Archive for Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Pastors schooled in how to preach politics

July 14, 2004

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— Preaching politics from the church pulpit is OK but it is probably better not to name names.

That was the advice today from experts on federal law concerning the mixture of politics and tax-exempt religious organizations.

A panel featuring Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, U.S. Attorney for Kansas Eric Melgren and Tom Miller, an expert on charitable organzations for the IRS, spoke on the issue at Johnson County Community College.

About 100 people, including clergy and political activists, attended the forum.

Kline said the panel discussion was needed to clear the air after several weeks of bickering between conservative pastors, who have vowed to energize their congregations into voting against candidates who didn't support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and groups advocating separation of church and state.

"We want to eliminate the cloud of confusion," Kline said, adding that he thought that the confusion was producing a "chilling effect" on some churches.

Kline and other panel members said religious organizations were free to discuss politics and current issues.

But Melgren and Miller said houses of worship that enjoy tax-exempt status should not endorse candidates, nor engage in partisan politics.

Pastor Scott Hanks of the Heritage Baptist Church in Lawrence, who has preached against same-sex marriage, said he thought the panel discussion was informative.

"I think there was a fear on the part of some of what pastors can and cannot do," he said.

He said he had not violated any of the restrictions discussed by the panel. "I tell my church, they should not be voting for a candidate based on money, but on morality. I don't care if the person is Republican or Democrat," Hanks said.

Caroline McKnight, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition, which has announced it will monitor certain churches to make sure they are abiding by IRS rules, said she thought the panel discussion was educational.

"Clergy have absolute freedom when talking about an issue," McKnight said. "But the rules become more restrictive when the clergy wants to connect with a party or a candidate."

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