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Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign’s director of religious affairs, said the senator’s Synod speech on Saturday will be his first major address on faith and politics as a presidential candidate. The address, DuBois said, will combine personal details about Obama’s religious experiences with prescriptions for how religious Americans might put their faith into action. It will also focus on “the growing movement of people of faith” from a variety of traditions, “coming together around our connections as a people and using those connections to address our common challenges,” DuBois said.br> The UCC, filled to the brim with obliging liberal staffers, took its cue and obediently headed this announcement on its website of your impending appearance thusly: “Obama’s Synod speech will be his ‘first major address on faith and politics as presidential candidate.’”
Shaun Casey, an adviser to the Obama campaign and a professor of ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., said he expects the address to be “as detailed an account of how a person’s faith shapes his policies as I have seen from any presidential candidate.”
UNSURPRISINGLY, ALL OF THIS resulted in a complaint being filed with the IRS following your presentation. In addition to your speech and the stories featured by the UCC’s own website, the complaint cites numerous media accounts describing your appearance as a campaign event. This is bolstered by photographs of volunteers manning Obama campaign tables at the entrance to the Civic Center, volunteers who were then ushered inside for the oldest of campaign rituals — a photo op with the candidate.
As a direct result of your actions, this last week the UCC — our mutual denomination — has now been notified officially by the IRS that it is under investigation.
Our national church suddenly stands in danger of losing its tax exempt status — because of you. Do you have any idea what losing our tax-exempt status could mean to a church like mine here in Pennsylvania if in fact we are tagged financially for federal, state and local taxes? I’ll tell you: this means choices about paying the heat bill versus the tax bill, paying the light bill versus the tax bill, paying for any number of church activities targeted at needy community or church members versus the tax bill and so on. Even more to the point, the president of the UCC, the Reverend John Thomas, has been abruptly forced to appeal to all of the UCC’s members for urgent financial help because of what you have done, informing us that “we will need to secure expert legal counsel, and the cost of this defense, we are told, could approach or exceed six figures.”
Exceeding six figures, of course, means we’re talking over a million dollars. A million dollars to cover for your personal mistake. Of which the UCC has so far managed to raise a paltry $43,847.37 in a special “UCC Legal Fund” as this is written.
You make much about America’s presumed inability to sustain the financial costs of the Iraq War. There is no way, by the admission of Reverend Thomas himself, that the United Church of Christ can sustain the financial costs of your decision to pitch your presidential campaign to the General Synod in violation of the LBJ law without doing serious damage to the most vulnerable in our society. Way down here on the bottom, if my church has to come up with the bucks to pay taxes as well as meet our basic obligations — well, sorry. No can do. You have put the life of every small and struggling UCC church in America — and perhaps some well-to-do ones as well — in danger. This at a time when UCC churches such as the Old First Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, founded in 1637, and St. Paul’s in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania are forced to close their doors, in part because they simply can’t afford the costs of keeping their doors open.
If members do not give to this newly-established-for-the-purpose “UCC Legal Fund,” the Reverend Thomas warns us darkly, there will also be an “impact” on the national church’s office of Our Church’s Wider Mission. Impact? What kind of impact? OCWM, as you well know, is the division of our church that is charged with support of missionaries, disaster preparedness, ministries to the disabled, scholarships and grants, child sponsorship and refugee resettlement, to name but a few of its functions.
The “impact” that Reverend Thomas is warning about is very easy to understand. Because of your decision to proceed with your appearance at the General Synod, on top of the effect on churches like mine, funds dedicated to the likes of missionaries, the disabled and children will have to be cut unless the rest of us pony-up to pay a six-to-seven figure legal bill to deal with this IRS investigation.
Frankly, Senator, this is shameful. You are a United States Senator. A potential President of the United States. You are conducting a campaign making judgment an issue — and this was exactly an issue of judgment and understanding. You of all people should have understood that your appearance in Hartford once you were an announced candidate for president would cause the UCC severe problems with the IRS. As someone who has worked for a president myself, I certainly knew this and said so in print at the time. This wasn’t — and isn’t — rocket science. Many others understood the fact that your appearance could attract unfavorable attention from the IRS, discussing this on the website UCC Truths, a site dedicated to seeing that dissenting UCC members have a voice in our church.
The UCC, by the way, maintains a list of almost 30 UCC-related websites on its UCC funded UCC News “Blog Roll.” Interestingly, the UCC administrator has barred UCC Truths from this Blog Roll, a blatant contradiction of the UCC’s indignant cries about freedom of speech. Did I mention that this administrator, an ordained UCC minister, has acknowledged that he is an Obama campaign worker? Specifically a writer for the People of Faith for Barack? Which means that the UCC is apparently allowing someone officially connected with your campaign to use his position as the church’s official blog administrator for UCC News to keep a church-related website critical of you off the church’s Blog Roll. Quite aside from being the very image of a conflict-of-interest and raising issues of censorship and a lack of diversity, this is what comes under the rubric of an “in-kind contribution” from the UCC to your campaign. Again. What does it take for everyone concerned to understand that the IRS is investigating precisely this kind of linkage between your campaign and the UCC?
THE FACT THAT YOU WENT AHEAD with your Hartford appearance says one of two things: you didn’t know this most basic fact of IRS procedure under the LBJ law that a great many other people knew, something astonishing for a one-time president of the Harvard Law Review (not to mention a sitting U.S. Senator) or, more troubling if true, that you did in fact know but decided to simply appear anyway, consequences to the needy recipients of OCWM’s charities and churches like mine be damned. If the first is correct, at a minimum it hints at an unsettling lack of intellectual curiosity that has directly resulted in serious consequences for our church. If the second is true it gives the disturbing illustration of a chilling arrogance of power and callousness towards both those dependent on OCWM’s good works as well as struggling UCC churches everywhere, both on your part and, yes, on the part of our church leadership.
Certainly the UCC’s leadership, beginning with the Reverend Thomas himself, also bears a considerable portion of the blame for this turn of events. It boggles the mind that a national leader of this very old and very treasured institution of faith that traces its roots to the earliest beginnings of America would so cavalierly risk its mission, finances, local churches and above all our reputation simply to indulge his personal passion for the extremism of far-left wing politics. Yet this is precisely what has been done. The fact that a member of your campaign staff serves as the church’s official blog administrator and is keeping a UCC-related site critical of you off its Blog Roll underscores a stunning inability by both church officials and your campaign to realize the seriousness of an IRS investigation for our church even now.
Be that as it may, we are where we are. While I am in fact both a member of my local church Council, and serve as president of the Council, I must emphasize I am speaking here only as an individual member of the UCC. So let me put this as plainly as I can.
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