June 4, 2005

"A grotesque use of church."

The WaPo reports:
Gov. Rick Perry (R) is going to church tomorrow, not necessarily for the obvious reason: He plans to sign two bills sought by conservatives and passed by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. One requires parents to sign off on abortions for minors; the other calls for a November vote on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Actually, the signing will be held in the gymnasium of the private school that is next door to and under the auspices of Calvary Cathedral, one of the largest Christian churches in Fort Worth.

"This is way over the line," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is a grotesque use of church by a political figure."

People who are religious Christians should find this as offensive as people who are not find it.

26 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

As a Christian and a pastor, I find this deeply offensive.

There is no "Christian" political program. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. What is happening is that slowly, many Christians are allowing their faith and Christ Himself to be subordinated to the political philosophies they embrace.

Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for thinking that if they got people to acquiesce to their version of "righteousness," they could stem the tides of faithlessness and irreligiosity. (Coincidentally, they could also trumpet their "moral superiority.") By the Pharisees' program, they unwittingly replaced the teachings of both the Old Testament and later, of the New Testament, that righteousness--rightness with God--is a gift to all with faith in God, not an attainment of proscribed behaviors.

TWM said...

I don't find it offensive, but I agree it is inappropriate.

Still, it is not surprising in light of the increasing secular attacks on Christianity over the past years. When people are pushed and pushed and pushed, they ultimately push back.

Doesn't make it right, but it certainly isn't new.

Irene Done said...

There may be an upside: such a stunt is likely to give our Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson a good reason to come home and run against Perry in next year's election. It also makes Kinky Friedman, who's trying to get on the ballot, look downright statesmanlike. Either way, Perry will not be in the governor's mansion for long.

Late word is that the event will still take place, but it won't be filmed. I hope the news media insists otherwise.

Meade said...

I'm offended that any religious institution is tax exempt to begin with. Mine is an everyone-should-be-or-no-one-should-be-exempt-from-paying-taxes point of view.

Ann Althouse said...

Lmeade: You wouldn't exempt charities? Isn't it enough to group religions with other nonreligious organizations that also have tax exemptions?

JohnF said...

I wouldn't exempt religious institutions from taxes. They own too much property, especially in NYC, not to be taxed.

Meade said...

It seems to me that that puts the government in the position of establishing who or what is "charitable." Same problem for what constitutes "religious." Charities and religious entities don't have income and profit? I think they do. "Non-profit" is one of those bs words that make other commercial enterprises seem somewhat filthy by comparison.

dick said...

I really don't see anything to be offended by here at all. If our presidential candidates can go to churches while campaigning, e.g., Kerry to the black churches, then why do you find this offensive. He is not even going into the church itself!

Ann Althouse said...

Dick: The governor is signing legislation in a church building and making a special trip to do it. The implicit message is: this is especially for you. That is not the way legislation should work. In campaigning, you can properly go to various constituent groups and make your appeal to them. There are some pitfalls there too: you shouldn't pander and promise to favor religion, but it's perfectly acceptable to seek out subgroups. That's what campaigning is. Signing legislations is a WHOLE other matter.

Ann Althouse said...

Lmeade: That's a fine argument for eliminating tax exemptions and deductions, but it's entirely different from your first comment, which was about being offended by religion getting including in favorable treatment given to other organizations that similarly are structured to provide various benefits to society. You made a separation of church and state argument, and my response was to say, isn't it enough to define neutral categories and not discriminate against religion? Then you switched to saying you don't like any of the charities getting tax break. Now, you're making a tax argument, which I'm not inclined to argue against.

Meade said...

Shows why you're the prof and I'm not, Ann. Now I'm going to have to actually think hard about it. Might take me a while but thanks.

Ann Althouse said...

Lmeade: Then here's your assignment:

mcg said...

I actually think that churches ought to be opting out of their tax exempt status anyway, because I think that the requirement that they keep out of politics is an inappropriate burden.

While I think that it will almost always be inappropriate for church leaders to endorse individual candidates---though if they pay taxes, it shouldn't be illegal for them to do so---there are too many issues of combined moral and political significance that churches ought to be more fully engaged in: abortion and adoption, pornography, welfare, etc.

Now just to be clear, I agree with Mark above who said that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Indeed in my men's group we have a healthy mix of both, and we've had a fair share of tussles over politics as a result---and we still pray together afterwards :) Nevertheless I would rather have this or that preacher go too far in airing their political views from the pulpit than the current situation where they are all effectively blackmailed from doing so.

mcg said...

Oh, and as for what Rick Perry himself is doing, I share everyone's objection to it. That is a far different matter. I don't think it's an unconstitutional endorsement of religion but it sure is a tactless act.

Meade said...

Ann: You sure I can't just sit here and meditate on the stern beauty of your latest avatar? One look at the words, Walz v. Tax Comm'n of the City of New York and my head hurts already.

Okay, don't wait up for me.

Art said...

If Republicans don't cater to the religious right, they stay home or, even worse splinter into a third party. The Republican candidate suffers the same fate as Al Gore.

If they do cater to the religious right, those in the center who normally would fall off the wagon because they're repulsed by displays such as this will hold on anyhow because they want lower taxes at the state level, and because they fear terrorists at the national level.
And Perry's schrewdly forbidding this from being filmed. There's a saying in the TV biz. "If you can't see it, you can't say it." As far as TV viewers go, this never will have happened.

Mark Daniels said...

I have never been an advocate of tax-exempt status for churches and wouldn't mind if that went away. But as long as it's being offered to churches, they'd be nuts not to take advantage of it.

I also think that churches should stay out of partisan politics. The only time when it's appropriate for them to do so is in the face of clear evil, such as Hitler presented to the churches of Germany. Sadly, for the most part, the churches said nothing in the face of his evil. But the Confessing Church and such heroes as Niemoller and Bonhoeffer did stand against Nazism.

Steven said...

Anything a politician does is a political act, and legislation that is expressly designed to explicitly please a specific constituency gets passed all the time. I'll save my outrage for the content of bad laws, not the symbolism around their passage.

At least until (mostly Democratic) candidates for office stop making campaign speeches from the pulpits of (mostly black) churches. Electioneering on church property is a violation of tax-exempt status. When the IRS starts taking that seriously regardless of the political fallout from enforcement, maybe I'll have time to be offended by symbolic, non-law-violating gestures to specific pressure groups.

Ann Althouse said...

Steven: I'm not a tax expert, but the exemption requires that the organization not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." Then it's a matter of interpreting that, and a candidate appearing in a church is not, I think, viewed as violating that limitation as long as funds aren't raised and opposing candidates are also given a forum there.

Greg Brown said...

Ann,
What do you think of candidates like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who often campaign from the pulpit?

In this instance I think Gov. Perry is merely gauche. While not what I would do, it's an offense against good taste and little more.

Ann Althouse said...

Greg: I think the churches themselves should want to exclude electoral politics. I consider that good religion. I think politicians should avoid too close of an alliance to religion. I consider that good politics. And there needs to be some policing of the tax exemption, but I wouldn't be too harsh about it. People in churches need to be free to engage with political issues and to use their building for outside speakers. I lean in favor of freedom and free speech here. I'd rather drastically change the tax system and get rid of all the exemptions than have the IRS be intrusive in this area.

Troy said...

I'm a flat taxer and would favor something along the lines of no exemptions, etc. But under our current system, and I'm not sure where to get the hard numbers on this, I'd wager significant stakes the government's (the People's) benefit from the presence of churches vis a vis church programs, positive social influence, hospitals, universities, , etc, etc. are far outweighed by whatever the gov't "loses" in revenue.
It's a bargain.

Troy said...

And put my vote in for Rick Perry (I voted for him twice as Lt. Gov. and Gov.) aka "Governor Good Hair" as being gauche -- as Greg Brown so aptly put it.

Judith said...

"By the Pharisees' program, they unwittingly replaced the teachings of both the Old Testament and later, of the New Testament, that righteousness--rightness with God--is a gift to all with faith in God, not an attainment of proscribed behaviors."

Well, this is the verson of the Gospels, but has nothing to do with the actual Pharisees of the Jewish state at the time.

I agree with Ann's comments.

leeontheroad said...

In an environemnt where Americans seem to be re-thinking the public role of religion-- domestically, this centers in Christianity; and internationally, in Islam-- it seems like any comment about public policy is instantly suspect as potentially partisan political. It's unfortunate that "political" has come to mean something potentially nefarious, where really the root meaning has to do with the polity organizing itself.

I'm on the board of an interfaith non-profit that provides emergency housing to homeless families with children. To provide that service, we rely on huge congregational support-- both inkind and cash donations. We have individual donors. We also have service contracts with government agencies, including a "faith-based" grant (competitively awarded). It is absolutely the case that we have a political program, but it is not partisan; nor do we endorse candidates or participate in any way as an organization with elections. Instead, our "politcal program" is to make up for gaps in government and other non-profit service provision in this area. Many of us are also, separately, committed to the idea of greater, preferably locally controlled government involvement in the creation of affordable housing. Some believe that should take the form of subsidies; others believe that should take the form of tax breaks and other incentives to housing developers. Zoning and building codes are also relevant. But the organization take no organizational position on the specifics. We simply care that families don't have a place to live. Some of us are liberals, some of us are conservatives, many of us are moderates.

By the way, our organization isn't completely tax-exempt: as a small employer, we pay payroll taxes. But I assure you we do not have profits, so it makes sense to me the organization does not pay income taxes to the state or the federal gov't. That's only slightly different from the system of my S-1 corp, which does not itself pay federal income tax but pays the mandatory minimum to the state. As for sales tax, well, yes, the non-profit doesn't pay that, either. That's a state decision. If we operated in a state without sales tax, we also wouldn't.

Congregational tax exemptions are of a different order. If they are not tax exempt, then the organization would pay a great deal more in taxes, especially property taxes. Some would not survive, e.g., mission congregations. The government woudl impose a burden on the operation of religion in this way. And there'd be no way to distinguish overtly political organizations that desire to call themselves churches or other religious organizations and those communities created and organized for religious purpose-- again, something the government isn't supposed to be able to control.

mcg said...

Damn, the commentary on this blog is wicked smart sometimes.