A pastor is being questioned about campaigning in church services.
A Virginia pastor is being accused of breaking the law by allegedly using his platform to promote his race for Newport News City Council.
In Newport News, Virginia, Willard Maxwell is the pastor of the New Beech Grove Baptist Church. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Maxwell is competing against fellow independent Curtis Bethany for a seat on the Newport News City Council. According to his campaign website, the candidate is running for the North District Seat B on the Newport News City Council.
In a recent sermon, Maxwell urged his congregation to support his campaign, according to a Saturday report in The Daily Press. “If you want to bring a sign to your house, we have signs out there.” “That would be fantastic,” he stated in his statement.
I would really appreciate it,” he continued, “whether you want to donate $5, $25, it doesn’t matter, or get other people to donate.” Maxwell acknowledged the worry that political advocacy from the pulpit would be against the law since tax-exempt churches are not allowed to engage in political advocacy.
The Internal Revenue Code expressly forbids tax-exempt organizations, including churches, religious groups, and charitable ones, “from directly or indirectly engaging in, or intervening in, any political campaign in support of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” A violation of federal law, according to the Internal Revenue Code, is “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of stance (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in support of or against any candidate for public office.”
Maxwell continued, “I know a lot of people say you can’t use certain terms or say anything at church. Republicans and Democrats alike have been attempting to convince me that I must remain silent. Because if I can’t say anything, neither can you, “It’s my house,” after all.
Maxwell’s remarks at the pulpit inspired a woman by the name of Sharon Richardson to get in touch with the Daily Press, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and the Voter Registrar’s Office. In an email to Richardson on October 17, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn described the video’s content as “extremely troubling” and informed her that “this matter is under investigation and is being treated very seriously.”
The offices of Maxwell, the attorney, and the voter registrar were contacted by The Christian Post for comments. By the time of publication, no reply had been received.
In addition to the remarks heard in the video, Richardson sent screenshots from an email promoting a campaign event on August 27 called “Leading Ladies for Maxwell” in her correspondence with the Daily Press, local police enforcement, and election officials. The email suggested a clear connection between the pastor’s run for public office and the church itself by informing recipients that tickets for the event were available in the New Beech Grove Baptist Church office.
A screenshot of the New Beech Grove Baptist Church website that includes a link to Maxwell’s campaign website was also shared by Richardson. For the Daily Press, Maxwell consistently refuted all accusations of impropriety. He claimed that, unintentionally, the team he hired to operate on his numerous websites included a link to the campaign on the church website. This is how the link to his campaign website ended up on the church website, he claimed. It was confirmed by The Christian Post on Tuesday that the church’s website does not contain a link to the campaign’s website.
He informed the publication that “it hasn’t been there for months.” Maxwell emphasized that “I let Democrats come; I let Republicans come” in response to accusations that he was unlawfully utilizing the pulpit to further his political campaign. He further recalled that “the person who is running against me even came and spoke from my pulpit.” On October 9, at the church’s 11 a.m. service, Bethany delivered a sermon.
Churches risk having their tax-exempt status withdrawn if it is discovered that they violated any part of the Internal Revenue Code. Churches are permitted to make political statements in certain circumstances, such as “presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides” or “other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives,” but they are not permitted to expressly endorsing candidates.
Maxwell’s and New Beech Grove Baptist Church’s predicament is not the first time Virginia churches have come under fire for getting involved in election politics.Prior to the Virginia governor’s race last year, the nonreligious Americans United for Separation of Church and State voiced concerns about a political advertisement that would have been shown in more than 300 primarily African American churches and would have featured Vice President Kamala Harris pleading with followers to vote for Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
This year’s Newport City Council elections for Seat B in the North District and other positions will be held on Tuesday, November 8. The winners will then hold office for four years.
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