Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bachmann Backs Creationist Bill; How About Sex Sins of Clergy Bill?

First off: Senator Michele Bachmann did co-sign a bill this year that would effectively put creationist views on the state’s science curriculum and require public schools to teach these notions as though they were accepted scientific views. See Senate File 1714, at the legislature’s web page.

Bachmann and the bill’s other sponsors apparently adopted a “stealth, no publicity” policy regarding the bill; despite the bitter controversy over creationism that has raged in the pages of the Gazette over the past year, she did not see fit to announce this effort on behalf of creation science to our staff or to our reading public. No action has been taken on the bill since it was introduced in February, but Bachmann may try to sneak it through before the end of the term. We’ll see.

I, too, am proposing legislation. Like Senator Bachmann, I am going to propose an amendment to the state constitution. My amendment would re-define a member of the clergy as someone who is not currently involved in a sinful sexual relationship with one man or one woman or one anything.

Why this amendment? Well, a whole bunch of local religious leaders showed up for Senator Bachmann’s anti-gay marriage rally at the state capitol. All of those clergymen had something to say about gays and marriage, but not one of them spoke out against--or even mentioned--sexual sins committed by local clergy.

That’s odd, because this “sexual sins of the clergy” thing is a big prob around here. Let’s look at the record, shall we? According to the Star Tribune, in 2002 a clergyman resigned from a church in Roseville after it was reported he had had relationships with several women.

A pastor of a Lutheran church in Wisconsin resigned after acknowledging improper sexual contact with three women of congregations he served.

A former dean of an Episcopal church in Minneapolis renounced his vows as a priest rather than face an investigation of an allegation made against him.

In 1997, a Westminster Presbyterian pastor and his associate pastor announced to the congregation that they were divorcing their spouses to marry each other; both resigned.

In 1991 the senior rabbi of a temple in Minneapolis resigned after disclosing he had had an extramarital homosexual affair.

In 1993 a pastor at a Lutheran Church in Minneapolis resigned after admitting he had sexual relationships with three of his female parishioners a decade earlier. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's policy mandates that any pastor who admits to sexual misconduct must resign. I was unable to find out what they mandate if the pastor won’t admit to sexual misconduct.)

The good news is, that particular clergyman has since returned to the pulpit.

Also in 2002: the senior pastor of a Minnesota evangelical “megachurch” sent in his resignation after Elders confronted him with the fact that he was carrying on an adulterous affair with a church staff member. (Fortunately, that church has regained its moral right to use the law to regulate the sexual morality of the rest of the state, because this fallen pastor’s successor is now one of the leading speakers in favor of Bachmann’s amendment.)

This situation is serious. How do you think parishioners feel when they find out they’ve been preached at, or even married by, some bum who’s been sleeping with the choir on the sly? It undermines faith and subverts the desire for moral superiority that draws many folks to places of worship in the first place.

Legislation accompanying my amendment would decree that a religious organization employing or hiring clergy later determined to be adulterers or fornicators would lose its tax-exempt status for the period of the transgressor’s adultery or fornication. That is: at the end of the fiscal year, the tax-exempt status enjoyed by religious groups would be voided for the period of the violation and their income and property would be taxed just as if it were the property of any secular organization.

This is not as harsh as it sounds. In many cases, a spiritual leader’s transgression would probably result in a less than ten-minute suspension of tax-exempt status. In the case of an extended sexual affair conducted in secret over a number of months, the fiscal penalty would of course be more severe.

Why loss of tax-exempt status? Simply because it is this that turns out to be the major threat to organized religion posed by gay marriage, according to Senator Bachmann. She is convinced that if gays are allowed to marry, local churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship risk losing their tax-exempt status. Also at risk are nursing homes, schools, universities, radio stations and other revenue-generating enterprises that currently enjoy tax-exempt status because of religious affiliation.

This, Senator Bachmann implies, would be disastrous. Tax-exempt status, it turns out, is crucial for the maintenance of faith. Apparently, Mother Theresa would not have helped the lepers in India if she had not enjoyed tax-exempt status. Judaism as we know it would not have survived, if Rabbi Hillel’s “university” had been taxed like any other business enterprise. And Christianity could never have gotten off the ground if Jesus’ chain of “radio stations” hadn’t received big tax breaks from the government.

So this isn’t about homosexual panic at all; it’s about tax panic. It turns out that for Bachmann and her religious leader allies, it’s not the principle of the thing, it’s the money.

Or rather, it’s the money and the principle of the thing—but the money’s what they’re really worried about, as a practical matter, right now. “There will always be homosexuals, there’s nothing we can do about that--but, my God, if we lose the tax-exempt status on the radio station, it’s the end times!”

Let’s take the legal focus off the homosexuals who don’t belong to your congregation and put back where it belongs: on your congregation. And on that guy up there on the pulpit railing away at homosexuals. What are HIS sins?

William Prendergast is author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood” and is working on his next book, “The Purpose-Driven Hypocrite.”


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