COLUMBUS, Ohio – A pastor with ties to one of three GOP candidates for governor said Friday a complaint filed with the IRS over those connections is off base and part of a liberal political agenda.
Pastor Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church acknowledged making political contributions only to the campaign of Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell but said he’s fully within his rights as a private citizen. Blackwell also appears at events with Parsley and provided Parsley a glowing blurb for his latest book.
“I don’t check my citizenship at the door of my church, nor do I check my Christianity at the door to the Statehouse,” Parsley said. “As a private citizen, I am more than entitled to contribute to a political campaign.”
Parsley and his mother, Ellen, contributed $2,500 each to Blackwell in 2004, according to state campaign finance records.
Parsley said he was “a little bit hand-tied” in what he could say at a news conference about his personal political preferences.
“But if you want to surmise from my contribution that I as an individual support Ken Blackwell, then that’s an assumption that you’re welcome to make,” Parsley said.
Earlier in the week, a group of 31 pastors sent a letter to the tax agency regarding Parsley’s church and the Ohio Restoration Project, led by the Rev. Russell Johnson of Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster.
The other pastors said Parsley and Johnson should lose their tax-exempt status because they improperly used their pulpits for partisan politics, namely the promotion of Blackwell for governor.
Blackwell has dismissed the complaint as an attempt “to run God out of the public square.” He says he’s been invited to events sponsored by Parsley and Johnson because of his support for a successful 2004 ballot issue to ban same-sex marriage and his stance against abortion.
If Parsley “as an individual is supporting Ken Blackwell, we’re pleased with his support and the support of any other individuals,” Blackwell spokesman Gene Pierce said Friday.
Blackwell is a favorite among conservative voters because of his positions, including his backing of anti-tax initiatives.
State Auditor Betty Montgomery, a Republican also running for governor, is a member of a Methodist church in suburban Columbus whose pastor is on the board of Reformation Ohio, Parsley’s outreach organization for activities including voter registration and conversion of people to Christianity.
She attended an anti-gambling event with Parsley last year but couldn’t attend two other events she was invited to because of scheduling conflicts, spokesman Mark Weaver said.
Attorney General Jim Petro, another GOP governor candidate, has received general invitations to events but not to speak, campaign manager Bob Paduchik said.
Parsley said representatives of Petro’s campaign have attended several events sponsored by Reformation Ohio and Parsley’s Center for Moral Clarity, which organizes churches on social issues such as gay marriage.
But Paduchik said he was aware of only one such event, Parsley’s unveiling of Reformation Ohio last fall.
Parsley dubbed the churches filing the complaint the “anonymous 31,” because he said most refuse to identify themselves.
“The complaint was filed because a group of people apparently think that certain Americans don’t have the right to religious freedom of speech,” Parsley said.
“The bottom line in all of this is the constitutional right of every minister of the gospel to speak out on moral issues as a spiritual leader in the community, within the guidelines of federal tax law,” Parsley said.
The ministers chose not to release their names to keep the focus on the allegations and not on individuals and their churches, said Eric Williams, senior pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus and spokesman for the complaining pastors.
He is contacting the ministers who signed the complaint to ask them if they want their names made public, he said. He has received a couple “veiled threats,” including one e-mail, since the complaint was made public, he said.
“This was an act of courage, and we wanted to honor people’s desire to choose when and how they would speak out publicly,” Williams said.
The denominations have different theological outlooks but are in agreement that Parsley and Johnson are in violation of federal guidelines for what churches can and cannot do, Williams said.
“They’re acting as a political action organization and not as a church, and so they should not be able to enjoy the tax exempt benefits that churches do,” Williams said Friday.
According to the IRS complaint, the clergy are affiliated with: the American Baptist Churches/USA; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Episcopal Church in the USA; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Judaism; the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ; the United Methodist Church; and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
All are mainline or left-leaning denominations.
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