Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Churches, Politics, and the IRS -- Focus on the Family Comes to Minnesota

In today's Star Tribune, there is an article http://www.startribune.com/587/story/717177.html
about a state senate race in Austin, MN and the candidates vying for the seat. One is a theologically conservative minister Rev. George Marin (aka "Pastor G"). He's the Republican challenger who plays and signs hymns at nursing homes and prays with voters in their driveways on the campaign trail--unconventional, but not illegal. Here's some excerpts from the article and you can draw your own conclusions on whether we are becoming an American Theoracy here in the USA!

The DFL incumbent, Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin, is targeted by Christian conservatives for helping block a vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Marin's campaign coincides with a push by a prominent Christian group urging evangelical pastors in Minnesota and seven other states to register their congregants and guide them in voting. The Colorado-based Focus on the Family and allied groups explained their strategy recently to more than 100 pastors and their spouses at a conference in Arden Hills.
"There's a lot teed up to inform you and your congregations about where candidates stand ... so that you and your people can apply biblical criteria to evaluate candidates and make wise biblical choices about how to vote in November," John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, told the gathering. Leaders of the movement say it is nonpartisan. But opponents argue that Focus is a thinly veiled political machine for Republicans, and warn that churches risk their tax-exempt status if they engage in partisan politics.

The movement has targeted other DFL senators in competitive districts, including Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar.

At the Arden Hills conference, the pastors were told how they could participate in politics without jeopardizing their churches' tax-exempt status. They can endorse a candidate, but can't do so on behalf of their churches. The IRS says churches can't campaign for or against a candidate but "can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena."

One of the ministers attending this conference stated:
"I suspect many people in the congregation know my convictions -- I support candidates who stand for righteousness. I don't think it would be too hard for people to connect the dots." He expects area churches to hand out voter registration cards and voter guides describing Sparks' and Marin's positions on the same-sex marriage amendment proposal.

Dan Hofrenning, a political science professor at St. Olaf College who specializes in the politics of clergy, said "some of these evangelical churches are fairly homogenous politically, and so if you're doing a voter registration drive, the net effect is to help one candidate more than the other."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced last month that it will mail letters to all churches in Minnesota and other states targeted by Focus on the Family, warning that partisan political campaigns could jeopardize their tax exemptions.

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