AU asks IRS to investigate Mo. Baptists

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a recent newspaper column broke federal law requiring tax-exempt non-profits to refrain from partisan politics.

By Bob Allen

A watchdog group that advocates strict separation of church and state has called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether a Missouri Baptist newspaper editor violated tax law by endorsing two candidates for political office in a column.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint Aug. 23 citing a May 8 commentary in The Pathway, news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, in which Editor Don Hinckle observed that Southern Baptists’ theology drives them generally toward more conservative policies espoused by Republicans.

don hinkle“We want government leaders who are righteous and who will pass righteous laws that serve the common good and bring glory to Jehovah God who established government and is Sovereign,” Hinkle wrote. “This is why I personally support candidates like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who wants to challenge Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat, and Republican Ed Martin, the St. Louis attorney who is running for state attorney general. I support them because they view many of the critical issues the same way I do and in a way that is consistent with God’s Word.”

Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn said in a letter to Lois Lerner, director of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, that despite Hinkle’s characterization of his views as “personal,” federal tax law does not permit employees of tax-exempt organizations to use official publications to intervene in elections.

Lynn said Hinkle’s column isn’t the only evidence of campaign intervention by the Missouri Baptist Convention, a 1,900-church affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention established in 1834. On July 18 the newspaper carried a news story about pro-life and pro-family leaders including six former MBC presidents endorsing Akin in a three-way race for the Aug. 7 Republican primary.

todd akinAkin managed to narrowly win the nomination with 36 percent of the vote, but the state’s leading Republicans have called on him to leave the race since he provoked controversy with a comment that “legitimate rape” seldom causes pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Akin’s waning support now relies heavily on the loyalty of Christian conservatives, who have considered him a standard bearer during his 11 years in Congress. Hinkle, who did not respond immediately to a request for comment, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he was “grieved over” Akin’s controversial comment but convinced “that his words didn’t match his heart.”

Akin, who subsequently apologized, cited only “doctors” as the source of information for his original quote, but the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that he apparently got the information from a 1972 article popular on Christian websites titled The Indications for Induced Abortion: A Physician's Perspective that has influenced two generations of anti-abortion advocates hoping to ban all abortions without exceptions for rape.

Last year Hinkle wrote a column defending Akin for saying “at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God.”

“I am glad Akin said what he said,” Hinkle wrote in an article dated June 30, 2011. “The eternal destination of people, who are being misled, is at stake. It has provided an opportunity to shed light on a movement – while initially well-meaning – that has descended into the dark recesses of heresy.”