Did Pastor Charles Worley Break the Law?

Pastor Charles Worley

Most people with some sense of universal human dignity have found the screed Pastor Charles Worley issued against the GLBT community from the pulpit recently repugnant. As a Christian who tires of being lumped together with such hateful, violent voices cloaking themselves within the protection of their faith, I can say with confidence that there is nothing about Worley’s rhetoric that is Christian, as I understand it.

But some believe he did more than just smear the image of the Christian faith and denigrate an entire cross-section of the population; some suggest he actually broke the law from the pulpit.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State‘s Barry W. Lynn submitted a letter to the Internal Revenue Service arguing that Worley violated his church’s 501(c)3 nonprofit status by interfering in an election while speaking on behalf of his church. See the full text of Lynn’s letter below:

Lois G. Lerner, Director
Exempt Organizations Division
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20224

Dear Ms. Lerner,

I am writing today with information about a church in Maiden, N.C., that I believe has violated
federal law by intervening in an election.

On May 13, Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church delivered a sermon denouncing President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

During his remarks, Worley suggested quarantining gays and lesbians and allowing them to die. These hateful and repugnant statements attracted much media attention. (See news story enclosed.) But it should not be overlooked that Worley’s comments also included a partisan appeal related to the November election.

Worley referred to “our president getting up and saying that it was all right for two women to marry or two men to marry” and added, “I was disappointed bad.” He then went on to say, “Someone said, ‘Who ya gonna vote for?’ I ain’t gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover. You said, ‘Did you mean to say that?’ You better believe I did.”

In context, it is clear that Worley is urging congregants to vote against Obama in the presidential election.

As you know, federal tax law prohibits churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits from intervening in elections on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. When the top official of a religious organization – the chief pastor of the church – issues an appeal to congregants from the pulpit during a worship service in the strongest possible terms to vote against a candidate, it is clearly intervention in an election.

Church leaders seem to realize that the sermon is problematic. It has been removed from the church’s website, and in fact the church’s entire website is (as of today) no longer online.

The relevant portion of the sermon, however, is widely available on You Tube. I collected it today at the following sites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2n7vSPwhSU&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2839yEazcs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TvvRlweyl0

You can also find it simply by searching YouTube for “Charles Worley.”

I believe Pastor Worley’s comments represent a clear violation of federal law. I urge you to investigate this matter.
Sincerely,

Barry W. Lynn

Executive Director
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
1301 K Street NW, Suite 850E
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 466-3234
Fax: (202) 466-2587
americansunited@au.org

Some churches long have danced along this fine line, risking their standing with the government as a nonprofit organization in the process. Does it mean if

Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United

Worley or others violated the constraints of the 501(c)3 designation that they could no longer convene as a religious organization? Not at all. It just means they could not claim to be a nonprofit, enjoying the benefit of not paying taxes on any revenue (including offering) and would have to claim it all as a for-profit business.

There are those who feel that all churches should lose such nonprofit status, as they think that offering faith-based institutions special favoritism by the government is an unfair bias. Though I can understand the basis of their argument, the law is what it is for now, and so the question remains if Worley’s church should be stripped of their nonprofit status.

I experience some personal conflict around this question, namely because my gut reaction is to condemn and punish Worley for his hateful claims, particularly as a self-proclaimed representative of Christianity. But we should be mindful that this is not the issue here. After all, would we want others to go on the offensive, challenging our legitimacy as a church any time we spoke out for or against something with which others found objectionable.

It’s hard to tease out our personal grudges against Worley and get to the heart of the matter. But taking Mr. Lynn’s argument at face value, all other portions of the infamous sermon aside, it does seem that he and Americans United have a valid claim to argue.

Yes, there’s a petty part of me that would love nothing more than to see Worley embarrassed and his organization emasculated for his employment of hate speech. But believe it or not, I think there’s a greater issue at stake here. There is great power and value in the nonprofit designation offered to churches by the government, and n accepting such a concession, we agree to certain clear terms, separating our powers as faith leaders from certain matters of politics and government.

Again, love or hate the terms of the law, but it is the law.

Did Worley violate the law? I think so. Is he a repulsive example of the exploitation of ministry for everything Jesus stood against? Most definitely. As for Worley and his church, his best bet is to pray that any IRS Investigator assigned to his case is better at separating his professional obligations from his personal feelings than I am.

Otherwise, he has no chance.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Rev. James D. McLeod, Jr.

    I had the same thought when I heard the relevant parts of the sermon. He clearly is suggesting that those in his congregation not vote for the president. I am interested in following this story as it works its way through the proper channel. Thanks for writing this piece. 

  • http://twitter.com/mckeetr Travis McKee

    I agree that it seems like a violation, but I wonder where the line is that separates interference and not?  When we speak against war from a Christian stand point, do we violate the boundary because one candidate wants to stay in a war and one wants to get out? If we name a particular candidate’s position as being contrary to our understanding of faith, is that a clear endorsement of the other? And what about speaking in favor of a candidate’s position, is that a clear endorsement of that candidate?  I like the idea of universal healthcare, but is that an endorsement of Romney or Obama, seeing as they both brought it in their terms? and when is a minister not speaking as a minister? I’m not preaching from a pulpit, but I am in a public forum.  

    The issue is that we know some things are certainly violations, but are some of our views tainted by our stance on certain issues? You’re right, it is hard to tease out, and it would be great to lay that blanket stance down, but doing so may limit more than we could intend.  

    • angie497

      In this case, there is no question that Worley was speaking as a pastor – his comments were part of a regular Sunday morning sermon. Kind of hard to argue that he was just expressing his private views.

      There’s a difference in saying “Our religion teaches X, Y, or Z” and in saying “I’m not voting for Candidate X because (fill in the blank).” It’s a fine line to follow, but it’s hardly an impossible one.

    • http://revericatcheson.blogspot.com/ Rev. Eric Atcheson

      Travis–

      As I understand it, pastors can preach and teach about particular issues, laws, or even ballot measures in their capacity as pastors, but they cannot do the same for individual candidates or public officials.  I actually received–at my church office–a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund asking me to collect signatures for the gay marriage ban to get on the ballot in Washington state this November, and it included a letter from their house counsel explaining how doing so was legal under IRS regulations.

      And pastors can pretty clearly teach about issues in the public forum–a local minister wrote a column in favor of said gay marriage ban in my local paper this past weekend.

      So I would say where the line gets drawn is less a matter of the public forum or pulpit, as I can and have discussed individual leaders with congregants in the course of everyday, individual conversations.  Instead, the litmus test seems to be of whether in a group or public setting arguing for or against a particular person.

      That being said, I am hardly an expert on the law, although when it comes to Biblical law, I pretend to be. =)

  • Prodical son

    I understand your concern,but when the law can direct what is preached from the pulpit,
    WE ARE in BIG trouble!!!!!!!
    Why not let the Christian community DEAL with him, they do know how you know.

    • GeneralDelivery

       It’s spelled “prodigal”.

      1prod·i·gal adj ˈprä-di-gəl

      Definition of PRODIGAL
      1 : characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : lavish
      http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prodigal

    • Logan

      Dear Son,
      re-read the rev”s words… substitute all references to Christianity and Christians and Jesus with Islam, Islamics and Allah…. and replace references to homosexuals with Christians.

      After doing this do you still feel the same way?

      Hatred is hatred.  But certain types are still kinda acceptable to too many Americans.

      BTW, gotta ask…. Why is it Prodical?  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that there is some witty reason.

  • Yessie_vas@yahoo.com

    Why don’t we put you behind a fence? Are you going to tell me that you do no wrong? That you are perfect? Ignorant people just just focus only on Homosexuality, what about murders, liars, people who commit adultery? Aren’t they committing sin? Aren’t all this things against the the 10 commandments? Oh no… But ignorant people only focus eyes and ears on homosexuality. Are you kidding me! People like you should die twice!

  • http://revericatcheson.blogspot.com/ Rev. Eric Atcheson

    Dude, the 1950′s called and they want their prejudiced terminology back.

  • Prodical son

    what a person’s personal preferances are, has nothing to do with race,
    therefore dosen’t fall under the same laws,as some seem to have overlooked.
    there may indeed be other laws that apply,and should  be looked to instead.
    I understand  his zeal,and perhaps sincerity ,but maybe his concept of how to deal with the situation was a bit extreem .
    I am remembering where  the bible says not to rebuke an Elder,but entreat as you would a father.
    SO i proceed causiously when i say perhaps some more study would be appropreate for him?

  • Commjbond

    This is either the most cleverly written satire I’ve ever read or “Fatty Wilson” is two shits short of a porta-john.

  • Logan

    Well, fatty…. Gluttony is a sin and hate is a sin and it is always easier to hate than to love until one opens the heart and allows love inside.  Sin is inevitable and will not in my opinion destroy the world.  Unlike you I believe that We have free choice and face adversity in life specifically to overcome and that is the light on the hill.

    As an atheist and a gay guy I will hope that you can walk away from sad life and find true happiness that doesn’t involve denigrating others.

    With love,
    Logan

    • Fatty Wilson

      Sorry the fool siad there aint no God- You are sure to go to Hell for denial  of him… that is too bad I hear the fire never dies…

      Oh love love love always talk abot love GOD IS HOLY HOLY HOLY 
      he can not be in the same palce as sin HE HATES IT/// All you dammed tricked people – self-tricked eith your forgive myself attitudes can just go grovel in ur feel good God who will pardon everyone regardless of their hearts and attitudes…. Go surf some porn and feel good about not hurting anyone or go get with ur boyfried and do unclean acts… you pollute the land with abomination so great God said I am going to Dstroy everyone and everything… first in the flood then just in the 2 butt smacking twin cheeks cites Of Sodom and Givemeahemorid…

      God it is sad you all have to go to Hell. I am happy I do not have to judge you false teachers and no Goders…. 

      Ur all God Dammed I am afraid

      Anyhow I am back from Shoneys long ago… I am going to go to hooters and try to reach some lost girls there – that is I tyr and show them they need not put themselves as object to be undressed and made to be carnal flesh pots. I feel bad for them – also one waitress there is really hot and always brushs up against me cuz I tip her well even though I am a porcine poor drunk

      But hanks for the insight you can go to hell and burn there if u continue on that way but arguing on the internet is like them stupid idiots who say they pray and go to church on it ha ha sooo stupid flase hollow and wastelandish… have better result skyping with w tart from thialnad

  • Mroge

    Gee, I never hear about a church taking a stand against rapists and child molesters, just gays who are not hurting anyone. We have freedom of religion here which means that you can’t force your ideas of morality on others as long as they are not hurting anyone.

    Even the Rev. Billy Grahm said that homosexuality was no worse than any other sin. This from a fire and brimestone preacher.

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    • http://twitter.com/gsb1952 Gary Bryson

      Rapists and pedophiles are not having parades to proclaim how proud they are of their sins.  Not yet.  But that is probably coming.

      • mroge

        In that case I would not condone that. There is a difference between commiting a sexual act against someone’s will and having consensual sex between two adults.

  • PTByrd

    Using the term “negro” in this day and age only serves to underscore your deep-seated racist feelings toward black-Americans. And your defense of Worley doubly underscores your outright hatred for homosexuals . . . which “good book” is it that you read sir? . . . can’t be the same bible that teaches love and tolerance for all mankind . . . best you do a bit of reading of the REAL good-book . . . educate yourself you dumb ass.

    • jph1225

      I absolutely agree!!!  Ignorance and Hatred displayed at its best!!!  Pastor Worley’s grammar simply confirms his lack of education!!  It makes me wanna go to puckin as he would put it.

  • Croft_c

    You sound like Adolf Hitler, just substitute the “Jewish” problem for the gay problem. I fear for tis country with sentiments like yours. Homosexuality has been around since the dawn of time and will continue forever. You can’t get rid of it by putting them behind barbed wire. And what of the straight parents having all these gay children? You are sick. We are not ruled in this country by your bible, at least not yet, but the right wing republicans would like it that way. What made this country great is NOT christianity but that we do NOT have a national religion, that we are free to worship (or not) as each of us see fit. 

  • http://twitter.com/gsb1952 Gary Bryson

    Those who support homosexuals, as Christian Piatt and Barry Lynn do, are not real Christians.   Real Christians understand that homosexuality is a vile sin for which God commanded the death penalty.   Yet, some people want to pretend that “their god” would never be so cruel.  They are hypocrites.

    • http://revericatcheson.blogspot.com/ Rev. Eric Atcheson

      Hi Gary,

      It’s good to see that you know how to proof text Scripture.

      I know how to proof text too.Please try Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, John 8:7, John 8:15, and James 4:11-12.

      Thanks.

    • mroge

      If you want to take the Bible literally, then it commands the death penalty for ALL SINNERS.

      Jesus NEVER commanded the death penalty for ANYONE. In fact he SAVED a woman from being stoned.

      The Bible also commands that women should marry their rapists. Do you BELIEVE THAT as well?

      • mroge

        I want to clarify my last statement. The Bible does not command the death of all sinners, but it does say that all are WORTHY of death.

        That is if you want to take it as the literal Word of God, which I don’t.

        The point is that Jesus showed COMPASSION towards ALL PEOPLE.

        He was a reformer who who stood up to the religious bullies of his day, the hypocrites who judged others and he told them, (paraphrasing) to take care of their OWN SH.. instead of judging others.

    • jph1225

      Why do some many people seem to pick and chose so called sins from the old testament which was written B.C!!  Why not focus on the New Testament!! 

  • JPH1225

    Where do you think breed Homosexuals??  I would say 99% are heterosexuals!!!  Believe it or not Homosexuality is not a Western Civilization Creation it is simply Human Nature.

  • jph1225

    Who do you think are the parents of Homosexuals???  I would say 99% are Heterosexuals!  Obviously not only is Mr. Worley’s grammar embarrassing but his solution to demise homosexuality is idiotic.  In your statement you refer to homosexuals as a freak of nature.  God does not make mistakes! 

  • oden

    There is no God

  • Karl Bonner

    He shouldn’t be punished for taking a political position.  He should be punished for advocating Nazi policies toward LGBT people.  Merely intolerant speech is protected by the First Amendment, but menacing speech is NOT.


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