Minn. Pastor Cautiously Maneuvers IRS Guidelines to Support Bachmann

A Minnesota Pastor, infamous for endorsing Michele Bachmann's congressional run, is cautiously making plans to hit the campaign trial for her presidential campaign.

Mac Hammond, pastor of Living Word Christian Center, is planning to work outside of his church to campaign for Bachmann, a candidate he calls his "sister in the Lord." He reportedly told his congregation the news this past Sunday. A recording of the announcement was posted on the church's website, according to The Associated Press. The video is now no longer featured on the site.

Hammond explained his decision, "[Bachmann] is a sister in the Lord that is as committed to His Word as any you in here are."

While Hammond is an enthusiastic supporter of the Minnesota congresswoman, he cautiously stated that his involvement and support would be personal given the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines on religious involvement.

According to the IRS' Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations, "contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violates the [section 501(c)(3)] prohibition of political campaign activity" and could result in the revocation of the church's or organization's tax-exempt status.

The guidelines are taken from the 1954 congressional amendment sponsored by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. While evangelicals adhere to the guidelines, many oppose them.

Pastor Jim Garlow, chairman of Renewing American Leadership, said the IRS is misusing Johnson's 1954 amendment to prohibit churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

"That was used by the IRS, even though [Johnson's] own staff admitted he never intended it for churches," Garlow said during a Glenn Beck TV interview. "The IRS has taken that to silence and chill pastors and muzzle."

According to IRS website, the agency simply "administers the tax laws written by Congress."

Yet Erik Stanley of the Alliance Defense Fund believes the guidelines should be discarded.

"Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment," he said in a statement.

Referring to the enforcement of federal tax regulation, Stanley continued, "No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights."

Hammond too expressed his disagreement with IRS guidelines. He told the congregation, "For centuries, politicking was done in the local church and pastors and ministers had the responsibility of illuminating which candidates were most closely aligned with God's word."

However, Hammond was burned in a previous attempt to speak politically from the pulpit.

On Oct. 14, 2006, Hammond reportedly verbally endorsed Bachmann's candidacy for Minnesota's 6th congressional seat after she delivered a stump speech in his church to his congregation.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) then filed an IRS complaint, stating that the church violated the political campaign activity prohibition of tax code section 501(c)(3) by using its facilities, internet broadcast and influence to promote the Bachmann's candidacy.

Hammond apologized for the incident. A spokesman for the IRS told The Christian Post that it could not confirm or deny whether or not it conducted an investigation on the Brooklyn Park church. The Associated Press reported that the federal agency did not conduct an investigation.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan responded to Hammond's latest revelation in the Star Tribune, saying, "There will be eyes on him ... he's going to have to be very careful."

While churches or religious organizations are prohibited from making campaign contributions and endorsements, the tax guide states that individuals and church leaders are allowed free expression on political matters outside of official functions and publications.

Hammond has attempted to separate his campaign actions from the church.

He told his congregation that he would express his support for Bachmann in his travels with the presidential contender. Hammond already made at least one campaign appearance for Bachmann: he reportedly introduced the congresswoman at a Nashville gathering of more than 200 pastors and faith leaders on Sept. 23.

He also said he is considering the "possible legal ramifications" in heading Bachmann's national evangelical outreach group, National Faith and Family Council.

CP contacted both the Bachmann campaign as well as Living Word Christian Center multiple times for additional information about the council and Hammond's activities. Hammond told CP he did not wish to comment at this time. The Bachmann campaign did not respond in time for this publication.

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