As reported here in TAS last September, a complaint was filed with the IRS over an appearance by Senator Barack Obama at the United Church of Christ's bi-annual General Synod last June. Today comes the news from the UCC that the denomination has been formally notified by the IRS this week that it is now under investigation for allowing Obama-as-candidate to speak. The investigation poses a direct threat to the denomination's tax-free status. This is a separate issue entirely from the cloud of controversy surrounding Obama's individual church, Trinity UCC in Chicago, and Trinity's minister the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This issue involves a decision by the denomination leadership under the Rev. John Thomas to go ahead with the invitation to Obama, a UCC member, which was extended before he announced his candidacy. This even after Obama was very much a declared candidate.
The obvious answer that would have avoided IRS scrutiny was to either disinvite Obama or extend the same opportunity to his fellow presidential candidates. The church refused to do either, quickly setting itself up for a complaint. Contrary to the claims of his campaign this morning that Obama's UCC speech was about his "personal spiritual journey," the speech was replete with suggestions of what Obama would do as president, a direct violation of IRS guidelines. Portions of redacted documents and photographs filed with the IRS and obtained by UCC Truths, a growing online gathering place for dissenters to the UCC's rigidly left-wing orthodoxy, charge a multiple series of violations of IRS guidelines.
What is also notable here is that these allegations were dismissed out of hand by the Rev. Barry Lynn when the complaint was filed. Lynn is the head of the famously insistent Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Lynn has made a career of going after alleged violations by conservative churches. "Complaints to the IRS are not lodged on a whim," said Lynn contemptuously at the time the complaint against the UCC was filed. Wonder of wonders, Lynn is a UCC minister. Once it was his own denomination having its ox gored, Lynn took an entirely different approach. You just can't make this stuff up.
Needless to say, with Obama on the verge of actually winning the nomination, a whole lot of attention to this incident is forthcoming. Today's story has been on Drudge and plenty of other places as well. As a UCC member myself who serves on my local church council as president, I know that there is a vast gulf between the church's left-wing leadership at the very top and the many rank and file members who are in fact conservatives. This moment is sad -- and deeply unnecessary. The fault here belongs to Thomas -- and to Obama himself, who willfully used his church with reckless disregard for the consequences. Both men should be ashamed.
UPDATE: United Church of Christ President the Rev. John Thomas has now sent a mailing to church members asking for contributions to a newly established legal fund to defend against an IRS investigation into whether the church improperly aided the campaign of Senator Obama. Thomas says the cost could be in the six figures. Stay tuned!
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