Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Should pastors endorse political candidates from the pulpit? Most don't.

In a survey of Protestant pastors, 90 percent don't believe they should endorse candidates from the pulpit.
Nearly 90 percent of pastors believe they should not endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.
The survey, released Oct. 1, also revealed that 44 percent of pastors personally endorsed candidates, but did so outside of their church role.

The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found that only 10 percent believe pastors should endorse candidates from the pulpit. Eighty-seven percent believe (71 percent strongly and 16 percent somewhat) pastors should not endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit. Three percent of pastors are not sure.

...Slight differences emerged between pastors who consider themselves "evangelical" and those who self-identify as "mainline." Eighty-six percent of evangelical pastors believe pastors should not endorse a candidate from the pulpit, as compared to 91 percent of mainline pastors.
What I'd have liked to see are the reasons why pastors believe they shouldn't endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit.  Is it because they fear loss of their tax exempt status, is there a theological basis for doing so, or simply believing politics is unimportant.

If it's the former reason, the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group is trying to change that through its "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" where hundreds of pastors around the country publicly state positions on particular candidates.  Their purpose is provoke the IRS to enforce their regulations, which they've never done regarding a pulpit endorsement or opposition to a particular candidate.
The results of the survey come just prior to the Alliance Defending Freedom's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" on Oct. 7. The alliance encourages pastors to challenge the IRS ban on political endorsements from the pulpit by comparing the positions of candidates from a biblical perspective. ADF has held Pulpit Freedom Sunday every year since 2008.

"Previous research has shown that pastors believe the government has no place in determining what is and is not said from their pulpits regarding candidates," Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said. "Yet most pastors don't believe endorsement of candidates should be made from the pulpit."

An amendment to the IRS tax code in 1954 prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from endorsing political candidates for public office. According to the IRS, "violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax."

ADF believes the law violates the First Amendment. ADF wants to challenge the law in court but wants the IRS to initiate the action -- something the IRS has yet to do in the five previous years of Pulpit Freedom Sunday. 
Personally, I believe pastors should and do have the freedom to endorse or oppose candidates.  Should they do it is a question of prudence.  I don't think a pastoral endorsement of candidate is necessarily that helpful in many instances.  I think more beneficial is for a pastor help to church attenders think biblically about the issues and what should inform a person's voting decisions. 

Frankly, I don't think a public endorsement would sway a lot of people.  Most parishioners probably wouldn't look to their pastor for special wisdom on who they should vote for.  They won't persuade a lot of people.  Though I could see a pastor stating a position on say, President Obama, if church members put party loyalties before positions. 

I wonder if the high negative numbers are rooted in a distorted understanding of the relationship between faith and politics.  They've compartmentalized their faith to the extent they think politics is unimportance, nonspiritual or has no relevance to faith matters.   If so that's  a poor reason.   Considering it not prudential to endorse or oppose candidates is another thing.

I think pastors should speak out on issues more and criticize or affirm officials who take the correct positions.  It's part of the educational process.

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