8 November 2005 — Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services on Sunday that a guest sermon by the church’s former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991’s Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that “good people of profound faith” could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.
But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, “Mr. President, your doctrine of pre-emptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.”
It was recently revealed that Bush believes God told him to go to war – something that has been robustly challenged by Christians on both sides of the Atlantic.
On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … ” The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
The letter went on to say that “our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article.”
The IRS cited The Times story’s description of the sermon as a “searing indictment of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq” and noted that the sermon described “tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus.”
As Bacon spoke, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a co-celebrant of Sunday’s Requiem Eucharist, looked on.
“We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate,” Bacon said in a later interview.
“One of the strongest sermons I’ve ever given was against President Clinton’s fraying of the social safety net.”
Telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles were not returned.
On a day when churches throughout California took stands on both sides of Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors unless parents are notified, some at All Saints feared the politically active church had been singled out.
“I think obviously we were a bit shocked and dismayed,” said Bob Long, senior warden for the church’s oversight board. “We felt somewhat targeted.”
After the initial inquiry, the church provided the IRS with a copy of all literature given out before the election and copies of its policies, Bacon said.
But the IRS recently informed the church that it was not satisfied by those materials, and would proceed with a formal examination. Soon after that, church officials decided to inform the congregation about the dispute.
© 2005 Ekklesia. Posted on Religioscope with permission. An initiative of the Anvil Trust, Ekklesia is a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square. Website: www.ekklesia.co.uk