RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Former North Carolina congressman, pastor, and now candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Walker has not tried to hide the fact he’s appeared in church services across the state.
It’s well documented in his Twitter feed.
By his own admission, he’s been endorsed by pastors in the pulpit.
“There have been times where pastors take liberties to say, ‘we like Mark Walker, he stands for values, I’m supporting Mark Walker etc, etc.’ There are some times where pastors or other people will mention that, and I’m not trying to be coy to say that that doesn’t happen from time to time. But it’s certainly not something we solicit or we seek out,” Walker told CBS 17.
The Baptist publication Word&Way recently claimed these appearances violate rules clearly stated by the IRS.
Non-profits cannot participate in a candidate’s political campaign.
Organizations that are exempt from income tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code as organizations described in section 501(c)(3) may not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
Word&Way publisher Brian Kaylor told CBS 17, “even if there wasn’t a rule I think it’s really problematic for a church to turn its Sunday morning worship or its Sunday evening worship, a time that’s supposed to be about bringing people together to worship God and instead changing that focus, that focus away from God into something else.”
Jeffrey Vickery is the pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church and teaches philosophy and religion at Western Carolina University.
“Any time a worship service turns to focus on any individual, especially in the case of a political candidate, then it seems to have lost its central focus from God to that individual. Essentially what happens then is that church is taking advantage of North Carolina taxpayers in order to support their particular overt use of their property and their facilities to promote a candidate,” Vickery said.
However, the IRS rarely investigates or removes the 501c3 status of a place of worship.
“It’s not uncommon at all for candidates to appear in churches and even speak from pulpits and the IRS has not been very aggressive about dealing with those kinds of cases,” said Richard Schmalbeck, professor of law at Duke University.
Schmalbeck has published scholarly works about tax law as it pertains to non-profit organizations.
“I think it probably should be political participation if you invite one candidate to speak and you don’t make a similar opportunity to his or her opponents. So a kind of equality of opportunity is sort of baked into this to some degree,” he said.
But the IRS getting involved is very rare. “I think they think they have better things to do. So I don’t imagine somebody sitting in his IRS office during the work week scanning websites of churches to see if he or she can find violations, again they just have better things to do” said Schmalbeck.
In response to a tweet questioning Walker’s appearance in one specific church, Brian Kaylor says he received a direct message from Walker claiming slander.
“I’m still surprised by the aggressive tone that he took. He’s clearly upset about the reporting and so he’s doing something that people often do when they don’t like the report, it’s slanderous, it’s fake and suggesting maybe I’m not even a Christian because I’ve written this,” Kaylor said. “There is this implication that the campaign is collecting receipts of something to try to attack me or our organization for our reporting so I did take it as a threat, there’s more to come if we didn’t lay off of this topic. I did I did perceive it as a threat particularly when he talks about don’t worry about deleting this, almost it’s wrong and we think you probably should take it down but don’t worry about it because we’ve already saved it.”
Walker told CBS 17 he was clarifying that he wasn’t preaching in that particular instance, was just a “guest of the pastor” and did not mean it as a threat.
“In fact, it’s just the opposite. I went to that person first as opposed to doing anything. But I did tell them which I thought he was doing very forthright that what your doing is slanderous, it’s a lie because I was not doing a campaign event,” Walker said.
Walker doesn’t stand alone.
Democrats also came under fire after a Get Out the Vote video, featuring Vice President Kamala Harris, was sent to black churches in Virginia during that state’s gubernatorial race.
Walker does agrees there is a line.
But it seems, for some, the interpretation of the law is not as black and white as the ink and the paper it’s written on.
“Now if a church begins to raise money or spend church dollars on a said candidate then yes, I think we’re in a different territory there but having someone coming in and a past saying look I know this guys record, he’s a friend of mine and certainly someone that I’m supporting just like in any other non-profit entity it would not cross the line,” Walker said.
“I think that’s a really problematic thing for the churches. And I’m disappointed in candidates that are so focused on winning that they’re willing to transform a holy moment into a partisan campaign rally,” said Kaylor.
CBS 17 has not received replies after requests for comment from various churches Walker attended.