Vehemently denying that he plays partisan politics from the pulpit, the Rev. Rod Parsley said yesterday that he would not be silenced from preaching about moral issues by liberal ministers who this week filed a complaint against him with the Internal Revenue Service.
Parsley, in a news conference at his sprawling World Harvest Church complex in southern Columbus, labeled the complaining pastors as the “anonymous 31” and called on them to reveal their identities.
“The anonymous 31 have chosen to speak behind the masks of personal and political agendas, media manipulation and intimidation, and we simply will not be silenced by those tactics of fear,” Parsley said.
So far, about nine of the 31 have spoken publicly. The Rev. Eric Williams, senior pastor of the North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus and a complaint-signer, said he hopes that by early next week, “a substantial number, if not all” of those who signed the complaint will agree to be identified.
Williams said he and the others signed as individuals and not on behalf of their churches, which include nine Judeo-Christian denominations. He said some of the pastors fear retribution from followers of Parsley and the Rev. Russell Johnson, senior pastor of the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, also named in the complaint.
But Parsley said such fears are unfounded: “They are brothers. We will embrace them as brothers. . . . We’ll unleash the troops to pray for them.”
In a rare action, the 31 asked the IRS to investigate whether the evangelical megachurches headed by Parsley and Johnson, along with three affiliated organizations, should lose their tax-exempt status for participating in partisan politics.
The complaint alleges numerous instances in which the churches promoted conservative Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a GOP candidate for governor, at religious events, in voter-registration drives and in educational materials.
IRS regulations prohibit pastors from: endorsing candidates on behalf of the church; distributing materials favoring one candidate or political party; and providing one candidate exclusive opportunities to speak at church services.
Parsley called Blackwell “a principled and courageous leader” and acknowledged making personal financial contributions to Blackwell’s campaign while giving nothing to the other gubernatorial candidates. But, he said, “I have not nor will I endorse Secretary Blackwell or any candidate for governor in my capacity as the president” of a tax-exempt nonprofit entity.
He said Blackwell had been invited to events in his role as Ohio’s chief elections officer, not as a candidate for governor.
Williams called that “a convenient” assertion.
“It certainly doesn’t appear that way, because there have been too many opportunities (for Blackwell) to speak, too many standing ovations, too many accolades at all these rallies that these two churches are hosting.”
But Parsley insisted that “we have invited all the candidates” to participate in events. Spokespersons for Blackwell’s GOP rivals — Attorney General Jim Petro and state Auditor Betty D. Montgomery — confirmed that Petro and Montgomery were invited to the Oct. 15 Statehouse launch of Reformation Ohio, a Parsley-led organization aimed at spreading the gospel and registering 400,000 voters statewide. Neither attended, but Blackwell spoke from the dais.
Also, Montgomery was invited to an April event at World Harvest Church to debut Parsley’s newest book but did not attend. And Petro has sent representatives to breakfasts hosted by Parsley at his Center for Moral Clarity.
Referring to the 31 pastors, Parsley said, “As far as I can tell, this group operates according to the credo: Ready, fire, aim! But they have still missed.”
He called the complaint an attempt to deny religious freedom of speech to certain Americans.
“It seems that if you stand for biblical morality,” he said, “they would prefer you to be silent.”
Williams said the 31 pastors will let their complaint speak for itself and leave it to the IRS to determine whether Parsley and Johnson have engaged in illegal political activities.
“These comments by Pastor Parsley, while they are colorful and attract attention, distract from the intent of our letter.”
Dispatch reporter Dennis Mahoney contributed to this story.
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