The Internal Revenue Service has notified pastors all over America that IRS will be monitoring the content of sermons. If there were anything political IRS would initiate action to withdraw any applicable tax-exemption. IRS stated it will not wait for the ACLU or People United For Separation of Church and State to file a complaint. No siree. What does IRS consider political? That is not clear but it appears to be subjective agent by agent. This development is deeply troubling. In fact, it bothers me more than about anything that goes on these days and that says a lot.
Since when is it a crime for clergy to alert their congregations about moral dangers? You mean to tell me that a Catholic or Orthodox priest cannot speak his views on evils of abortion, especially when a bill such as those dealing with fetal pain, transporting minors across state lines for purposes of getting an abortion, parental notification, parental consent, federal funding or banning partial-birth abortions are on the Floor of the House of Representatives or Senate.
Can Roman Catholic, Anglican or Eastern Orthodox priests say nothing when the Constitution in their state is about to be amended providing that marriage is only about one man and one woman. They are supposed to remain silent if, for example, a pornographic store were to open a block from the school they operate? Evangelical ministers are to say nothing if a gambling casino were to be built across the street from their church? A bill regulating drugs is before the Congress, no pastor is ever to mention a word about it?
We know that pastors and other clergy or anyone assigned to preach in a church a synagogue or temple cannot tell people how to vote, Fine. I have been a member of my church for thirty-six years. For all but two years of that time we have had the same Pastor. He has never, ever told people how to vote. He doesn't even do as the late great Black Preacher E.V. Hill, of Los Angeles, used to say: "I don't tell them how to vote. I tell them for whom I am voting. And I am their leader". Never once has the Rt. Rev. Archmandrate Joseph Francavilla ever told people how he was voting.
He, along with other priests serving with us, has given powerful sermons on the right to life, on the dead-end drug culture, on pornography, on marriage between one man and one woman and on and on. Is the IRS going to withdraw the tax exemption of my church because Father Joe, as we fondly call him, calls his congregation to accept God's moral order?
Had the churches not been involved the American Revolution would not have succeeded. Churches were active on both sides of the Civil War. When the left used churches to mobilize the Civil Rights movement IRS turned a blind eye. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement were almost all ordained ministers. That is as it should have been. A whole segment of God's people was made to be second-class citizens. Many were killed or hosed down like animals. Churches stood with the downtrodden, as it should be.
IRS never involved itself when churches, especially Roman Catholic Churches, were the cornerstone of the movement to end the war in Viet Nam. Some priests went overboard (and I know this to be true because I heard it myself) and suggested that if you didn't get involved with the so-called peace movement you weren't really a Christian.
IRS was nowhere during the campaign of Governor Michael Dukakis, who used Greek Orthodox churches as a foundation partially to fund, as well as from which to obtain volunteers. Same for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Black churches were the backbone of the Jackson campaign. Churches often took up a second collection to benefit the Jackson effort.
IRS has been silent as some liberal churches in this country became the instrument of the Green movement. Earth Day and religion were supposed to be a natural marriage. One can argue that proposition all day long. The point is that pastors were political. Not a word from IRS.
Only now that more conservative churches have been finding their way in the political process have we heard from IRS to send agents fanning out across America to demand to see the content of sermons. In a San Francisco church IRS is investigating agents demanded to see copies of sermons from the past six months. The Episcopal Church is resisting. Good for them. This is wrong, wrong, wrong and must be remedied by the Congress. The House made progress on a bill opposing what IRS has been doing. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has been spearheading it. It is right now a dead letter in the Senate, thanks to Senator John W. Warner (R-VA) and others. What is it coming to? My church does not permit girls at the altar, does not allow women as deacons has only male priests. Will IRS contend that in disallowing women to participate in liturgical functions we are violating public policy?
What would happen were a church to refuse to give Communion to openly practicing homosexuals or to those who advocate abortion? Guilty of discrimination? What IRS appears to be doing this autumn is THE most dangerous threat to the continuation of the Republic. There is so little left of our Constitution that some Justices and others scarcely recognize it.
Unless it is solely political (i.e., the pastor says "Now I want you good people to get out the vote for Governor Mike Huckabee. He has promised to see to it that we are adequately protected.") IRS should rightfully step in. But if the pastor says, "Abortion is the moral evil of our age. There are measures before the Congress which would begin to restrict abortion. Call your Congressman and tell him you support those bills," the pastor should have no fear of IRS intervention. (By the way, Huckabee is term-limited and thus will be stepping down after two terms as Governor of Arkansas in January.)
If you are speaking with your Congressman or Senator, doesn't matter if he or she is liberal or conservative, Republican or a Democrat, tell him or her that you want to see IRS intervention of this kind stopped. Congress has the power to do so. It remains to be seen if it has the will.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
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