Over the past week, Americans United has mailed friendly letters to 100,000 clergy and lay leaders reminding them of the provisions of federal tax law and urging them not to endorse candidates from the pulpit.
We got word from a Baptist pastor in rural Georgia who received our missive, and apparently, wasn't too happy to hear from us. He called yesterday to complain.
This pastor insisted that Americans United has "lost all credibility" in recent years, and that our organization is "hypocritical" and only targets "conservative" churches. He also said he is aware of the law and was not going to be "threatened and coerced."
Let me get this straight: he says he is aware of the law, and our letter, which simply restates the law, is somehow "threatening and coercing" him? What exactly are we "threatening and coercing" him to do — not break the law?
Our letter was intended to help clergy who may have been confused by ill advice from groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund that urged pastors to violate tax law and endorse candidates from the pulpit last month. It certainly was not meant to "threaten and coerce," but rather to clear up any misinformation.
Every day we receive calls from pastors who want help understanding their responsibilities regarding tax law and political activity. We thought this letter could answer some of their concerns.
The recipients of the letter were chosen from a broad spectrum of Christian denominations (not just "conservative" churches), as well as a selection of synagogues and mosques. We know that the majority of clergy from all faiths reject using houses of worship as political action committees, but we have to respond to the misguided religious and political forces that pressure religious leaders to do just that.
Take, for example, a new publication called the "Judeo-Christian View," a multimedia journal aimed at rabbis, priests, pastors and religious lay leaders, published by the Rev. O'Neal Dozier. Dozier, a lawyer and pastor of The Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach, Fla., claims packets of information were mailed and faxed to 325,000 houses of worship giving them advice on how to "shepherd [their] sheep with integrity."
A church employee (and Americans United member) brought the fax to my attention. The appeal from Dozier and his Religious Right allies makes broad statements about what pastors can and cannot do from the pulpit when it comes to political candidates. It states, "You can boldly, safely and legally, preach scripture and NAME NAMES." (Not only did the fax give bad legal advice, it put the illegal part in all caps!)
On the publication's Web site, Dozier states, "We don't advise political endorsements from pulpits, but we certainly do urge leaders to teach Jewish and Christian ethics while naming names of politicians who reject aspects of that foundation." Dozier's sample sermon and congregational handout suggest that clergy identify both Obama and McCain and indicate which candidate is allegedly on God's side on same-sex marriage and abortion.
There couldn't be a more obvious violation of federal tax law, yet churches around the country are being told by Dozier and Company that this is perfectly legal. They're wrong, and we hope our letter makes that apparent.
You can help us get the word out. Please feel free to download AU's "Dear Religious Leader" letter and send it to churches, mosques, temples or synagogues in your community, so religious leaders are clear on the law.