Church and State

Today on the blog of Brent Abrahamson, Southbridge and Beyond, he called me out in a post, Seeing the Light. Now let me say right up front that I have never met Mr. Abrahamson but I have been reading his blog for a while and he also write for the local paper. I like his style and his writing. He took issue with the fact that I endorsed a candidate on my blog in the up coming special election to fill the vacant Senate Seat in Massachusetts.

I endorsed Scott Brown, the Republican, because his issues on life are within the teachings of the Orthodox Church of which I am a priest. He took issue because the church is not supposed to do this. Well when I write on this blog I no more represent my church then does anyone who blogs represent who they work for. Why are clergy not able to have opinions without people screaming church and state and want to remove our tax exempt status. Here is the quote from the blog:

Church blogs should remain politically neutral. Since a local priest has used his blog to endorse the Republican candidate for the open Massachusetts U. S. Senate seat, the church should forfeit its tax-free status. The blog not only contains the political views of the church’s spiritual leader, but it also contains sermons and Bible readings. If such pairings on the internet do not violate any church’s right to a tax-free status, then the law needs updating.

So I responded with this comment:

Great post as always and as the former morning host on WESO I agree that they have nothing to do with Webster or Southbridge anymore. As the name of the company the owns the station says Money Matters.I am also the local priest that endorsed a candiate on his blog and one correction needs to be made. My blog is just that mine. It is not a church no more than your blog belongs to any of the papers you write for. Yes I am a priest and yes I am a citizien and in a free society have a right to write about my thoughts and feelings, I wonder if I had endorsed the Democrate would I have made your list. I have not, nor would I ever, speak from the pulpit about a candidate but I will talk about my churches position on social issues and let the people make their own decision.Thanks for your blog I like your writings and I look forward to what you have to day. I don’t always agree but I like your thoughts and style. Keep up the good work.

A reader, someone who in anonymous. I find this interesting since in another place in the same post that he calls me out he rails against anonymous posts as not being courageous yet he allows them:

Father Peter, with all due respect, I’m not buying your ‘Blog is Mine” statement. Oh, I’ve not doubt that it is yours, but does everybody know that? You seemingly represent your church – even though you say you’d never endorse a candidate from the pulpit. Come on, let’s get real here. If you speak of and endorse certain “acceptable” social issues from your pulpit, then that’s basically the same thing as endorsing the candidates who agree with your positions. Quite frankly, you’re splitting hairs. I agree with Brent. If your church wants the luxury of a no-tax status, then you should be barred from doing this. I’d ask, why not just pay taxes like everyone else, and then you can speak about and endorse anything you please? Also, I’ve read most of Brent’s blogs, have you? If so, you’d realize that he certainly doesn’t endorse every Democrat that comes down the pike, nor every position they take, and I feel confident in saying that he’d feel exactly the same way no matter which side of the aisle you endorse. (I added the bold type)

So A Reader believes that I should not be able to teach from the pulpit what my church teaches on certain social issues. This is exactly the mindset that led the founding fathers to put the establishment clause in the Constitution to begin with. The clause was not protect the state from religion but the very opposite, to protect the church from the state!

Let me say at this point that I like the give and take this is what a free society is all about being able to air ones opinions on issues. I thank Mr. Abrahamson for posting this so we could have this discussion. I need to meet him one day and have coffee I think I would like him. But I digress…

So the comments continue:

Thanks for commenting. I do appreciate your position, but I believe one statement that you made suggests an underlying mindset:I wonder if I had endorsed the Democrate[sic] would I have made your list.My opinions on the proper separation of Church and State do not change depending on the candidate endorsed. That suggestion is both dismissive and, frankly, insulting.I fully support your right as an individual to express your thoughts and feelings. The inclusion of church teachings and dogma and your identification as a priest of the particular denomination certainly must be considered connected. When specific endorsement of a candidate is included among matters of spirituality and the personal viewpoints of a religious leader who does frequently make reference to his Denomination at large, I believe that violates at least the spirit of the rules regarding churches and a tax-exempt status.As for my blog or my column in a newspaper, it is clearly my opinion. I don’t claim to speak for any organization, so I don’t think the parallel you have tried to draw fits.In my opinion, when churches want to enter into partisan politics, they should reject any largesse from the State.Thanks again for your input.

To which I responded:

To A Reader,Thanks for your comments and I have a question. So I am not supposed to teach what my church teaches on social issues? How about people who advocate for homeless issues and run non profits should they loose their status as well or are churches the only ones that are not allowed to speak?Brent, I do not speak for any organization on my blog other than my own. I teach my my church teaches on the issues and I ask the same question are churches the only ones not allowed to speak on issues? Can Schools and teachers speak or do they run the risk of loosing their tax exempt status as well?

And he responded:

Well, Fr. Peter, you can keep making the straw man argument. Speaking out on issues and endorsing a specific candidate for public office are not the same thing. The schools and teachers analogy is hardly legitimate. Clergy can speak out all they want. If the church wants special consideration from the State, then there are restrictions.

And my follow up:

Okay, so let me ask the question in another way. If the Executive Director of the Southbridge Interfaith Hospitality Network talk about homeless issues or endorses a candidate because they are good on homeless issues should SIHN loose their tax status? Or if the head of the American Red Cross does, or a college president or any member or head of any tax exempt organization speak out should they loose their status or is it just churches that cannot speak?

If you wish to check the comments you can at the end of the article I did not edit them in anyway other than using the bold on the one statement above.

So I ask all of you who read this the same questions. Can other people who head not for profit organizations endorse candidates on their blogs? If so should they have their tax status revoked? When someone blogs do they represent the companies they work for or is this distinction just left to the clergy? Comments are open.


  1. Fr. Peter – in no way do I think you represent your church in your blog. I believe you are representing your own self. I read your blog and Brents on a regular basis and I enjoy them both.

    I do not believe your tax exempt status should be taken away because of your personal beliefs. You are a person too, not just a preist.

  2. I believe that you have the right to have personal opinions and has such have the right to write on your bloggs what ever you feel.
    Next I feel that many people who are against religion are also against the churches right to speak out and state its opinion.
    Freedom of speach is one thing but a religious person is entitled to state the churches teaching.Jesus and his apostles spoke out in the world and it did not go easy on any of them either.
    I stand behind your right to say what ever you feel is right and no one has the right to take away your freedom of speach.
    The threat of losing your non profit status is just other peoples way of trying to scare the church and it preachers into remaining silent.
    Many people who belong to non profit organizations have blogs and do not have their freedom of speach threatened…..
    Speak out I stand behind you all the way and will defend your right to say what ever you feel is truth.
    You are a citizen of this country and entiled to all your thoughts and opinions no matter if I agree with you or not…linda

  3. I feel your pain brother. Thankfully, I rarely feel the urge to endorse any candidate. I also serve a denomination that has no power to teach a specific position, so I'm both blessed and cursed with the freedom to teach what I feel is correct. I have blogged before and when I have I have had multiple blogs so that the church blog and my private blog were distinct. The times I had problems were when I was writing a weekly column for a local paper. I was very adamant about representing a different religious voice but also eager to draw attention to the church I served…without saying that I was representing the position of the church itself: a tricky business indeed.

    The church must never become silent on politics. Indeed, it is our job to speak truth to power. But I do agree that partisan politics is a place to draw the line. Your right as an individual citizen to endorse a candidate should never be abrogated, but you do need to be clear that it is your personal opinion. I think you have made it clear that this endorsement is your personal opinion.

    Rev. Ian Lynch

  4. Fr. Peter,
    Your comments regarding the separation of your personal beliefs vis-a-vis Church teaching strikes me as a bit incongruent. It reminds me of politicians who argue that they govern and create laws based on separation of church and state, but all the while professing to be faithful Christians such as Roman Catholics or of a Protestant denomination. This as you know, has led some Catholic bishops to threaten withholding the Eucharist from certain politicians because they continue to endorse and vote for abortion legislation. I can not see how one can have it both ways. Either one is the Christian one says he is, or he is not. In addition, I believe I remember that there are canons of the Orthodox Church forbidding clergy from holding political office. Does this mean we are to stay out of the fray?
    Finally, I do not believe in the slightest that a church should lose their tax exempt status based on the nature of how is was obtained. We all know for example, many politicians who are clergy; the Rev. Jessie Jackson and Pat Robertson come to mind. Should the churches they are affiliated with lose their tax exempt status. Also President Obama's controversial pastor from Atlanta whose name escapes me at the moment, should his church lose their tax exempt status because of his political views, (no matter how offensive they may be)? Of course not. If you take the argument to the extreme does that mean that anyone who does not pay taxes, and that is a great many citizens, should not use their constitutional right to free speech because they do not pay taxes?

  5. Dn John,

    Either I missunderstand you or you missunderstand me. I do not have a different view from the Orthodox Church what I am saying is this is my blog and not the church. I write as me and not as the church. What the writer of the original article was saying what that the church should loose its tax status becasue I wrote something on my blog.

    I also think we need to be involved in the political arena, not as candidates but we need to speak out and educate our people.

    Thanks for your comments

  6. Came here via Fr. Z. Have enjoyed the content. It is clear that a personal blog does not "belong" to anyone except that person. It does not refelect the opinions or beliefs etc… of the establishment, firm or organization, including Churches to which the person belongs. It may contain information relating to the above, but that does not somehow "join" the two together. The information could be incorrect, prejudicial, correct, pretty much anything the author of the blog thinks. (Key word being "thinks".) I wouldn't base my understanding of an issue on someone's blog. I think that anyone who did, might discover it's a poor source of reliability. Frankly, it has as nothing to do with "tax exempt".

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!