On the Limits of Tax-Exempt Status
Some of you know that a few weeks ago my hubby and I flew out to Oklahoma to help get Mom-in-law moved into assisted living due to some issues with failing eyesight, short-term memory non-existence and refusal to use a walker (resulting in her falling down a lot). Hubby’s family were lifelong Presbyterians by faith, his Mom and Dad were both Elders in the tiny church behind their house. My Dad returned to his family’s association with the Presbyterian church after retiring from the Navy, following some lengthy investigation of various denominations. My husband and I attended the same Presbyterian church as teenagers and young adults, though our attendance at any church over recent years has been reserved to weddings and funerals.
Now, the thing about protestantism is that it’s got a denomination for whatever flavor of natural inclination a person’s got. If your nature is parliamentarian nit-picking and resolution by argument, Presbyterianism is your cup of tea. If your nature is lightning-like bliss and gibberish, a Pentecostal or other “holy roller” denomination will serve. If you’re a liberal-minded type fond of social issues, some of the reformed orthodox denominations will be satisfying. And if you’re a hard right WingNut type Republican Talibangelist harboring too much leftover racism, the SBC [Southern Baptist Conference] churches are made to order.
My husband’s brother Joe “found God” some years ago as a result of a debilitating back injury and a lot of pain, subsequently immersed himself in the Baptist tradition of his wife’s family, and eventually made it through all the hoops to become a full-fledged Baptist preacher. And he’s a darned good one too – full of spirit, witty and amiable, stern when he needs to be, committed to working tirelessly in the various conference disaster relief operations, great with children, and inspiring if you’re into that sort of thing. He’s also the only Republican in the family and a social conservative of the extreme theocratic variety.
So while we avoided politics like the plague while attending to Mom’s present needs, brother Joe did lob a few zingers our way to gage our reaction. Seems he’s been pushing a bit against the rules for tax exempt status lately, apparently getting quite a bit of encouragement. First, he took on the proponents of allowing liquor by the drink in his town, to be decided by public referendum.
As pastor of X Baptist Church, brother Joe went on the public warpath. This is of course strictly verboten under IRS provisions, but unless someone from his own congregation complains, the IRS doesn’t care. A Baptist church in my region lost its status for politicking from the pulpit in 2006, but only because the people he expelled for voting wrong complained to the IRS. Since none of brother Joe’s parishoners have complained, he has been emboldened. Mentioned to us that he’s the head of his new local Tea Party organization. As if that’s not a blatant violation of tax exempt status either. He can probably tap-dance around any conflicts of interest on those levels, though.
I expect brother Joe’s church meets the “substantial part” and “expenditure” tests per whether his church itself is at risk for status. At least, so long as none of his pew-sitters complains. He can always claim to be acting within his own private citizen rights on more public politicking, even if he’s identified in all public venues and news coverage as “pastor of X Baptist Church.” That’s his job description, no different from “lineman with the REC.”
So it’s interesting to me how the internal Teabagger warfare is beginning to shape up. The national leadership wants to keep it Republican in focus, just another extension of the Party Of No. The regional leadership leans way more Libertarian, wanting an end to government “interference” in everybody’s lives. The Christian Right (like brother Joe) is very concerned about the Libertarian streak, since they want a full-fledged theocracy to force their religion down everybody’s throats, while ignoring whatever laws they don’t like. All factions are trying desperately to lay claim to the citizen angst and anger that brewed all this disparate tea in the first place, along with the not well concealed racism at its core. As always, it’s about reliable voting blocs, and the religious right has weakened of late on that score.
I’m personally hoping that the whole thing gets blown apart by internal warfare over who gets to call the shots. But that would mean that the angsty and angry, the fearful and the hate-filled, are all willing to allow themselves to be used by high level manipulators who are card-carrying members of the Status Quo they’re supposedly protesting against. I’m unfortunately pretty sure the individuals who couldn’t figure out why they shouldn’t call themselves “Teabaggers” in public are indeed that dumb. Which is a shame, since we’ve more in common than not these days.
But I’ve just gotta ask… Brother Joe, how exactly would allowing gays to form legal monogamous partnerships affect your marriage? And if some gay couple you never met is going to destroy your 30-year marriage, wouldn’t that mean you weren’t paying enough attention to your OWN marriage when it might have been salvaged? How about that abortion thing? …why are our three adopted children (and six resulting grandchildren) so insultingly ignored whenever we’re sitting around as family talking kids/grandkids?
Besides, have you paid any real attention to #2 son recently? If so, do you really think it’s necessary for him to ruin some poor girl’s life just so you can continue to live in denial? Would reality make you love him less? If so, how do you turn love off like that? What’s the trick?
Did you know that (since you consider yourself a Levite) trimming your beard, cutting your hair, not wearing magic underwear, or eating shrimp cocktail/clam chowder is as much an ‘abomination’ to your God as engaging in gay sex? Male-on-male, since woman-on-woman isn’t mentioned in the Book at all. Surely you don’t believe Solomon’s 900 wives and 700 concubines were all chastely awaiting their one night a decade, do you? You can believe the king didn’t care what went on in the harem, but I’d bet there were well-situated peep-holes.
Oh, and that Jesus guy you visited in Israel last fall? Did you know he hung out with “sinners,” and turned barrels of water into wine so everybody’d have a great time at a wedding? …because his Mother told him to? Who’s wedding was that, do you suppose, hosted by his Mom? …or did he and Mom just want more wine?
And on that tax protest thing, whose money is it and what did that Jesus guy have to say about it? Don’t you think it would be more effective for those of us who make less money working hard every day in our middle age than our parents make on their SS income to simply stop paying, instead of marching in the streets to cut rich people’s taxes? Blood from a stone, Joe. News flash: you ain’t rich, and neither are your pew-sitters. They can’t put us all in their privatized prison system. Too many pot-smokers taking up room, no tax money to pay Prison, Inc. with for the free food, clothing, shelter and health care for all of us. THAT is a “grassroots” movement that happens when we’ve been f*cked into poverty by rich people, don’t need no 501(c) status.
Don’t get me wrong. I think you should believe however you choose to believe so long as you aren’t hurting anyone, even if I think you’re wrong. I don’t mind you getting involved in trying to sell your politics and prejudices to others either. I don’t mind if you want to spend your life preaching to the converted. I don’t care how you choose to spend your money, nor do I care how you vote when you get the chance. I only wish that if you’re gonna style yourself some sort of “Patriot” that you cared as much for Amendment #1 as I do. Then you might be convinced to support the same liberties for me that you claim for yourself.
In the end, I’m content to let God sort it out. Minister to your flock – keep the wolves at bay if you can, tend their sorrows if you can’t. Sanctify their passages, lead their praise. THAT is your job. I am not your parishoner. Not a politician, not a resident of your community, not a tax-collector, not a Republican or a Libertarian, not an illegal immigrant, not gay, not “living in sin.” And I’ve never had an abortion. I’m your sister. A regular sinner, just like you.
Beware of politics, bro’. It’ll get you in no end of trouble.