Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Where does one draw the line?

As I have stated in a recent post, this blog is not a political one. So it is with fear and trembling that I ask the following question. In a recent news story, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena is facing the revocation of their tax exempt status by the IRS. The reason? A former rector (now retired) preached a sermon on the eve of the 2004 Presidential election condemning the war in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts. The news story goes on to say that the website of All Saints condemns the Republican-based propositions that are to be voted on today. Now most people in my neck of the woods (middle Georgia) will shrug it off and say, "That's California." However, I think a deeper question exists - where should priests/preachers/pastors draw the line in the pulpit? I do not and never will endorse or campaign against a political figure from the pulpit, but what if there is a scenario when the Church must speak out? What if there are actions or policies in local, state, or federal governments that are contrary to the teachings of Christ? When I was in the United Methodist Church, I was sent a letter by the higher ups stating that I had to preach a sermon against the proposed state lottery. I did not feel comfortable in directly addressing a piece of legislation so I attempted to weave the overall issue of gambling into the sermon. Should I have been more direct? And what about our tax-exempt status? God knows income tax and property tax would kill (or severely hurt) most churches, but are we subtly tied to censorship? I'm not sure. I am not a political activist for any side. I tend to keep my political discussions internal. At St Michael's, a candidate running for Lt. Gov. came to our men's club gathering and we invited him to join us for the Low Country Boil, but he was not allowed to campaign. But what if, down the road, we need to speak out? At the very least, I hate the bad press the Episcopal Church always gets.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked as a seminarian in an African-American church and there discovered how much more willing the black church tradition is to not only allow but encourage candidates to come speak. This is no doubt because black churches were places where African-Americans could have political power prior to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. That movement itself was largely moved forward by churches. Yet that work was very bound up in the religious purposes of those churches in (as you comment in the post on the oldest church in the Middle East) in proclaiming as Jesus did for "To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy."

The IRS therefore is put in the precarious position of determining which political actions are purely religiously motivated, as if there is anything such as pure motives.

To give a different example, we distribute wine to minors on Sunday morning. This is purely a religious experience and is therefore protected from any accusation of "contributing to the deliquency of a minor." Wouldn't political speach be similarly protected without one losing tax exempt status? And aren't there other churches (predominantly non-denominational, evangelical ones) that blurr the like with political speach more fully? I don't care to follow their example, but I sure want to protect their ability to do that as a church, and so in keeping with their tax status.


6:43 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

My seminary class on Canon Law was interviewed for about a half hour by an NPR guy. Two classmates comments, as well as the Dean's remarks, actually made it into the broadcast, which can be accessed here: Seabury Western Canon Law Class on NPR


12:48 AM  

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