A majority of pastors believe churches should not publicly endorse political candidates, a new LifeWay Research survey shows.
Phone interviews conducted randomly in early October with 1,000 church pastors, ministers, and priests revealed 70 percent strongly disagreed and 14 percent disagreed with the statement, "I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit."
The results reinforce LifeWay's finding in October 2008 that less than 3 percent of Protestant pastors had publicly endorsed candidates for public office that year.
Even with pivotal races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate coming to a head in two weeks across the country, it appears most pastors aren't willing to publicly weigh in.
"We know that pastors have strong feelings when it comes to political candidates and their job performance," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay, in a prepared statement. "But each week when they step into public pulpits in front of sometimes thousands of congregants, the vast majority of those pulpits remain silent on advising others how to vote. They may not approve, but they do not plan to tell."
The reasons for this silence aren't exactly clear. One possible explanation may be a fear of jeopardizing tax-exempt privileges. While churches and religious organizations have heavily involved themselves in political campaigns in the past, the IRS has heightened its scrutiny of such activity during the past decade.
Specifically, the IRS is looking at the potential ramifications of any activity on the tax-exempt statuses of those churches and organizations, according to Richard Hammar in "Campaign Activities":
In 1999 the IRS for the first time revoked the exempt status of a church for its involvement in a political campaign, and over the past few years the IRS has made a number of pronouncements indicating that church political activities no longer will be ignored.
Be sure to read Rich's entire article, which includes a "True/False" quiz about various activities and what is–or isn't–permissible. He also covers the subject extensively in Pastor, Church, & Law, Volume 4: Liability and Church and State Issues (Christianity Today International, 2008).
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