“I know your hearts are broken, and you’re burdened and troubled like I am with this nation, and rightly so. You should be. It’s a tragic day,” said Glenn Denton, pastor of Lebanon’s Hillcrest Baptist Church during Wednesday’s service.
Denton devoted a portion of his Wednesday sermon – the first following President Barack Obama’s re-election – to offering solace to his congregation.
Denton has been vocal in his opposition to the Obama administration.
“I am doing everything I can to see the Obama socialistic, anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Israel program is defeated,” wrote Denton in the October edition of the church’s newsletter, “The Beacon.”
“I don’t preach to be controversial, I preach to be Biblical,” said Denton. “I do that to be obedient to God.”
Denton cited the administration’s stances on same-sex marriage and abortion as key in his opposition.
“What we primarily deal with is not politics,” said Denton. “What we primarily deal with are spiritual matters that affect our religious freedom…They affect the culture, the family, the home and the spiritual condition.”
The distinction, however, can be debatable.
As a church, Hillcrest Baptist is considered a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, which is exempt from paying taxes. Certain criteria, however, must be met to retain that status. One of criteria is that the organizations – and leaders of the organization – “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” according to the IRS’s “Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.”
Denton, however, believes he doing nothing more than exercising his Constitutional right.
“What is in the Constitution is that we have every reason given us in the Constitution to express our beliefs, and the government shall not interfere with that,” said Denton.
According to the IRS’s tax guide, the prohibition against political intervention by 501(c) 3 organizations is not intended to curtail that right.
“The political campaign activity prohibition is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of churches or religious organizations speaking for themselves as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax exempt under IRC section 501(c) 3, religious leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions,” according to the IRS tax guide.
“I’ve never intended to break any law,” said Denton. “I’ve never spoken for the church.”
Denton said he was not familiar with any church that had lost its tax-exempt status for similar activities. He indicated that if forced to choose between 501(c) 3 status and speaking their beliefs, they would choose beliefs.
“If it were to come to that, we would have to obey God rather than man,” said Denton. “Jesus is Lord and always comes before anything else.”
To Denton, though, man’s laws should reflect God’s laws.
“In our heritage, we have always had a God-fearing government,” said Denton. “During the Revolutionary War, it was the preachers who led the charge…I do believe we were founded with Christian principles.”
Denton indicated he believed the election of Obama distances America from those Christian principles.
“We will never be a nation under God,” said Denton during Wednesday’s service. “We’re a nation who God is over, but we’re not a nation who’s submitted to God…It’s almost impossible for us to sing “God Bless America” anymore until we ask God to forgive our sins.”
Denton told the congregation, though, that “we don’t have to let the national shame dictate our community morals. We can have a community and a county and a city that still listens to God and obeys God. We do not have to be controlled by the national policies of this land. We can still stand for God.”
Denton said the church’s goal is the same now as it was before Obama’s re-election.
“Our goal is to reach as many people as we can and never compromise what we believe in,” said Denton. “Our job is not to enter the political arena; our job is to affect the political arena with the spirit and the truth of God.”
Staff Writer Sara McManamy-Johnson can be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 16 or firstname.lastname@example.org.