Is the IRS watching your church?

It’s that time of the year, when houses of worship are closely watched for — shhhhhhh — political involvement.

Will ministers, priests and rabbis talk about politics? Will they take sides? Will they endorse candidates — putting in jeopardy their tax-exempt status?

I’m working on a story about how hard the IRS regulations can be to understand. In the process, I came across an interesting “IRS report”:http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=154622,00.html from earlier this year about how they track and examine political activity on the part of tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship.

Check out the “summary”:http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/one_page_statistics.pdf of results to see just how few houses of worship get investigated.

Encore, encore!

The first “U2 Eucharist” at “All Saints’ Episcopal Church”:http://www.allsaintsbriarcliff.org/ in Briarcliff Manor went over so well that the church has scheduled an encore service for this Friday (Nov. 3) at 7:30 p.m.

Gotta like the sound of that: “Encore Service.”

About 110 people came out for the first one on Oct. 14. About 70 percent were not parishioners, just folks who came from all around to see what exactly a U2 Eucharist would mean.

All Saints’ normally gets 80 to 100 people between two Sunday services, so the little stone church was pretty close to full. Everyone I spoke with afterward thought that it was great — moving, contemporary and just different, but grounded in and respectful of tradition and communion.

I had an article in “USA TODAY”:http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2006-10-25-u2-churches_x.htm a few days back about the rise of the U2 Eucharist. A slightly revised version will be in The Journal News/LoHud.com tomorrow.

I had a great conversation recently with the “Rev. Steve Stockman,”:http://www.stocki.ni.org/ a Presbyterian chaplain at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who wrote “Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2,â€? way back in 2001. He noted that U2 borrowed from the Latin Mass in its 1981 song, “Gloria,â€? so that no one should be surprised that the band’s songs are being heard as hymns.

“U2 was using the Eucharist before the Eucharist was using U2,� he told me. “The best modern worship is when we reclaim the past and make it contemporary.

“Let’s hope that in 250 years, we’re not singing U2 in church.â€?

Armageddon by joystick

It seems that anything can be turned into a video game, so why not the “Left Behind”:http://www.leftbehind.com/ book series that chronicles the final showdown between good and evil?

Convert or die!

“Left Behind: Eternal Forces,”:http://www.leftbehindgames.com/ which will be released Tuesday, has gotten a “teen” rating, which means it’s suitable for kids 13 and up. There’s no gratuitous violence, its producers say.

I first read about the game in “The Jewish Week,”:http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13151 where I couldn’t miss this headline: “Jews In The Virtual Cross-Hairs.”

In case you’re not tied into popular Christian culture, the Left Behind books are a publishing phenomenon. They tell the story of “the rapture,” when Christians are taken to heaven and those who are “left behind” have to choose sides as Christian forces battle the antichrist.

It’s a literal reading of the Book of Revelation that is embraced by fundamentalist Christians and many evangelicals, but is rejected by most Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and mainline Protestants.

About 70 million copies of the books have been sold since the mid-90s.

The video game is set in New York City during apocalyptic times, when the Tribulation Force (the good guys) tries to save people on the religious fence from the Global Peacekeepers (the bad guys). The New Yorkers they encounter, many of whom are Jewish, according to The Jewish Week, have to convert or — you know.

Interestingly, the game doesn’t mention Christianity. But it quotes snippets of Scripture and links to a “website”:http://www.dontbeleftbehind.com/pages/aboutus.html run by Campus Crusade for Christ and another ministry.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the authors of the Left Behind books, have endorsed the video game. “Through this game, a seeker has the opportunity to receive Christ,” they said in a statement. “Can you imagine the outreach possibilities?â€?