How come churches on both sides of the issues were so active in
last year's elections? How can they maintain their tax-exempt status
if they're preaching about politics? Is it true that religious
freedoms are under threat in the current political climate?
You've got questions, the Minnesota chapter of Americans United
for Separation of Church and State has answers. The group, a
relative newcomer here, is sponsoring three appearances this weekend
by the Rev. Steven Baines, director of religious outreach for its
national parent organization. An ordained Southern Baptist minister,
Baines has a passion for the intersection of politics and religion
and for issues involving the separation of church and state.
On Saturday, April 27, from 3 to 5 p.m. Baines will appear at the
Southdale Public Library, 7001 York Ave. S., Edina. His talk is
entitled, "Are You Seeing Double? The Blurring of Religion and
Politics in America."
On Sunday he will talk about "The Perils of Politicized Pulpits"
at 9:30 a.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900
Mount Curve Ave., Minneapolis. From 4 to 6 p.m. he will participate
in conversations with local faith leaders at SpringHouse Ministry
Center, 610 W. 28th St., Minneapolis.
All three events are free and open to the public. RSVPs are
requested for the Sunday afternoon event to firstname.lastname@example.org or
to 612-547-MNAU (6628).
Baines took a little time off from preparing to preview his
remarks for MinnPost readers. What follows is an edited version of
MinnPost: Over the last couple of years churches have been quite
active in politics, both in Minnesota and elsewhere. Are you seeing
an uptick? What do you think of this?
The Rev. Steven Baines: There was a myth going around in the
early 2000s that the religious right was dead. We at Americans
United said, "They're not dead. They are just regrouping. They're
trying to figure out their next angle and their next organizing
And lo and behold, after [President Barack] Obama was elected the
Tea Party came to be, and while the Tea Party had its grassroots
movement in working against the health-care policy and tax laws, it
was quickly co-opted by the forces of the religious right. Many
believe -- and the Public Religion Research Institute has borne this
out -- that the makeup of the Tea Party are evangelical Christians
who really want to keep their view of religion imposed in government
and public policies.
We saw that carried out in 2010 with the midterm elections. And I
can't imagine that people did not see it very clearly in the
Republican primary leading up to the 2012 elections with Rick
Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry. All of these candidates were
claiming that God had anointed them to be the next president of the
MP: What are the rules about religion and politics?
SB: All houses of worship, whatever their faith position, are
incorporated under the same nonprofit guidelines as we at Americans
United: As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit educational organization. According
to the IRS guidelines, you can engage in public policy. You can even
do a certain amount of lobbying on different legislation or ballot
initiatives. But you are forbidden to use your tax-exempt
organization to endorse political candidates, or to oppose political
candidates or to endorse or oppose political parties.
The government has said all of the tithes and offerings that come
into your house of worship are nontaxable. In order to maintain your
tax-exempt status you simply have to stay out of direct political
engagement of parties and candidates. It doesn't mean you have to
silence your faithful beliefs, or your prophetic beliefs on issues
that are important to you.
Obviously, I wouldn't have a job as director of religious
outreach if we weren't engaging people of faith on important social-
justice issues. But you cross the line when you endorse candidates.
This past October, just a month before the election, the Alliance
Defending Freedom, a very far-right religious organization in this
country, prodded more than 1,500 clergy to stand up in their pulpit
and directly oppose President Obama for re-election. …