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UCCtruths

Every denomination needs one of these...

Says the Zen Master: We'll see

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

My favorite movie this past year was Charlie Wilson's War and one of the more interesting moments comes at the end after the U.S.-backed mullahs crush the Soviet Union. In the midst of what looks like a victory, a pessimistic CIA Analyst, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), tells the story of the Zen Master and the fourteen year old boy: On his fourteenth birthday, the boy receives a horse as a present and all the villagers say 'how lucky!' and the Zen Master says 'We'll see'. When he is sixteen, he falls off the horse and breaks his leg and all the villages say 'how unlucky' and the Zen Master says 'We'll see'. A few years later, there is a war and all the young men are enlisted to fight except the boy who still has a broken leg. All the villagers say 'how lucky' and the Zen Master says 'We'll see'.

In context to what became of Afghanistan, the Zen master's lesson should be obvious but the same lesson could now be applied to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ. Those of us who have watched the UCC dance on the line that separates church and state certainly took interest when the UCC announced it was being investigated and I'm sure many thought "finally, the UCC will be held accountable for its actions".

To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".

The UCC, to its credit, jumped out in front of the issue and helped shape public opinion by releasing a carefully worded statement that didn't really address the core issue of the UCC's promotion of Obama's visit as a Presidential candidate on the its web site or release the list of questions from the IRS. The quick response from the UCC gave it instant publicity it could have never paid for and UCC President John Thomas proudly claimed that "We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated."

To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".

There are a number of different outcomes that could result from the investigation. The obvious ones are that the IRS will either do nothing, find that the UCC violated the rules or that the UCC did nothing wrong (or a mix of all three). One thing is certain, in the "worse case scenario", the UCC will not lose its tax exempt status on a first violation and the harshest possible penalty will be a warning. Even though there is very little risk that the UCC will lose its tax exempt status, they do not under any circumstances want a cloud of guilt to follow them on their political involvement and will use every resource possible to make sure they do not receive even a slap on the wrist.

Still, I don't see a scenario that will fully satisfy denomination leaders.

The initial reaction is to make this a free speech issue. The problem is that there are already restrictions on free speech on non-profits because they cannot endorse candidates today. If we accept that standard of restriction, how can we then argue that promoting a presidential candidate as a featured speaker should be allowed? If accepted, churches could easily use it to indirectly endorse a candidate without expressly stating their support.

To win, the UCC will have to challenge the rules themselves since elements of the allegation are factually true: The UCC did promote Obama as a Presidential candidate on its web site, Obama made references to it in his speech and there was clear political activity outside the Hartford Civic Center. They could argue that the spirit of the IRS rules are to prohibit churches from endorsing a candidate and the UCC went to great lengths not to endorse a candidate.

They could also argue that there are degrees of guilt that should be considered: Obama was not a candidate for office when invited, Obama only slipped twice in his speech in reference to his candidacy and that volunteers were campaigning outside the Civic Center and could not be controlled by the UCC.

If the UCC is successful, an important precedent would be set which would allow candidates to give speeches as promoted candidates in churches with campaigners just outside the door. While this would be an immediate victory for the UCC, it would also be a victory for conservative churches that have made a science out of campaign intervention - a prospect that would not be welcome by UCC leaders. Anybody want to take bets on how long it will take conservative churches to back the UCC?

So what will happen?

To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, March 04, 2008

3 Comments:

very well said!
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:13 PM  
Especially an interesting time with Obama's camp requesting Hillary's tax docs

couldn't be better said...we'll see ;)
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 6:00 PM  
Our pastor atttended the conference in Hartford. He noted that in addition to Sen. Obama, speakers included Lynne Redgrave and Bill Moyers. He noted the Senator’s remarks did not concern politics.

He did state there were some campaign tables but they were well outside the conference facilities and were on public sidewalks.

This would all seem to be well outside the IRS scrutiny.

As tax time does draw near for many Americans, these controversies are also reminiscent of Christ's Tax Return itself as noted by that First Century CPA Saint Matthew, in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew 17:24-27 .

'... "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes - ”from their own sons or from others?"

"From others," Peter answered.'

Peter and Jesus had to go fishing for their tax money.

Maybe this time it is the IRS which has nothing to do but fish.

:-)
commented by Blogger Robert, 9:05 PM  

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