ADF recruiting Fundies to challenge IRS ban on churches endorsing politicians.

The Fundies are getting worried that they’re losing the Culture War it seems. The Alliance Defense Fund is looking for pastors to challenge the IRS rules against churches endorsing political candidates:

CHICAGO—Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

[…] The battle over the clergy’s privileges, rights and responsibilities in the political world is not new. Politicians of all stripes court the support—explicit or otherwise—of religious leaders. Allegations surface every political season of a preacher crossing the line.

What is different is the Alliance Defense Fund’s direct challenge to the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.

“We’re looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits,” Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.

Fortunately this challenge isn’t going.. uh… unchallenged:

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an “inappropriate, unethical and illegal” series of political endorsements.

“As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society,” the clergy wrote in an advance copy of their claim obtained by The Washington Post.

[…] Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens, however, opposes the ADF’s strategy and its legal reasoning. Working with the Ohio-based clergy, he contends that the Supreme Court would be unlikely to overturn appellate court rulings on the issue or a related precedent of its own.

Owens also criticizes ADF and its lawyers for “actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that. The tax system would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law.”

Owens, a former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations, will ask the tax agency to investigate ADF lawyers for “this flagrant disregard of the ethical rules.” He is joined by former IRS commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin and Cono R. Namorato, who headed the office of professional responsibility at the IRS until 2006.

The two Ohio pastors, the Rev. Eric Williams and the Rev. Robert F. Molsberry, have called for hundreds of clergy to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state.

Even given the Conservative bent of the current Supreme Court I’d still be very surprised if they overturned the IRS rules considering the rather large number of court challenges that have failed as well as a precedent setting SCOTUS case in the past. That said perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have them challenge it as they risk their tax-free status in doing so. Personally I think Churches should be stripped of their tax-free status and then they can endorse politicians all they want. Make the tax scale progressive so the biggest churches pay more taxes than the smaller churches and things would be just dandy.

Saving your kids’ souls, by any means necessary.

Here’s an entry that’s going to combine two things I talk about often, but which usually aren’t associated with each other: religion and video games. It’s seems a number of churches around the country are using the ever popular Halo video games to lure young men into church so they can be proselytized “ministered” to after a couple of rounds blowing the living shit out of everything on the screen:

Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church – New York Times

First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace.

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

Right off the bat we have a conundrum for our Christian friends. The Bible says “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and yet they’re luring in kids with the promise of being able to virtually kill to their hearts content. It goes even deeper than that, however, because the Halo games are rated M for Mature and is considered inappropriate for people under 17 years of age. Yet many churches are letting kids several years younger than that play the game:

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Now, personally, I don’t think there’s all that much in the Halo games that the average 12 or 14 year old can’t handle, but I’m not the one using the game to lure kids in for a little brain washing ministering with it. Needless to say some other Christians have a bit of a problem with this tactic:

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Free booze? Maybe, but I don’t know of too many adults, let alone teenagers, who’d rush to church to watch some porn followed by messages about Jesus dieing for their sins. That’d be a bit… awkward. Whereas the free booze might make sitting through the sermons a bit easier to handle. Still, think of the slogans you could have: “Get a boner, for Jesus!”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

I can imagine that how you approach your interpretation of the Bible would play a role in how acceptable you find this practice. The Baptist church I attended taught that just thinking some naughty thoughts was enough to get your ass in a sling with God and there’s at least one Bible passage to back that claim up. So wouldn’t virtually killing be more or less the same as thinking about killing as far as God is concerned?

Apparently such questions aren’t an issue to this fellow:

Playing Halo is “no different than going on a camping trip,” said Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online, an Internet site whose central themes are video games and religion. “It’s a way to fellowship.”

Mr. Kenerly said the idea that Halo is inappropriately violent too strictly interpreted the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” “I’m not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them,” he said. “I’m shooting pixels on a screen.”

Mr. Kenerly’s brother, Ken Kenerly, 43, is a pastor who recently started a church in Atlanta and previously started the Family Church in Albuquerque, N.M., where quarterly Halo nights were such a big social event that he had to rent additional big-screen TVs.

Ken Kenerly said he believed that the game could be useful in connecting to young people he once might have reached in more traditional ways, like playing sports. “There aren’t as many kids outdoors as indoors,” he said. “With gamers, how else can you get into their lives?”

Which just sounds insidious to me. It’s no secret that if you can get people to believe something when they’re young they’re more likely to hold that belief when their older and this sort of thing just reveals how far Churches are willing to go to suck people in when they’re most likely to buy the bullshit. When they’re older you have to wait until people are in a hard way and vulnerable to have the same sort of impact so catching them when they’re young is key. And the thing is, it works:

David Drexler, youth director at the 200-member nondenominational Country Bible Church in Ashby, Minn., said using Halo to recruit was “the most effective thing we’ve done.”

In rural Minnesota, Mr. Drexler said, the church needs something powerful to compete against the lure of less healthy behaviors. “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” His congregation plans to double to eight its number of TVs, which would allow 32 players to compete at one time.

Among parents at the Colorado Community Church, Doug Graham, a pediatric oncologist with a 12-year-old son, said that he was not aware of the game’s M rating and that it gave him pause. He said he felt that parents should be actively involved in deciding whether minors play an M-rated game. “Every family should have a conversation about it,” he said.

Mr. Barbour, the youth pastor at the church, said the game had led to a number of internal discussions prompted by elders who complained about its violent content. Mr. Barbour recently met for several hours with the church’s pastor and successfully made his case that the game was a crucial recruiting tool.

In one letter to parents, Mr. Barbour wrote that God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

“Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

I’m willing to bet that last line has some Christian readers nodding their heads in agreement where it just makes me cringe. Of course there’s nothing new here as the churches have always been willing to usurp anything they consider popular to try and bring in the heathen. Again I point to Halloween, Christmas, and Easter as prime examples of the True Believers taking something popular — pagan festivals in this case — and using them to their own ends. This is just a lesser example of the same thing.

Gotta get their asses in the pews by any means necessary. After all, it’s only for their own good.

My brother proposes the “Salvation Tax” to solve Michigan’s budget woes.

Here in Michigan there’s been quite a bit of talk about new taxes after the governor and legislators signed off on a plan to close this year’s budget deficit by shoving a good portion of it into next year’s budget just so they can claim they didn’t violate Michigan’s constitution which requires a balanced budget. The very next day the governor put out a call for the legislators to get busy coming up with new tax ideas that can be used to balance next year’s looming shortfall. One of the ideas proposed so far is being called the Ticket Tax:

One option—a possible 6% sales tax on sports, music, movie and other entertainment tickets—has galvanized opposition by a group of power hitters that includes the owners of Detroit’s major sports teams and concert venues.

Fans Against Ticket Taxes launched its campaign Thursday, led by Mike Ilitch, who owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings and the Fox Theatre, and Bill Davidson, who owns the Pistons and operates three of the biggest concert venues: DTE Energy Music Theatre, the Palace of Auburn Hills and Meadow Brook Music Festival.

At the Tigers’ Thursday afternoon game, Comerica Park staffers handed out flyers urging fans to visit a Web site——and contact their state representatives.

The campaign illustrates the political peril of a steep tax increase, which many lawmakers say is unavoidable given a $1.8-billion deficit the state faces in the 2008 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

In response my brother sent off the following email to his state representatives in Lansing and he invites all fellow Michigan readers to do likewise:

    Mr. Marleau,

    I’m writing you regarding the “luxury tax”, going to the movies is hardly a luxury. I pay income taxes already and I fully expect to be paying more. I pay “Sin Taxes” since I smoke and have an occasional beer. Therefore I would like to offer up a new “solution” to the states money problems.

    I feel it’s time for the state of Michigan to be a leader in what I’m calling the “Salvation Tax”,  let’s face it religion is a big business, it’s time for God to put his two cents in where it counts (the state’s coffer).

    This program has only a limited effect upon the state. Think about it clearly, if another church leaves the state, so what? It’s not like they’re pulling their weight around here anyway.

    I thank you for taking the time to consider the salvation tax issue (those bastards squirrel away a lot of money), if you feel you would like help getting this to the floor, please feel free to e-mail me and I will do what I can to assist you.

    Wes Jenkins

At this point I think most people in Michigan are fully expecting some form of tax increase someplace as there’s really no other way to deal with next year’s budget without making cuts that most folks agree are just a bad idea. There’s already plenty of folks upset over guidelines put in place for State troopers that asks them to limit their daily mileage to around 40 miles a day as a result of the budget mess. So perhaps it’s time that the churches in this state started paying their fair share of the tax burden and help keep Michigan in the black.

Needless to say I think it’s a wonderful idea and I am dashing off a similar note to my representatives as well. If you’re also a Michigan resident you can look up your Representative here and your Senator here.