay their board members 6-figure salaries. furthermore they have loads and loads of 501(c)s, not just one.

this is abuse of the system, pure and simple. pat robertson has to be one of the biggest pro-bush mouthpieces in the american media, and he is supposedly a religious leader. right.
posted by joeblough at 11:43 AM on November 7, 2005

Federal tax income is spent at the whim of those in power, and I just don't see it making its way to state and city run hospitals

Yes, that is a major problem in the US right now. Tax money is spent (by the "Christian" government) in highly unethical ways that the world will be paying for for generations to come. But that has nothing to do with the question of whether religious contributions should be taxed.

Deanc, I don't agree with your opinion. But I'm not going to call you (or even your view) mindless, brain-dead, moronic, or accuse you of going on a rampage about it. Clearly there are some reasonable people who have been persuaded to hold your inaccurate view. And clearly also, some of those reasonable people, including yourself, choose to use personally insulting language about those who disagree with you. Perhaps a better argument would help?

The fact that the US legal system chooses to lump churches in with the other 501c groups is just that: a choice. There's a clear difference between churches and charities, and it could easily be encoded in US law. How about this for a first attempt: "Churches preach a philosophy, while charities exist solely to provide material assistance to people who need it."

If I can do that in 10 seconds, then I think the US legal system should be capable of doing at least as good a job of defining its terms.

Furthermore, the whole system of tax exemption for charities is highly suspect. If money is diverted away from the public purse and into the privately-controlled "charities" (some better than others, clearly) the only thing we can say for certain about that is that the public have lost out to private groups.

Let's face it, the rich organize 501c groups to avoid paying tax. Large charities are little different, in ethics as well as appearance, from corporations, and should be taxed as such. The poor have nothing to tax, by definition. So the whole idea of charitable tax exemption is simply a pork barrel for the rich.

Robbing the public purse to pay extra to rich folks who make allegedly-charitable donations doesn't benefit the poor at all. It benefits the rich. And they don't need public charity any more than the Catholic Church does.
posted by cleardawn at 12:27 PM on November 7, 2005

"Churches preach a philosophy, while charities exist solely to provide material assistance to people who need it."

If preaching a philosophy is out of bounds, what about the North American Kant Society? Academic societies are typically 501(c)3 organizations. How about think tanks? Universities? Private or parochial schools? "Foundations"? You make the dichotomy of churches vs. charities, but, as pointed out, the thing that got your goat was the issue of the tax-exempt status of religious non-profits, not other sorts of non-profits. If you're going to make a stink about the existence of 501(c)'s, then do so. But to say that churches are less entitled to 501(c) status than any other non-profit is simply an ignorant claim. Such a stance is not an opinion-- it's a statement of abject ignorance based only in a kneejerk hostility towards religion and not based on a rational foundation.

If you're against tax-exempt non-profits in general as a corrupt public bargain, then just say so. That is the the sort of public policy choice we make, not singling out one form of non-profit that we choose to resent over others, based on our personal axes that we insist on grinding.
posted by deanc at 12:43 PM on November 7, 2005

The irony of this is very clear if you happened to see the front page of today's LA Times.

Headline one placed above the fold [to the left] reads:
Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning

Headline two placed below the fold [to the right] reads:
Abortion Proposition Finds Its Forum in the Churches

The second article mentions that some churches are putting fliers in the church bulletins with regards to a Proposition to be voted on next Tuesday. Will the IRS come knocking?
posted by Rashomon at 2:10 PM on November 7, 2005

The second article mentions that some churches are putting fliers in the church bulletins with regards to a Proposition to be voted on next Tuesday. Will the IRS come knocking?

We've got a "Faggots Got No Rights" constitutional election happening tomorrow...and the paper has been filled with local churches and their ministers praying that the amendment passes and that "gays will be punished"...Leviticus and all that.

Southern Baptist ministers and other fundamental churches are heavily behind this amendment and use their pulpits to tell anyone who doesn't vote *for* stripping gays of their legal rights that they can't be considered Christians anymore. Because ya know, that Jesus guy...very judgmental. Apparently, they got a different New Testament than the one I got.

Despite all the active political campaigning, I'm not seeing stories about the IRS knocking on any church doors around here.
posted by dejah420 at 2:35 PM on November 7, 2005

Interesting that the IRS is willing to entertain the idea that All Saints should not be tax exempt because of political speech, but the Church of Tom Cruise still enjoys tax-exempt status while it uses corporate strongarm tactics and frivolous law-suits to silence it's enemies. Yeah...THEY are still able to be called a "religion."
posted by jakeaust at 5:12 PM on November 7, 2005

This whole concept sickens me.

The church my parents attend, that I occasionally enter, and that is also my 7yr old niece's school handed out explicitly pro-Bush pamphlets for months before the elections, many of which were produced on church funds. The pastor told the congregation, in a sermon that I personally heard the last sunday before elections, that anyone who considers themself a good christian is morally bound to vote for Bush.

Now, if *that* isn't crossing the line, I don't know what is. Anyone wanna take a guess why my parents have a hard time getting me to join them at that church?
posted by mystyk at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2005

Such a stance is not an opinion-- it's a statement of abject ignorance based only in a kneejerk hostility

Deanc, you disagree with my opinion. That doesn't mean my opinion is not an opinion. We can discuss it and try to refine both our opinions, but only if you allow me to have an opinion. Otherwise we're just shouting at each other, which is unproductive. I've tried to explain this point repeatedly, but you're not getting the point. Okay, I'll try it your way:

Your repeated claim that there is no possible distinction between religions and charities is not an opinion. It's just a flat-out lie, as anyone can see. It's pure ignorance on your part, motivated by your kneejerk hostility to the idea that churches are different from charities.

Is that better?
posted by cleardawn at 9:40 AM on November 12, 2005

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