The Power of the Jump™: Church Risks Tax-Exempt Status for Opposing War . . . and Every Other Bush Policy Under the Sun
(Note: “The Power of the Jump”™ is a semi-regular feature of this site, documenting examples of the Los Angeles Times’s use of its back pages to hide information that its editors don’t want you to see.)
This is a story about how tax cuts make baby Jesus cry. But the L.A. Times wants you to believe it’s all about a church being punished for promoting peace and good will among men.
The L.A. Times ran a Page One story yesterday titled Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning. The deck headline read: “All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector’s remarks in 2004.” And the story began by claiming that the only reason the IRS is interested in the church was the anti-war statements of a former rector:
The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California’s largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.
Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services 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 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 preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.”
Wow. All over an anti-war sermon. Don’t we expect churches to be anti-war? And he didn’t tell people which way to vote.
That’s the impression you get from the front page. But turning to Page A14, it seems that there is a little more to it:
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.”
So Jesus is against tax cuts, too. The conservatives I know are for tax cuts, and for encouraging greater charitable contributions to the poor. But apparently Jesus doesn’t want the poor helped that way. Jesus is a big-government Christian. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s — and not a penny less.
Let’s see what else Jesus is against. Well, there’s Bush’s positions on nuclear weapons:
Regas’ 2004 sermon imagined how Jesus would admonish Bush and Kerry if he debated them. Regas never urged parishioners to vote for one candidate over the other, but he did say that he believes Jesus would oppose the war in Iraq, and that Jesus would be saddened by Bush’s positions on the use and testing of nuclear weapons.
Oh yes — and Jesus is, of course, also against anti-abortion laws:
In his own voice, Regas said: ”The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American…. I’m not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child.”
True, the rector’s comments about abortion are “in his own voice” — but he’s making these comments in the context of a sermon that repeatedly invokes the authority of Jesus to oppose the policies of Bush. The paper doesn’t give us the full context of the quote about abortion, but it’s almost impossible to imagine that the rector, in describing abortion restrictions as “vicious and violent,” means to suggest that Jesus would support such restrictions. The clear suggestion is that Jesus would be pro-choice, like the rector.
I mean, everyone knows Jesus wouldn’t be “vicious and violent.”
Although the rector didn’t say, I imagine Jesus must also be for the right to choose partial-birth abortion. I guess the rector probably feels that it would be “vicious and violent” to oppose a procedure whereby a doctor partially delivers a baby, stabs it in the skull with a pair of scissors, and sucks out its brains with a suction catheter. I can’t see Jesus being opposed to something like that . . .
As for the war, it turns out that Jesus isn’t just against war — He also sees Bush as a terrorist who does not value the lives of Iraqi children:
In the sermon, Regas said, “President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism. Yet I believe Jesus would say to Bush and Kerry: ‘War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.’ ”
Later, he had Jesus confront both Kerry and Bush: “I will tell you what I think of your war: The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war.”
Confronting both Kerry and Bush is, of course, a device. The congregation understands that the comments in the second paragraph of the previous quote are directed at Bush — as is made clear by the pointed comments about Bush in the first paragraph.
Reading the story, it’s impossible to spot a Bush policy that the rector thinks Jesus would favor.
All of these facts appear on page A14. On the front page, we were told that the rector did not ask parishioners to vote for Kerry. No, no, no — of course not! All he said was this:
When you go into the voting booth, Regas told the congregation, “take with you all that you know about Jesus, the peacemaker. Take all that Jesus means to you. Then vote your deepest values.”
Let me sum up what the rector said:
- Jesus hates war. (This is all we are told on Page One.)
- Jesus specifically hates the Iraq war. He thinks it is terrorism, and that Bush does not care about Iraqi children the way he cares about Americans.
- Jesus dislikes tax cuts.
- Jesus does not like Bush’s nuclear weapons policies.
- Jesus wants women to be able to abort their children if they want to. (I’m putting two and two together here: after all, Jesus is not “vicious and violent.”)
- The rector’s conclusion, summarized: I’m not saying to vote for John Kerry. I’m just saying that the Iraq war, tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and nuclear testing make baby Jesus cry. If you want baby Jesus to cry, then by all means vote for whichever candidate supports these anti-Jesus policies. But if you are asking “What Would Jesus Do?” — well, He would pull the lever for the peacemaker. As between Kerry and Bush, I can’t tell you who that is — but I can say this: it sure as Hell ain’t Bush.
Reasonable people can debate whether the IRS should be going after this church — or whether the government should be in the business of granting and denying tax exemptions based on speech so intertwined with the First Amendment.
But let’s not make it seem like it’s all about a church supporting peace over war, L.A. Times editors. There’s a leetle more to it than that. But it’s hidden from most readers’ eyes, thanks to . . . The Power of the Jump™.
P.S. The fable that this is all about antiwar sentiment continues in today’s paper, in this article, which begins:
The IRS threat to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena because of an antiwar sermon there during the 2004 presidential election is part of a larger, controversial federal investigation of political activity at churches and nonprofit groups.
No mention of abortion, tax cuts, or nuclear testing anywhere in this article, which ends with this insight into the views of the rector who gave the sermon:
When he was asked if he had any regrets about his 2004 sermon, he said: “No regrets. I only wish I had preached it with greater intensity.”
You know . . . because that damn Bush won!