Obama, the IRS and the United Church of Christ, part 1

Posted by Bushel Basket in ,

The Internal Revenue Service has launched an investigation into the United Church of Christ. The investigation was launched last month in response to Barack Obama speaking at the General Synod of the U.C.C. in June of 2007. You can read the UCC news release here. This is the first time the IRS has chosen to investigate an entire denomination for alleged infringement of tax-exempt statutes.

I have not yet had a chance to plow through all of the information that is out there regarding this issue, so I reserve the right to be flat out wrong. That being said, I do find it curious that it took 9 months for this complaint to make it's way through the system and hit the wire in the middle of the Democratic primary season, and most likely go into hearings during the Presidential campaigns later this year. I also find it curious that the IRS hadn't even approached the UCC for any information before announcing their investigation, which goes against the way they have run previous investigations. Working for a UCC seminary, this is obviously talked about a good deal, and what I find most amazing is how little the IRS has to go off of.

There is no denying that the UCC is a politically active and astute denomination. They and their predecessor denominations have been active in social and political causes throughout the history of the United States, and have been involved in the end of slavery, women's right to vote, gay rights, and economic justice for all. They know what they are doing. As you read through their press releases, and as I've talked to people that were at the General Synod meeting last year, it was clear how they made it clear that this was not a political event, but a religious one. From their news release, "Before Obama spoke to the national gathering of 10,000 UCC members, Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey, who serves as administrator of the biennial General Synod, admonished the crowd that Obama's appearance was not to be a campaign-related event and that electioneering would not be tolerated. No political leaflets, signs or placards were allowed, and activity by the Obama campaign was barred from inside the Hartford Civic Center venue." Obama is a 20 year member of the UCC, and he was there, as were 60 other presenters to talk about how his faith has influenced what he does in his career. I don't want to spend my time talking about how biased this investigation is, or how many politicians have made important speeches to religious groups, including Presidents Reagan and Kennedy, and within this campaign cycle Clinton, McCain, Huckabee, and more have all spoken in front of religious groups.

Yet, it is the UCC that is investigated, for having it's own member speak during the national meeting. Many skeptics have said that if the UCC hasn't done anything wrong, they shouldn't fear an investigation. On the face of it, I'd agree with them. But it isn't fear that's the problem. The problem is the intimidation this may cause and the blatant selectiveness of the investigation. The government has not investigated Oral Roberts University after they had McCain give a speech. Seems similar to me, and McCain isn't even affiliated with the university. An investigation like this will take months and will take focus away from the goals and the mission of the UCC. While the UCC started fund raising for a legal defense, luckily the WilmerHale law firm has agreed to represent the UCC pro-bono, and their team will be lead by a former Solicitor General of the US, Seth Waxman. Yet, I can't help but think that it's more than convinient that one of the most progressive Christian denominations, one that can offer an alternative to the pervasive conservative Christian agenda, now has something else to occupy their time.

In a future blog post, I hope to reflect more on why the UCC asked Obama to speak, namely the intersection of faith and politics. Check back soon.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 9, 2008 at Sunday, March 09, 2008 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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