Thoughts of an American Centrist

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Party of a Vengeful God

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Nine members of a North Carolina church were kicked out of their congregation for committing the mortal sin of voting for John Kerry. The barbaric heathens! Here's the scoop:

Members of the small East Waynesville [NC] Baptist Church say Chandler led an effort to kick out congregants who didn’t support President Bush. Nine members were voted out at a Monday church meeting

I'd profess moral outrage, but really we should have expected something like this to happen sonner or later, given the complete assault on social moderates and liberals spearheaded by far-right pastors throughout the land. I'll express again my oft-stated exasperation at these fire-and-brimstone, uber-church-is-state Christians that are giving the rest of us people of faith a bad name. It should be clear to everyone that there are elements on both sides that have no interest in resolving this culture war peacefully. Why else would you supply the militant secularists with such a juicy piece of ammo? Does anyone remember when Christianity was about love, peace, and brotherhood? Well, to some of us it still is. Unfortunately, to many it has become a tired exercise in self-justification. OK, that's enough rant.

Why didn't they leave earlier?
One thing that really perplexed me about this story was why the 9 unrepentant sinners were still members of this righteous body in the first place? According to a former member, the great and wise pastor had declared back in October "anyone who planned to vote for Democratic Sen. John Kerry should either leave the church or repent." (Repent?) Now, the 9 who have been excommunicated are considering suing to get back in! Why on earth don't they just go somewhere else? This is America, there are a dozen Churches per town? Are the rest of them even more partisan and intolerant of differing opinions? Was this church the most loving and understanding in East Waynesville?

An unintended consequence of the preacher's cleansing of his flock is that he has violated the law requiring tax-exempt organizations to be at least nominally non-partisan. Now we all know that this law is largely ignored, I'd be hard pressed to name a case as blatant as this. If the good Reverend wants to form a Republican Booster club, then he should have to play by that set of rules.


  • While certainly deserving of ridicule (it is a shameful and dishonorable course of action), I think it is still well in their rights to do. Churches get to decide themselves who can or cannot be members - just like any other private organization. A claim that they cannot use ANY criteria for membership they wanted, including political criteria (as odious as that is) is simply wrong.

    I find it interesting that the media was/is all over this case but has said little or nothing about this attempt to remove President Bush and Vice President Cheney from the Methodist faith.

    By Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner, at 12:09 PM  

  • Of course it is their right to determine their own membership. That isn't the question. The issue is with their status as a non-political (and therefore tax exempt) organization. There is a dangerous precedent that may be set here. The reason we classify churches as an entity seperate from other non-profits is because they are meant to cater to the spiritual needs of the community. If we allow a church to use its status as a place of worship to shelter it from all of the finance and tax regulations that we impose on campaigns and other political organizations, we may very well see groups spring up that front as a church, but whoes primary function is to be a partisan campaign association. These churches would be another case of the 527's and PAC's.

    Not to mention, if we have these types of Politi-chapels springing up across the country, we run into the question of financing. In this case, we'll have congregants who donate on Sunday because they believe that their money is going to promote Christianity and service in the community, but instead will be going to overt political causes or candidates (possibly causes or candidates they do not even support). A similar argument has rightly been made against using labor union dues in support of specific political candidates.

    I'm not positive that it'll all come to this, I'm just saying that the gradual acceptance of churches as political outlets portends trouble.

    As for the attempted outser of President Bush from the Methodist church, I'm almost surprised that it wasn't covered with more enthusiasm from the press. I'd think liberal commentators would have loved to point out a church condemning the President instead of pointing to him as God's representative in America. The fact that he was condemned by a church long associated with progressive principles would be pretty easy to gloss over after the initial "Bush a Bad Christian" headline. Still, I'm not sure if there can be an exact comparison between these two cases, however, since the Methodist complaint was against actions on certain issues, rather than voting history.

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 5:09 PM  

  • Yes, but removing members from church rolls is inherently non-political. In no way can it be considered a political act; government officials are not involved, people's rights to vote as they choose are not involved, etc. You cannot have the goverment come in to decide what is or what isn't political motivation.

    In your view would, for example, the Catholic Church be in violation of the federal rules if they ex-communicated someone for holding fascist political opinions?

    By Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner, at 5:29 PM  

  • My view on the whole subject comes down to seperation of church and state, especially when it comes to the tax code. If a church wishes to keep its tax exempt status, it has to follow certain rules, I outlined tax code 501c3 in my post (Let those who are without sin cast the first vore) on this subject. Clearly, the simple fact this pastor told his congregation if they didn't vote for Bush, they would have to resign or repent, is political. Any time you try to coerce someone to vote a certain way, you are forcing your political view on them. God gave us the right to choose, he did not give any pastor the power to take away free will.

    Also, Citizen, I notice we think alike in many instances, so I'm adding you to my blog roll.

    By Blogger Robert Rouse, at 3:12 AM  

  • Perhaps our misunderstanding is the use of the word "political," which indeed can be applied to almost anything if we set our minds to it. A more appropriate description is that, under IRS tax code section 501(c)(3) (thanks, Robert!), a registered organization "may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates." Now, if you don't feel that using coercion to sway its members is considered a campaign activity for or against a political candidate, then I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this issue. If your issue is with the law itself, that may also be an interesting subject for a seperate discussion, and I'd eagerly look forward to any opinions you had on the matter in a post on your blog.

    The Catholic Church is not exactly the congregation I would have held up as the example of an apolitical ecclesia. That being said, you do have a valid question, so let's look at it. My answer to your question would be "no" for several different reasons. Obviously, you chose fascism because of the high emotions that run with it. But why do our emotions run so high? Because fascism is has a long history of violence (including genocide), which is (or at least should be) grounds for excommunication. In this case, the expulsion would be based on actual crimes committed by the excommunicated, regardless of political motivation.

    A more technical area in which our cases diverge is that while your example deals with a hypothetical excommunication based on personal character and beliefs, the ejections in North Carolina were predicated on a specific partisan action in direct association with a particular campaign. It is that specificity that violates the law.

    Robert, thanks for the props and the reference to the specific tax code section, I'll return the favor!

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 9:04 AM  

  • Sorry, but after reading all of the tax code I do not see how the actions under discussion could possibly violate the tax code provisions of section 501(c)(3). (Now there may have been violations during the campaign - advocating a candidate from the pulpit, etc., but that isn't what is being discussed here.) The tax code makes it abudantly clear such prohibitions are only in force while a campaign is existant. It does NOT state that churches can never be political. They just are not supposed to aid or hinder a political campaign. (Although, a pastor is perfectly able to advocate for a particular candidate, as long as it is made clear that this isn't an "official" church position.) The act of removing members from a church becuase of their political activites, in and of itself, in no way violates the prohibitions in the tax code. If this particular pastor did anything wrong (vis a vis their tax status) it would have been before November...not now.

    Robert said: "God gave us the right to choose, he did not give any pastor the power to take away free will."

    I'm not sure. Do Baptists believe in free will? I'm pretty sure that doctrinally they do not. In any event, many demoninations call for the definition of what is or isn't sinful to be pronounced by the church and not by the will of any given individual. I don't disagree with your statement personally, I'm just saying that many religious communities would reject it out of hand.

    CQ: No, I didn't say German Nazis, I said a generic fascist, someone who supports the political theory (such as it is) underlaying fascist societies (eg complete subordination of the individual to the state, denial of liberal political rights such as speech or assembley, etc.). So long as this person is not connected with actual crimes OR advocating crimes, are you claiming that it would be illegal for the Catholic Church to remove them from its ranks?

    My view is the holding of a political position may in and of itself constitute an act of "sin" that could lead to someones expulsion, if a given church so defines it that way. The state can have NO SAY IN THE MATTER (the First Amedment being what it is.) In this light the Catholic Church (or any other Church) is perfectly free to remove anyone from its ranks that advocates positions that are ananthema to it, even if those views are "political" by nature.

    There is nothing in the tax code that mandates churches be "apolitical." They just cannot interfere in a campaign (or engage in "excessive" lobbying.)

    By Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner, at 10:58 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:37 PM  

  • Very nice site! film editing schools

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home