Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Update: All Saints’ Resists IRS Persecution, Refuses to Turn Over Records.

As the L. A. Times reports here, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA is refusing to turn over all its records to the IRS as requested. Good on ’em. As the article shows, even Richard Land, of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a cheerleader for the Iraq war and someone who has greatly weakened Baptists’ historic defense religious liberty, recognizes the IRS as abusing its power! As I previously posted, All Saints did not endorse a candidate (something forbidden to tax-exempt non-profits in the U.S.), but simply preached a peace sermon in the last election cycle. Churches have ALWAYS been able to preach on political ISSUES (but not endorse candidates or parties). The IRS is attempting to intimidate any church that is critical of the government. If they get away with it today for anti-war sermons, tomorrow they may come after churches that oppose abortion (or support it, depending on who is in office), or express any opinion on any controversial matter!

Many churches do abuse their tax-exempt status by explicit political campaigning and should either stop or be willing to give up tax-exemption. But if a church cannot discuss moral issues or take stands on controversial matters, its ability to fulfill the prophetic dimension of ministry is dulled. (This has been my major criticism of government funding of faith-based initiatives: What the government funds it can control.) Just because All Saints used a creative drama to have “Jesus” debate “Bush” and “Kerry,” does not mean they endosrsed a candidate. How many churches would’ve been fined or lost their tax exempt status in the ’90s for criticizing Bill Clinton’s adulterous affairs if this standard had been used???

I share All Saints’ peace views, but no matter our views on peace and war, we should unite with our sisters and brothers in resisting this clear government abuse of power.


September 24, 2006 - Posted by | church-state separation, citizenship, peace, politics


  1. You’d be interested to know that Mohler is against this investigation as well and made some of the same comments as you on his radio program on either Thursday or Friday of last week.

    However, I do think All Saints should turn over their records just to show the governement that they have nothing to hide. If indeed they did not endorse a candidate or political party, then the inability to prosecute would shame the IRS much more than refusing to turn over the documents. Dr. Tom Schreiner noted in his exegesis of Acts 16 today that Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in jail, but before being released, they refused to part without a formal apology from those who did this to them, which served to humiliate the local officials who persecuted them unjustly. I think we could draw an application from that text to this situation. The All Saints case could serve to humiliate IRS officials and deter them from any further investigations.

    Comment by D.R. | September 24, 2006

  2. Daniel, the IRS was entitled to the sermon and got that. They are not entitled to a fishing expedition and if All Saints submits it could set a terrible precedent. The All Saints case WILL humiliate the IRS if a competent judge with strong support of the First Amendment gets the case.

    However, I am distressed that this could have too much of a backfire on the IRS. There are PLENTY of churches (on both Right and Left) who REALLY DO endorse candidates and lobby and they NEED to be prosecuted by the IRS. But this case, if the govt. wins, could have a chilling effect on churches and if All Saints wins could cause the govt. to so back off that the abuse of non-profit status continues where it needs to be checked.

    While it is interesting that this case is so obvious that even the likes of Land, Schreiner, and Mohler get it, Daniel, I’m mostly completely uninterested in what Mohler thinks. Even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 24, 2006

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