So what exactly did a priest say to get a Pasadena church in trouble with the IRS?
The federal agency has launched an investigation into the activities of All Saints Episcopal Church, asking whether a sermon by a former rector before the 2004 presidential campaign constituted campaigning. As tax-exempt organizations, churches are barred from campaigning for candidates.
The sermon, delivered Oct. 31, 2004, by the Rev. George F. Regas, was framed as a debate involving Jesus, President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
In September, the church announced that it would not comply with an IRS summons demanding that All Saints turn over materials with political references, such as sermons and newsletters, produced during the 2004 election year. The current rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, did not obey a summons that ordered him to testify before IRS investigators.
The church continues to set a defiant tone. On Sunday, All Saints will sponsor a conference called “The War, the Pulpit and the Right to Preach.” It will include workshops on conflict resolution, tax law and “Prophetic Traditions and Free Speech.” Regas and Bacon are scheduled to speak.
But did Regas’ speech violate federal laws? The answer, mostly likely to come from the courts, hinges on how one defines campaigning and interprets his remarks.
An extended excerpt from the sermon appears below. It represents about a third of the text. The complete address can be found at www.latimes.com/beliefs.
-- Steve Padilla
Good people of profound faith will be for either George Bush or John Kerry for reasons deeply rooted in their faith. I want you to hear me on this. Yet I want to say as clearly as I can how I see Jesus impacting your vote and mine. Both Sen. Kerry and President Bush are devout Christians -- one a Roman Catholic and the other a Methodist.
Against the teachings of Jesus, listen in as Kerry and Bush debate three hugely important issues this morning: ending war and violence, eliminating poverty and holding tenaciously to hope.
Sen. Kerry and President Bush are engaged in a titanic battle for the White House. Central to their race for the presidency is the quest for peace. How deeply the world longs for peace. President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism.
Yet I believe Jesus would say to Bush and Kerry: “War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.
“More than 1,100 U.S. soldiers dead, 8,000 wounded -- some disabled for life -- and now the latest figures say 100,000 Iraqi fighters, women and children are dead. Oh, the cost of your war.
“Your fundamental premise for the massive violence of this war is that it is the proper response to the terrorist attack that took place Sept. 11, 2001. But remember: The killing of innocent people to achieve some desired goal is morally repudiated by anyone claiming to follow me as their savior and guide.”
Jesus, looking at the United States, the most powerful nation in the history of civilization, disavows any path that affirms grief must lead to war; Jesus refuses to accept the violence of war as the necessary consequences of our tragic losses on Sept. 11.
Maybe you are calling Jesus naive, but he points us to the truest reality in the universe: “Mercy brings mercy and revenge brings revenge. Tragically, your world refuses to learn this truth even after so many bitter experiences in every part of the world. Mercy brings mercy. Revenge brings revenge.”
How Jesus mourns the deaths of those 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11. But Jesus also mourns the death, devastation and loss in Afghanistan and Iraq and Sudan and Israel/Palestine and in so many other parts of the world. They too are part of God’s precious human family.
Jesus would say to us: “Yes, mourn the deaths of those closest to you who have died; yet it is troublesome that you in America could get so caught up in the tragedy of Sept. 11 without ever noticing all my children who have been blown apart by this war, and the 30,000 children under 5 years of age across the globe who die every day of malnutrition and hunger. My heart can hardly bear it.”
Jesus confronts both Sen. Kerry and President Bush: “I will tell you what I think of your war. The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby.
“God loathes war. At the time of the trauma of Sept. 11 you did not have to declare war. You could have said to the American people and the world: ‘We will respond but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor.’ ”
Jesus continues: “Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster. It will take years for the widely felt hostility in Iraq and around the world to ebb. The consequences of arrogance, accompanied by certitude that the world’s most powerful military can cure all ills, should be burned into America’s memory forever.
“President Bush, Sen. Kerry, will you save us from all this suffering? But God’s only hands are yours and all who call upon my name. In the midst of great suffering, I call out to you: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ ”
Jesus turns to President Bush again with deep sadness. “Is what I hear really true? Do you really mean that you want to end a decade-old ban on developing nuclear battlefield weapons, as well as endorsing the creation of a nuclear ‘bunker-blaster’ bomb? Are you really going to resume nuclear testing? That is sheer insanity.
“This only encourages nations to build their nuclear arsenal in defense against you. This is morally indefensible.”
Jesus grows more insistent. “The development of battlefield nuclear weapons and threatening their use against ‘rogue’ nations and willing to strike first is a dangerous change of policy. Talk of winnable nuclear war is the greatest illusion. I am indignant when I hear people in your government saying a nuclear war could end for anyone as a victory.”
Everything I know about Jesus would have him uttering those words. From my own study, prayer, reflection and dialogue, I say that nuclear war is the enemy. Anyone who can avoid seeing the horror of that has lost his soul. The political reality that nuclear war still remains an option for America and other countries is the paramount horror of modern existence.
The nuclear bomb is the most outright evil thing that human beings ever created.
What does it say about the moral values of a nation that puts its security in nuclear weapons that are morally outrageous? I believe that Jesus calls us to be nuclear abolitionists through the political process. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
When you go to the polls on Nov. 2, vote all your values. Jesus places on your heart this question: Who is to be trusted as the world’s chief peacemaker?