I have now received two copies of a letter reportedly sent by the pastor of First Baptist to his congregation telling them to vote for specific candidates in the school board elections. If this letter turns out to be authentic, the pastor has clearly violated the church’s tax exempt status. Luckily for him, our state has an Attorney General who will not enforce that law.
This is an excerpt from the letter:
Dear First Baptist Pflugerville Family,
If you live in the Pflugerville Independent School District, I want to call your attention to something of great importance that needs your personal and immediate attention.
Our School Board election is going on RIGHT NOW. Early voting started yesterday and will go through next Tuesday, May 7. Actual Election Day is on Saturday, May 11th. Times and voting locations can be found on the attachment.
EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US NEEDS TO VOTE IN THIS ELECTION! (Preferably during
this early voting period.) We need to vote in two races: Place #3 and Place #5.
In any election, there is only one question we need to answer: “For which candidates does GOD want me to vote?” As followers of Jesus, we vote for HIS priorities, not our priorities. That means we are always, first and foremost – “Christian Moral Values Voters.” We vote for the candidates who
best represent and defend the Lord’s moral values as He reveals them in Scripture.
Later in the letter he names the actual candidates:
Candidates for Place #3: Mario Acosta vs Tony Hanson
Candidates for Place #5: Carol Fletcher vs Lance Sandlin
While he does not say the words “vote for my candidate” he says so by direct implication- that a Godly person will only vote one way in this election. I’m sure it is hard to stay civil when you believe you speak for God, but it seems to me the good pastor has violated the church’s tax exempt status, as well as any understanding of church and state boundaries, as well as simply being a good neighbor to the GLBT community.
And where does such a campaign end? The Bible also says that those who divorce and remarry are committing adultery. Will that be the next campaign for First Baptist, to purge remarried divorcees from office? Will it be to stone them as the Bible clearly commands? And if they do not launch such a campaign, why are they taking the Bible literally for gays, but not for straights?
Speaking of the church’s earlier campaign to oppose domestic partner benefits, David Welch wrote:
We gathered information from the Attorney General’s office, legislators and national organizations such as Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation to help prepare Pastor Steve and team for October 18 PISD Board of Trustees meeting. We worked with State Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) who was author of the legislation that became the definition of marriage amendment to the Texas Constitution to prepare a letter (see below also) that Steve read on record to the board (see below) confirming legislative intent to protect marriage from other counterfeits such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.
In his conclusion we read the troubling words:
We have a strong case because we VOTED in a godly Attorney General who is like a rock on defending life, marriage and religious liberty.
In other words, Mr. Welch seems to be saying that our state now has an attorney general who does not represent secular law, but who has a theocratic understanding of government. By “religious liberty,” he certainly does not mean the liberty of religious liberals. We will be grouped with the ungodly, the homosexuals and the heathen only to be rolled over by the good folks at First Baptist, Pflugerville.
If the letter I have seen turns out to be inauthentic I will issue a public apology to the pastor of First Baptist Church. If the letter turns out to be real, he owes the rest of us an apology for using our school board to try to cram his religion down our throats. He can defend heterosexual families without taking insurance coverage from the families who aren’t.
Perhaps the better approach would be to check with the pastor first to confirm this story, rather than blog about it and apologize to him later.
My problem is that the election is already underway and I don’t have much time left. I have four independent confirmations that the church has sent out the letter. One of them from a church member. And I have heard the pastor say almost the same thing in person.
Wouldn’t the applicable tax code be federal, so enforcement would not be up to a state AG? 5/2/13–09:25 CDT
Bob, Yeah, I didn’t say that well. My hope was that the AG would obey the national rules for 501 3c and tax exempt nonprofits. You’re right that the IRS would have to actually pursue actual enforcement, but for an AG to work behind the scenes with churches to help launch a political campaign seems to me a violation of his duties. Thanks for helping clarify things.
Actually, the “godly” attorney general is not ” defending religious liberty”. He is allying himself with a particular, narrow, sectarian point of view on more than a few issues. He is doing the most frightening, un-democratic thing a public official can do. Abbott is wiling, according to the Pflugerville Baptist pastor, to use the power of the state to attempt to privilege a particular religious point of view. That is quite scary.
When did Baptists forsake their origins and decide to go to bed with the government? There was a day when Baptists would have tarred and feathered this guy and run him out of town on a rail for such a thing. Obama speaks at a UCC convention prior to announcing his candidacy for President and the UCC gets legally assaulted while this guy will get away with being much more overt. Moldy marshmallows on all their houses!
Thanks, Kyle. I could be niave, but I really think most Baptists would reject this kind of pandering to one religion. The problem, down South any way, is that not enough Baptists condemn this kind of sectarian invasion into the public sphere, but all denominations should be louder in condemning religious intolerance.
As a parent in PISD, I am horrified by much of his message. Particularly offensive to me is his blatant admission that the candidates are talking about several issues but his primary concern is that the Board passed DPB in December. As a pastor in this community, his primary concern should be in determining who will advocate best for the children of this district. He doesn’t stop there. He is actively supporting HB 1568 which would take state funding and accreditation from PISD and now AISD in retaliation for their offering DPB. There is a picture of this pastor side by side, smiling with Drew Springer (the Representative from Muenster who authored and filed HB 1568 in February) on The Texas Values Facebook page from April 9. Who does something like that? Who wants to harm the children in a district where he ministers?
Thank you Jessica.I’m sure hurting children is the last thing he wants to do, but I agree that cutting funding would do just that.
If candidates who will represent the First Baptist agenda are elected, where does it end? Not just at DPB, I’m sure. What impact will this have on curriculum? What about the “Lifeguard” sex education program? LGBT issues?
Thank you, Jim.
You are welcome, Andrea.
Can’t thank you enough for articulating this well without going overboard, in the original post as well as in your responses to the comments. Not an easy thing to do with such a sensitive issue. It’s the exaggerated comments people tend to make in the heat of the moment that push others in the opposite direction even further than they already are. I went to PISD schools K-12, and now go to college out of state. Glad to see so many posts like this in my news feed.
Hannah, I can go overboard at times, but I agree we need to try to keep our balance and civility. Thank you for writing.
In answer to one of the questions posed in these comments—I will share what I saw and let you form your own conclusion. At a public forum, a member of the audience asked the current School Board Trustee, Mario Acosta, why the School Board wasn’t doing a better job of censoring the current “required reading” for her high school junior. The question seemed to have some support from the segment of the audience that appeared to support the two challengers in the election. Mario commented that since the parent received permission for her HS junior to opt out of the selections that she found offensive, then the system was working. The parent’s follow-up comment expressed concern about the children with parents that weren’t ‘as involved as she was…..what are they being exposed to?’ (NOTE—at the high school level, students read books that are from the Advanced Placement list—–not a district formulation, but the reading that is used to prepare for the Advanced Placement exams)