An Open Letter to America's Pastors

Say What You Will, But Pay Your Own Way

By Brother Sam

I’m writing this on Friday, September 25, 221 years to the day from the First Amendment’s passage by Congress. That same amendment not only proscribes the government from telling preachers what they can say from behind the pulpit, but also prohibits the establishment of an official state religion. (Note to theists: If there's ever a state religion, it probably won’t be the one you have in mind.)

This Sunday, right-wing pastors across the country, having been in close communication with the Heavenly Hosts, will confer god’s own endorsement on John “the Baptist” McCain and renounce Barack Obama as an agent of the devil. No shit. They’re gonna do that. And Brother Sam says God bless ‘em. They have every right to say any stupid shit they like. And what they do in the privacy of their own loony bins is their own business, so long as it’s all between consenting adults and they leave the children out of it.

It’s time for churches to render up. Let’s have no more talk of what you can or can’t say from the pulpit.The catch is, that in so doing they’ll be flouting the law. Now, normally these guys have a stiffy for the law. Since I was a child I’ve heard Matthew 22, “Render unto Caesar—” repeated endlessly, a catch-all command to obey the law of the land.

“Why is it a sin to use marijuana?”

“Because it’s against the law. Render unto Caesar.”

I’ve always asked, what happens when the law of the land conflicts with god's law? Not surprisingly, in cases like that, the law of the land gets trumped like an ace of hearts by a two of spades. Turns out preachers, being tight with God, know exactly which laws to blow off.

The particular law they mean to flagrantly disobey Sunday goes back to 1954, when Eisenhower (Republican, Kansas) was president and Congress barred tax exempt nonprofits from certain kinds of political activity. The First Amendment was beside the point, since the law’s clear purpose was simply to protect tax-payers from having to involuntarily subsidize political activities and candidates they didn't agree with. Nobody was saying that pastors weren’t free to endorse Lester Maddox or Orval Faubus; they just couldn’t count on their neighbors to pay their portion of the national tab while they did it, least of all the victims of the outrages perpetrated by and at the behest of the likes the above two obscenities along with George Wallace and their churchgoing enablers. That law, now IRC 501(c)(3), was strengthened during the Reagan (Republican, California) Administration. And unlike most of the tax code, it’s so simple that any third grader or Pentecostal can plainly see that it doesn’t put ‘ary a restriction on what anybody can say. You can be a political organization and say anything you like, and pay taxes like everybody else, or you can be a church and weasel out of paying your fair share of taxes, and agree to not carry on like a political organization.

Obviously, a setup like this invites crooks like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Jr. to front their political organizations as churches and thus shift their own financial responsibilities to their fellow citizens whether or not said citizens want to take them on. And that, to quote Tom Joad, is wronger’n hell.

So, this Sunday, the church rafters will ring with shouts of “Praise John the Baptist,” and “Damn Barack Obama,” as God's Goons set their atrophied little brains to forcing the government’s (that’d be your and my) hand. God assures them that if they'll fabricate a test case, the law firm of Scalia, Thomas and Roberts will take it from there. The tax code will be recast in their image and the rest of us will get to chip in on the care and feeding of likes of Rev. Wiley S. Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., who said of his planned sermon-cum-hate-filled-harangue, "I'm going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him." (see LA Times, September 25, 2008)

It’s time for churches to render up. Let’s have no more talk of what you can or can’t say from the pulpit. I do not care. Go ahead. Say anything. Just pay your taxes.

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