Minister: Death To My Tax Status Critics

A California minister who used church stationery and an Internet radio program to endorse former Gov. Mike Huckabee for president is asking his followers to pray for the deaths of those who filed a complaint against him with the IRS.

The Rev. Wiley S. Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., called for "imprecatory prayer" targeting Barry W. Lynn, Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"The prayer does call for serious, serious punishment on people. But I didn't call for that, God did," said Drake, a native of Magnolia who completed a term in June as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the IRS to investigate whether it was proper for Drake to endorse Huckabee. Churches that endorse candidates are subject to losing their tax-exempt status.

Drake said in a telephone interview Thursday that neither he nor the church violated the law and insisted he could use church stationery and the Internet program to "personally" endorse a political candidate. He said the Bible calls for imprecatory prayer when someone "attacks the church."

On his Internet show, in a news release on ChristianNewsWire, and in an e-mail to Americans United, Drake called on others to pray that the Americans United officials be punished.

He gave as examples of imprecatory prayer:

"Persecute them. ... Let them be put to shame and perish."

"Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

"Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg."

Americans United, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C., asked the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday to investigate whether Drake violated federal law by endorsing the Republican candidate on church stationery Aug. 11 and on his Internet program Aug. 13.

In a letter to the IRS, the liberal group said the California church seemed to have "run afoul" of the tax law that bans political campaign involvement by nonprofit groups.

Nancy Mathis, a spokeswoman for the IRS, said Thursday the agency could not comment on matters regarding specific taxpayers. She also would not confirm whether the agency received the request.

Huckabee was campaigning out of state Thursday. Alice Stewart, a campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign did not coordinate with Drake on any of the material he's distributed regarding the Americans United complaint.

"We certainly don't condone the evil comments he's made," she said.

Lynn, executive director of Americans United and an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, said in a telephone interview that the group had filed about 60 complaints with the IRS in the last 10 years. About half involved Republicans and the other half Democrats, he said.

"Many times, the candidates don't even know what's going on and repudiate it if it happens," Lynn said, adding that he had not spoken to Huckabee and didn't know if he was aware of the group's complaint.

Lynn said Americans United wasn't taking issue with Huckabee or his Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson, who appeared on Drake's radio show and promised to arrange an appearance by Huckabee at a later date.

Lynn said, "A prayer for death seems to be a little harsh just for trying to get the tax laws enforced equally and fairly."

Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said the group "exercises no ecclesiastical authority over any individual Baptist or any local church.

"Thus, any Baptist, as an individual, may make pronouncements which reflect his or her own thoughts," he said.

Oldham said the convention also has no record of having discussed or adopted any guidelines on imprecatory prayer. He said imprecatory prayer is mentioned in the Psalms when people called upon God to carry out punishment that they believed was God's to inflict.