Earlier this month, a church in Charlotte, N.C., raised eyebrows when its leaders announced that it would hold a “Day of Endorsement” for Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.
Antioch Road to Glory International Ministry’s Aug. 7 event featured Lara Trump, wife of Trump’s son Eric, and other Trump supporters. This activity, which the church promoted through the media, would seem to be a clear violation of the federal law that bars tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office.
In this case, there is a curious wrinkle: The church, on its Facebook page, asserts that the ministry is not tax-exempt.
Call me skeptical of that claim. Houses of worship in the United States are granted tax exemption by dint of their existence. They are assumed to have it as soon as they form. Unlike secular non-profits, they don’t have to apply for it. (This is just one of the special privileges federal law grants to religious groups in this country where, according to the Religious Right, faith organizations are “persecuted.”)
Now some more information has emerged that may shed more light on this strange incident: It appears that the church’s leadership holds some rather unusual views.
Two church officials – Apostle Thomas Rodgers and his daughter, Katrina Rodgers – appeared on NewsOne, a media site aimed at the African-American community, on Aug. 16 to discuss the controversial Trump endorsement.
During the interview, Thomas Rodgers told NewsOne’s Roland Martin that he supports Trump because he believes Trump will devise a plan of “dual citizenship from the United Nations.” (Good luck with that. Trump hardly sounds like a big UN fan.)
Rodgers also thinks Trump will create thousands of jobs by building “four thousand miles of highway” between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. He seems to believe this will make it easier for people who wish to leave America to reach the African continent. (Take a look at a map. That would be quite a feat of engineering.)
Donald Trump will probably not build a bridge connecting two oceans. He's more of a wall guy.
During the segment, Douglass Sloan of the National Capital Strategy Group, a political consulting firm, remarked, “I didn’t understand where they were coming from. What kept popping into my mind was, ‘These people sound like Sarah Palin.’”
That’s putting it charitably. Palin is certainly capable of some incredible word salad, but I don’t think even she has proposed building a highway over thousands of miles of open ocean – even if she could see Russia from her porch in Alaska.
It’s quite possible that this ministry merely believes itself to be no longer tax-exempt or is claiming it has renounced its ties to the Internal Revenue Service under some tin-foil-hat theory that circulates in the paranoid corners of the far, far right. But that doesn’t necessarily make it so.
So what’s going on here? Is this church really tax exempt, or has it broken the law? I suspect the latter, and the good news is that anyone can ask the IRS to look into that. The agency has a handy online form right here.
(For those of you interested in the big picture, Americans United is sponsoring a petition asking the IRS to crack down on pulpit politicking. You can sign it here.)
Antioch Road to Glory International Ministry’s leadership may have endorsed Trump because they truly believe he’s the best candidate, or because they hold some eccentric views. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is ensuring that all non-profits, including houses of worship, respect our laws.