Group calls for IRS to investigate two winger churches
Televangelist Rod Parsley’s World Harvest Church is in hot water. How close are the ties to its political arm, Center for Moral Clarity and Reformation Ohio?
The New York Times is reporting today that a group of religious leaders has asked the IRS to look into possible violations of the prohibition on political activity by tax-exempt organizations, at two Columbus, Ohio-area churches, Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church.
In their complaint, the clergy members contend that the two Columbus-area churches, Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church, which were widely credited with getting out the Ohio vote for President Bush in 2004, have allowed their facilities to be used by Republican organizations, promoted the candidate, J. Kenneth Blackwell, among their members and otherwise violated prohibitions on political activity by tax-exempt groups.
Ohio’s Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a conservative Republican, is running for governor this year. (Blackwell photo: Greg Sailor for The New York Times)
They are asking the I.R.S. to examine whether the churches’ tax exemptions should be revoked and are requesting that Mark W. Everson, the federal tax commissioner, seek an injunction to stop what they consider improper activities.
Both churches denied that any of their activities violated limitations on nonprofit political activity. “We endorse values, but not candidates,” said the Rev. Russell Johnson, Fairfield’s leader.
He said Mr. Blackwell had been featured at events because he was the only candidate who had spoken out strongly in favor of an amendment to the State Constitution banning same-sex marriage that passed last fall. Mr. Johnson noted that he was meeting with a Democratic candidate for Congress this week.
World Harvest Church and a recently formed affiliated organization, Reformation Ohio, issued a statement saying their voter registration efforts have been conducted in diverse neighborhoods and that they were committed to full compliance with all applicable federal laws.
The “mission” of Reformation Ohio is to convert 100,000 people to Christianity within four years (and get the sheeple registered to vote — and, one assumes, influence them to vote a particular way). The question is, how far did Parsley go, and did he step over the line.
It should be noted that the Bush administration has been threatening the tax-exempt status of a progressive church for simply holding sermons against war — All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. A sermon entitled “If Jesus Debated Sen. Kerry and President Bush,” by the Rector Emeritus of the church, George Regas, didn’t encourage parishoners to vote for one candidate over another, just to vote their conscience.
This is what spurred a group of moderate Christians, constitutional scholars and clergy to begin collecting examples of possible IRS violations by Fairfield and World Harvest. For example, Parsley’s organization seems to have a little trouble inviting Democratic candidates to speak at his church or political organizations. Ken Blackwell has been the recipient of a lot of support from Parsley. A Democratic opponent hasn’t seen any invitations to speak at Parsley’s events, and that may be running afoul of the IRS as well.
It is not always enough, however, to invite all the candidates. According to a 2002 I.R.S. publication on election year issues, an “organization that invites two opposing candidates to speak at its events with the knowledge and expectation that one will not accept the invitation because of well-known opposing viewpoints may not be considered to have provided equal opportunity to all candidates.”
The complaint notes Mr. Blackwell’s appearance at more than eight events held by the churches or their affiliated organizations since August. And Mr. Blackwell is scheduled to be featured this spring in radio ads – “Ohio for Jesus” – paid for by the Ohio Restoration Project.
And what can you say about Rev. Russell Johnson — his views and activities almost break the batsh*t meter. He plans to recruit 2,000 “Patriot Pastors” to get out the bible-beating vote for the Ohio primary in May. (Mediatransparency.org):
According to the Cleveland Jewish News, the Rev. Johnson sees “the 2006 election as an apocalyptic clash between a virtuous Christianity and the evildoers who oppose Christianity’s values.”
“This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell,” says Johnson on his church’s website, urging other evangelical clergy to get into the political fray and get involved with the electoral process.”
Before the 2004 presidential election,” the Cleveland Jewish News reported that, “Johnson denounced tax-supported schools that have banned the teaching of creationism, Bible reading and prayer. He blasted the ‘pagan left’ for its warfare against the very definition of marriage. He decried ‘homosexual rights’ that will come with ‘a flood of demonic oppression.'”
Rev. Johnson envisions a Christian America. “Reclaiming the teaching of our Christian heritage among America’s youth is paramount to a sense of national destiny that God has invested into this nation,” Johnson wrote on his church’s website.