The big question is should denominations that have billions of dollars of investments, millions of dollars of annual income from the interest off those investments, and largely political agendas, be tax exempt?
If the PCUSA were to lose its 501c3 Federal Tax Exempt status (a scenario that is highly improbable) what impact would that have on its mission? What would the trickle down effect be on the congregations? For those congregations whose tax exempt status is piggy-backed on the denomination, would people stop giving to the church just because they no longer received a tax benefit? If so, what does that say about the genuine “religious” motivation of those donors? I suspect these are the larger questions we ought to be considering as religious liberty finds its definition increasingly constricted in our evermore “freedom from religion” culture.
The issue in this complaint is ultimately a question of whether or not religious groups, who want to engage freely and fully in partisan political advocacy, should be tax exempt. Asked another way, if the PCUSA wants to spend itself primarily on political issues then should it not simply render its 501c3 status and free itself from the kind of accusations being leveled against it?
But that’s the not question being asked by most people. Neither is the first question being raised about the substance or veracity of the accusations. The first query is about the organization that filed the complaint. So, is this just a frivolous lawsuit or is there merit to the accusations?
Is the complaint frivolous?
The meetings referred to in the complaint between representatives of the PCUSA and the terrorist organization Hezbollah took place in 2004 and 2005. Two Presbyterian staff members were subsequently fired. End of story, right? Wrong. One of those two people, Kathy Leukert, lost a prominent position at the denomination’s headquarters but landed in another denominational post as the stated clerk of Seattle Presbytery. She also served on a national denominational special committee from 2010-2014.
But it’s not just a meeting with Hezbollah nine years ago about which questions are being raised.
The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly continually issues biased statements on Israel-Palestine. Even when he is speaking “for” Israel, he tends to mention their “illegal” occupation or something similar. On July 16, 2014 in a statement on the crisis in Gaza, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said:
“… is particular chain of events, another tragic evidence of the impact of the illegal Israeli occupation, began with the unjustifiable murder of three Israeli youth by Palestinians, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel. The Israeli Military unjustifiably killed five Palestinians in pursuit of their murderers, Mustafa Hosni Aslan, Mahmoud Jihad Muhammad Dudeen, Ahmad Famawi, Ahmad Said Suod Khalid, and Mahmoud Ismail Atallah Tarifi. Then Mohammad Abu Khedair was abducted and murdered by Jewish citizens of Israel. In the wake of these terrible events, Hamas rockets have been indiscriminately fired, and Israeli Defense Forces have used overwhelming force.”
The Stated Clerk then lists the names of another 174 Palestinians “as victims of this violence …” but never lists the names of the Israelis killed in the conflict. Does that reveal a bias toward one side? This from the elected leader of a denomination whose official position remains a peaceful two-state solution?
The November 13, 2012 “Statement on the Escalating Violence in and around Gaza” issued by the Stated Clerk was similarly inflammatory. Therein he says,
“… Our General Assemblies have called over and over again for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, with its daily humiliation of Palestinian citizens and continual encroachment on Palestinian territory. It should be clear to anyone with eyes to see, that the occupation, with its oppression of the Palestinian population, is a form of systemic violence which remains a barrier to peace which must be removed….”
The PCUSA Israel-Palestine Mission Network
Denominational leadership continually tries to distance itself from the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) which published the offensive “Zionism Unsettled” study guide but it cannot escape the fact that the IPMN was formed by an action of the General Assembly. Nor can it deny that the expressly anti-Semitic document continues to be promoted as “Presbyterian.”
Denominational lobbyists in Washington
The ongoing lop-sided advocacy by the denomination’s Office of Public Witness in Washington is evident in the fall 2014 publication of “Advocacy as Discipleship, Holy Discontent: Boycott!.”
Official Social Witness Policy
The Presbyterian Mission Agency employee who serves as the Coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) is Chris Iosso. He also serves as the editor of the denomination’s official publication, Unbound. In a 2012 issue Iosso’s particular political position in relationship to Israel/Palestine are made clear.
Then there’s the whole issue of the action taken by the General Assembly of the PCUSA in June 2014 to “divest” from holdings in three corporations (Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard) for what the PCUSA categorizes as “non peaceful” pursuits. That action of the General Assembly in 2014 was the culmination of an internal 12 year process (called Mission Responsibility Through Investment, MRTI). Many argue that the Assembly’s divestment action was co-opted by the larger Boycott/Divest/Sanction (BDS) movement when, in fact, aligning with BDS was not the intent of the Assembly. The Moderator the General Assembly made efforts to clarify and parse those details following the Assembly. The overwhelming perception remains that “Presbyterians” have divested from Israel. That is not true but it is also not wholly false.
What can be demonstrated is that the MRTI process chose a singular focus on the end use of products by Israel. That, it can be argued, reveals a deep bias. Why did the process not look at the end use of products by easily identifiable oppressive regimes and genuinely hostile nations? Why single out Israel? Those are the kinds of questions that remain unanswered.
So, are the allegations true?
Truth. This is where relativism and its 50 shades of grey cause us such trouble. We live in a culture that desperately wants to allow each person to have their own independent take on “truth” and yet, truth is either true or truth isn’t truth at all.
In the matter of the PCUSA and its political advocacy, the assessment depends on perspective. The denomination will point to its official statements (espoused theology) and those making the allegations will point to the actual actions (theology in practice). Others will argue that the political advocacy of the denomination is but a tiny fraction of the denomination’s mission.
One broader question that might be mulled is how one ought to distinguish between the rightful (and needful) influence of the Church in the politics as a part of its social witness and the progressive political advocacy machines that some denominations have become. I do not personally think that the IRS makes the best arbiter of that debate but the conversation needs to be had and this is certainly one way to get people talking.
Update: (12/18/14) What does the IRS say about compliance for 501c3’s?
Carmen, thanks for giving us the timeline on the Hezbollah meeting, given everything coming out louisville lately it does’nt make me feel any better. Though two people were fired, it does’nt seem that the people in louisville learned very much. All you can say is Gradye Parsons is Clifton Kirkpatrick on steroids.
The stated clerk has one job, and that’s bean counter, in our case, it’s to count the people going out and the money coming in.
Going back to the American Revolution, Presbyterianism and clergy were involved, and in some cases in the forefront of political activity in support of armed conflict with the British. Leading up to the Civil War in the 1840/50’s sermons from both North and Southern pulpits had inflammatory language and fire that would cause people to blush even in this hyper-partisan age.
The problem now in the PCUSA is a matter of farness and balance in its advocacy. And its over the top anti-Semitism in its public statements. In essence the PCUSA is now the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic party at prayer. In my own Presbytery the public mission witness policy and agenda now cannot be separated from the progressive causes of the Democratic congressional campaign committee.
And yes at any day and age when the church cannot be separated from the secular political state in many of its overt and visible behaviors, then yes, it has departed the Body of Christ and entered into the murky world of politics and banality.
First of all the complainant does not have standing to challenge the tax status.
Second, the PCUSA does not have billions invested
Third, the church has taken moral standards on issues slavery, civil rights, and other issues and has never been challenged.
Note the Catholic Council of Bishops has taken many political stands and never been challenged. This is not a well researched diatribe.
“The big question is should denominations that have billions of dollars of investments”
Country pastor you notice that that word “denominations” is plural, which means many different ones, not just PCUSA.
As I have been mentioning, the pcusa is no longer a church, and should not be tax exempt. The pcusa lost its status as a church in 1929, 1967 and 2014. More could be written, but I think the high informational people know what I mean.
Politics may be a central theme. It could be a moving target, hard to prove.
Not so hard to prove are the violations of the Word, scripture, the rules of the Bible.
How can a minority work themselves into a position, then start changing rules, some of
which are thousands of years old, then say, “If you don’t like it, leave!”
It is a testimony to the lack of integrity of the congregations that they are allowing them
to get away with it.
The UCC had their tax exempt status challenged several years ago and did not lose it, so I doubt that the PCUSA will either. It’s quite clear that these organizations are far more political in nature than Christian.
1. The complaint was filed – I was seeking to fill in some of the gaps in the secular reporting of the filing.
2. The PCUSA investments include those managed by the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions. All told, more than $10 billion in managed accounts.
The General Assembly no funding through the Board of Pensions. Those investments are managed for the benefit of Plan members.
The General Assembly receives many millions of dollars of income annually generated from the investments of the Presbyterian Foundation. According to the Foundation’s 2013 Annual report (http://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/report/#demo4) the PMA received 33% of the $55.9 million distributed by the Foundation. That’s about $18.5 million in one calendar year.
In terms of the specifics that I imagine that the pro-Israel group that filed the complaint are pointing to examples like this: a fund that is managed by Just Money Advisors for the express purpose of advocating for Divestment: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/6/3/presbyterian-peace-fellowship-reaches-150000-occup/
3. I agree 100% that the Church is called to take more stands. The goal was to get people talking about the larger issues and the bigger picture. The U.S. Tax Code is being actively re-written. While I agree that Christian churches make a significant social impact and that the participation of convictional Christians throughout every arena of public life is essential to the continuation of a free and democratic nation, I also understand that a growing percentage of the American population does not see that social contribution as rising to the level of “tax free” status. Its a question we each and all need to be prepared to answer – nondefensively.
Churches are entitled to tax exemption under the First Amendment, it has nothing to do with the tax code. Churches were considered tax exempt before 501(c)(3) became law. As a practical illustration of that, nonprofits are required to file an application to have their tax-exempt status approved by the IRS. Churches are granted the status automatically. Unfortunately, over the years churches have been brainwashed into believing their tax status is a gift of the government, rather than a guaranty provided by the Constitution.
This is definitely a trifling and frivolous law suit that is destined only to line the pockets of unscrupulous lawyers. It reflects an internal polemic, and taking the church to court over such a matter is anti-biblical.
That being said, the Gospel is by definition political. So if a secular government wants to buy the silence of the Church with a conditional Tax Exempt status, then the Church should voluntarily decline the Tax benefit, and free itself to follow its Lord and Master Jesus Christ. All Denominations should make themselves free to follow where the Spirit leads, with no concern for what the IRS thinks they can or cannot say or do.
**That being said, the Gospel is by definition political. ** Really????
So is being Born again by the Spirit of God political?? Is John 3:16 Political??? Is Matthew 28:18-20 political??? What do you mean by political??? I do not see where a political party or philosophy Promises eternal life other than what is taught in The Holy Bible. Tell me please.
Political: “of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
“a period of political and economic stability”
synonyms: governmental, government, constitutional, ministerial, parliamentary, diplomatic, legislative, administrative, bureaucratic;
The Gospel is the Good News about the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Everyone who wants to choose to live by the rules of the Kingdom of God makes a political decision regarding which government they are loyal to, and who is the Lord of their lives. It is a political decision by definition.
Now you tell me: What “nation” to you belong to? What does it mean to give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God?
Thank you for posting the IRS guidelines. It should be pretty clear that they are a sword that cuts in both directions. Any faction that thinks they can sue the Church should remember that folks who live is glass houses should not throw rocks.
Nevertheless, the guidelines present an unacceptable muzzle on the Church’s freedom and obligation to speak Truth to power, and if the price for that freedom is not being exempt from income taxes, then it’s a price well worth paying. The Church has weathered worse forms of persecution.
**Political: “of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
“a period of political and economic stability”
synonyms: governmental, government, constitutional, ministerial, parliamentary, diplomatic, legislative, administrative, bureaucratic;**
The Gospel of Christ has not yet set up Christ’s physical kingdom from Jerusalem on earth for 1000 years, literal. What we have now is a spiritual kingdom which is awaiting a physical presence when Christ rules from Jerusalem for again, 1000 years, literally. His kingdom will be ruled with sin to be dealt with swiftly.
The politics of the world is corrupted as we can see by the 2 party system of the USA, called the Demopublicans and Republocrats, and both are political parties??
More like carnival side shows than politics.
Aside from the fact that is not what Jesus said about the Kingdom, which Kingdom do you serve?
I agree with much what Clerk Gradye Parsons said.