The religious liberty watchdog organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) filed a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service on Aug. 14 charging that the Rev. Wiley Drake improperly used church letterhead to endorse a presidential candidate.
Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., and recent second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a press release on church letterhead endorsing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president.
“I announce that I am going to personally endorse Mike Huckabee,” Drake wrote in the Aug. 11 press release. “I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can.”
“I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running Mike Huckabee will listen to God,” Drake added.
“I believe Mike Huckabee is, indeed, a man that I can endorse,” Drake added on the Aug. 13 broadcast of his Internet radio program, “The Wiley Drake Show.” “As Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, I put out a press release to that effect.”
Referring to his press release, Drake added, “I want to ask you to please pray for me and for a press release that we just put out this morning. And the press release is simply this: this comes from my office, pastor, First Southern Baptist Church and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, etc., etc.”
Drake added that he was supporting Huckabee over the other candidates because Huckabee “loves the Lord” and “will answer to Almighty God.” According to the AU’s complaint, Eric Woolson, Huckabee’s Iowa campaign manager, joined Drake on the show and promised to arrange a date for Huckabee to be on the program.
AU argued that Drake’s comments as part of his position as a church official violated IRS regulations and asked the IRS to investigate.
“Federal tax law is clear,” stated the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, AU executive director. “Churches and other non-profits may not endorse candidates, if they want to keep their tax exemption. I am confident that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see their houses of worship politicized.”
“Although Drake may express his personal views on political candidates, federal tax law prohibits such endorsements by religious leaders acting in their capacities as officials of non-profit religious organizations,” Lynn wrote in the complaint. “The IRS has repeatedly warned non-profits not to use organizational resources to intervene in elections. Use of church letterhead to endorse a candidate for public office appears to violate the provisions of federal tax law that prohibit non-profit intervention in political campaigns.”
AU added that although they were unsure about the relationship between Drake’s radio program and his church, the program and church share the same telephone number and the show’s studio is located in the church’s building.
Drake responded to AU’s allegations in an Aug. 14 press release calling on Christians to join in offering imprecatory, or cursing, prayers. He called the complaint an “attack from the enemies of God.” Drake listed several biblical passages as examples of imprecatory prayers.
“Please join us,” Drake added, “with Bible in hand, and let us do battle against the enemies of God.”
AU responded to Drake’s imprecatory prayer request by denouncing it as a prayer “for the demise of staff members” of the organization.
“Instead of addressing our concerns of illegally melding religion and partisan politics, Dr. Drake has launched an outlandish attack on us,” stated AU’s Lynn. “Calling for curses on us might distract Drake’s supporters, but it won’t help him with the IRS. I trust the tax agents will investigate Drake’s use of church resources to endorse a candidate for public office.”
In an interview with EthicsDaily.com, Drake responded to the AU’s second press release dealing with his call for imprecatory prayer.
“If they think it’s ‘outlandish,’ it doesn’t surprise me,” Drake stated. “They’re ungodly, un-scriptural, not even Christians.”
“They have no reverence for the Word of God,” Drake continued. “And if they think it’s ‘outlandish,’ don’t blame me, I didn’t write it, God did.”
“It really doesn’t matter what my words are,” Drake added. “What matters is what does God’s Word say? God’s Word says if they continue to attack God’s people, God will cause their children to become orphans and their wives to become widows. I didn’t say that, God did.”
Drake received a warning last year from an attorney for the SBC after Drake wrote an endorsement for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in California. Drake wrote the endorsement on letterhead he created that declared “Southern Baptist Convention, Office of the 2nd Vice President.” The SBC attorney told Drake to stop using the letterhead for any political activity, arguing that such action could spark an IRS investigation of the SBC.
“Looking back, I shouldn’t have done it,” Drake stated after the reprimand. “But no one told me what I should or shouldn’t do.”
Earlier this year, Drake found himself in the midst of controversy after his name was discovered on a petition supporting the killer of an abortion doctor, although Drake denied he signed it. Drake has also been criticized for involvement with the Unification Church. Drake has been an out-spoken critic of the Baptist World Alliance and public schools, and led the SBC to boycott Disney.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.