August 8, 2011

The Picture from Iowa, 2012: Prayerful Bachmann Flaunts Separation of Church and State

This is the forth in our series, The Picture from Iowa, 2012 based on photos and on-the-ground conversations with photographer Brendan Hoffman leading up to the Ames Straw Poll, combined with analysis by The Bag.

IRS has indicated that whether a Catholic organization may invite a candidate to speak at a sponsored event depends upon all the facts and circumstances surrounding the invitation and whether the candidate is invited in her capacity as a candidate or in her individual capacity. Candidates may not be familiar with the inviting organization’s tax-exempt status and the prohibition against political campaign intervention under section 501(c)(3). Thus, the inviting organization should clarify the capacity in which a candidate is being invited to speak and inform the candidates of the limitations on his or her presentation. — from 2007 Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations, US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Remember how, back in 2006, some people got put out because Harold Ford filmed a campaign commercial in an empty church?

Well, things have gotten a lot murkier.

Although he’s not yet a declared candidate, Rick Perry’s evangelical event this weekend at the Reliance Center in Texas, as you can see in the pictures from yesterday’s Bag post, clearly blurred the line between the political and the religious, engaging prayer, and Jesus Christ, to spiritually intervene in America’s political and economic affairs.

Perry might not be a candidate, but Michele Bachmann is, and Bachmann has been working the evangelical church circuit in Iowa as part of her campaign, the last two visits specifically mixing political positions, primarily an ardent anti-abortion agenda, with (similar to what we saw in Texas this weekend) religious testimony and prayers specifically targeted at social conditions inextricably tied with policy issues.

On July 24th, in a visit to New Life Community Church in Marion (show just above), Bachmann’s appearance combined prayer with a political discussion on science and abortion. This clip is from a Des Moines Register article via Urban Christian News.

Brian Hagerman, a New Life pastor, commented on the packed-house Sunday morning attendance for Bachmann’s talk. “Who would have thought?” he joked from the pulpit.

Hagerman said a Bachmann staffer who attends Walnut Creek Community Church in Des Moines called Hagerman and asked if the congresswoman could speak. He said the church normally has attendees share testimonies, and wanted to hear about Bachmann’s faith and how it might impact her presidency if elected. Bachmann is the only candidate so far to visit the church.

Finishing her speech, Bachmann offered up a prayer for Iowa, Washington’s debt talks and the president.

On July 18th, Bachmann visited the Assembly of God Church in Des Moines speaking before over 500 people about her anti-abortion views. This clip from a Omaha World Herald article (also via Urban Christian News) contains this disclaimer by the pastor:

The Minnesota congresswoman talked about how the issue of human life is the “watershed issue of our time,” and how she and her husband have been very active in the anti-abortion movement.

Bachmann was invited to speak at the Sunday service by the Rev. Dave Beroth, the church’s lead pastor. In advance of Bachmann’s visit, Beroth told the congregation that Bachmann would not be actively campaigning and her visit doesn’t mean the church is endorsing her campaign. Instead, he said, Bachmann’s personal story fit with the church’s message at this time.

Notice the word “actively” and the way the political message — focused around anti-abortion activism — is simply framed as part of a personal story.

If Bachmann is not a Catholic, the guidelines of the US Conference on Catholic Bishops is included above to indicate there are strict IRS parameters enforcing the difference between a personal and an ideological appearance in a church. In reading the news accounts, and then examining Brendan’s photos, it seems that policy, advocacy, testimony and prayer is now all simmering in the same soup. But then, that wouldn’t be a surprise given that Bachmann advocates the repeal of the IRS restriction and full political activity for churches.

PHOTOGRAPHS by Brendan Hoffman/Prime Collective. Campaign Tumblr Site.

Follow all the posts in this series at: The Picture from Iowa, 2012.

(photos 1, 2 & 6: Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann campaigns on Saturday, July 31, 2011 in Spencer, IA. photos 3 & 5: Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann campaigns at New Life church on Sunday, July 24, 2011 in Marion, IA.  photo 4: Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, along with daughter Sophia Bachmann and husband Marcus Bachmann (2nd R) campaigns on Sunday, July 24, 2011 in Marion, IA.)

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