Laws of man, God obeyed, World Harvest Church says

Parsley spokesman: ‘Left-leaning’ critics ignore group’s work with poor, hungry

The Rev. Rod Parsley‘s World Harvest Church and two affiliates always have obeyed federal tax laws, and an accusation to the contrary by 31 area pastors is “baseless and without merit,” World Harvest said yesterday.

The 31 complained to the Internal Revenue Service on Sunday, accusing the church, its Center for Moral Clarity and a related group, Reformation Ohio, of violating IRS regulations by engaging in partisan politics. They asked for an IRS investigation of the three as well as two allied entities, Fairfield Christian Church of Lancaster and the Ohio Restoration Project.

But in a statement issued by Parsley’s spokesman, Mark Youngkin, World Harvest said the “left-leaning clergymen” have no case — although they do seem to have “a political agenda.”

The statement questioned why the 31 went to the media on the eve of a federal holiday instead of approaching the church directly, “as people of faith are instructed to do in Scripture.”

It also said Reformation Ohio has distributed 70 tons of food and assisted nearly 10,000 poor Ohioans. Parsley’s organizations have won 4,000 conversions to Christ while helping to register 400,000 new Ohio voters, many from urban neighborhoods, the statement said.

The complainants want the IRS to investigate whether Parsley and the pastor of Fairfield Christian, the Rev. Russell Johnson, have used their churches and affiliated organizations to promote the gubernatorial candidacy of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.

They say Blackwell has been the only candidate showcased in a number of church-related events and activities.

If found to have violated IRS regulations, Parsley and Johnson could lose their tax-exempt status.

In an interview Sunday night, Johnson said Blackwell has been invited to Ohio Restoration Project events because of his vocal support for the group’s key issues, including opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

John Green, a University of Akron religion-and-politics authority, said there is a long tradition of political activity in America’s black churches.

“There’s no question that what goes on in the black church . . . is very much like what Parsley and Johnson are doing,” he said.

Many black churches permit a number of competing candidates to be recognized in the audience or speak from the altar, Green said, and where “there is evidence of equal or bipartisan treatment, that could be mitigating.”

He predicted that the complaint will “provoke a firestorm of opposition from the right,” including the possibility of IRS counter-complaints.

The most problematic issue involves the alleged preference for Blackwell, who has courted the religious-right vote.

“I’m not picking on Blackwell because he’s not the subject of the complaint, but it appears that he is the only (gubernatorial candidate) invited to their events,” Green said. “This would look like a potential violation of the rules against partisan politics.”

One clergy member who signed the complaint, the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ, wrote a column for The Dispatch in October 2004 urging the defeat of state Issue 1, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that voters later approved.

Yesterday, Williams said he considered the essay permissible because it dealt with a social issue, not a specific candidate.

“I think that it’s valid and important that we (churches) focus on issues,” he said.

The 31 pastors say World Harvest and Fairfield Christian are “acting as politicalcampaign organizations,” Williams said. He said he did not expect the complaint to provoke similar accusations against the pastors who filed it.

But it could bring scrutiny to the practices of others, such as those who appear to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

On Feb. 23, 2004, The Dispatch published a photo of John Edwards, then a North Carolina senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, appearing at First Church of God on Refugee Road. The photo shows Bishops Odell McCollum and Timothy J. Clarke with their hands on Edwards’ shoulders, blessing him.

McCollum, who died in August, was president of the United Holy Church of America. Clarke is First Church’s senior pastor; efforts yesterday to reach him were unsuccessful.

Williams said he was unfamiliar with the photo, but that it might indicate “inappropriate” political activity that warranted investigation. The 31 pastors want the IRS rules clarified and applied equally to everyone, he said.

The Rev. David Van Dyke, who was among the 31, said he would never bring in a single candidate to speak at Broad Street Presbyterian Church, where he is pastor. He noted, for example, that in 1980, Ronald Reagan, who was the Republican candidate for president, worshipped at the church but did not speak.

Van Dyke said discussing issues from the pulpit is different because they tend to be nonpartisan. He said he preached from the pulpit in 2004 about Issue 1, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Van Dyke said Parsley also had the right to proclaim his support for Issue 1. But at the same time, he was critical of Parsley, because he said the pro-Issue 1 campaign that the World Harvest pastor helped lead was “a disingenuous attempt to turn out a certain segment of voters” to help particular candidates.

The Rev. John Coats, chairman of the Ohio Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a predominantly black political-action group, said yesterday that the complaint to the IRS demonstrates a need for federal and state governments to explain better to churches what political activities are permissible.

Coats, a Republican, said he suspects a political motive behind the complaint. Nevertheless, he said, the IRS should ascertain whether World Harvest and Fairfield Christian are “right or wrong in their procedures.”

Coats is a pastor at the Word Church of God and Christ in Columbus. Although he does not fully support Parsley’s political agenda, he said, he does favor churches’ involvement in politics legally through political-action committees.

Since 2001, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has been pushing the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, which would allow religious figures to endorse candidates. A Web site for the bill says its advocates include Ohio Republican Reps. John Boehner of West Chester, Steve Chabot of Cincinnati, Bob Ney of Heath, Michael G. Oxley of Findlay, Pat Tiberi of Genoa Township and Michael Turner of Dayton.

Backers and critics of the bill disagree over how much discussion of political issues, as opposed to candidates, is allowed in houses of worship.

Dispatch Senior Editor Joe Hallett con tributed to this story.

Statement from World Harvest Church

The complaints filed by a consortium of liberal ministers against World Harvest Church, the Center for Moral Clarity and Reformation Ohio are baseless and without merit.

Contrary to today^(1)s media reports, at their inception all three organizations were chartered and founded according to IRS guidelines, and all subsequent activity has been in full compliance with federal tax law.

It^(1)s interesting that on a Sunday evening, while World Harvest Church is having worship services, a group of left-leaning clergyman gathers in another church across town with what appears to be a political agenda.

Had they come to us directly, as people of faith are instructed to do in Scripture, they could have saved themselves a lot of time and embarrassment.

If this group was interested in our stand on moral issues, rather than generating media attention, why did they send a statement to the press on a weekend prior to a federal holiday, when IRS offices are closed?

Our goals are clear. Reformation Ohio has given out 140,000 pounds of food, helping to feed and clothe nearly 10,000 people across the Buckeye State. Thousands more have heard a Gospel message and almost 4,000 of that number have made commitments to Christ. We are helping to register 400,000 new voters from diverse and varied communities. In fact, our outreaches in Toledo and the Miami Valley were in predominantly urban neighborhoods. Our efforts are helping make Ohio a better state ­ one family at a time.

We appreciate your support


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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Columbus Dispatch, USA
Jan. 17, 2006
Mark A. Fisher and Dennis M. Mahoney

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