“Overall, Americans hold the Bible in high regard.”
It’s a sweeping statement, but according to findings from the American Bible Society (ABS), it may not be far from the truth.
The ABS’s yearly “State of the Bible” survey, powered by the The Barna Group, revealed that a significant number of American adults want the Bible to play a more prominent role in society—particularly when it comes to politics.
The survey report titled “Many Americans Say Bible Is Key to Better Politics” states that “half of American adults (51%) say politics would be more civil if politicians engaged in regular Bible reading. A similar majority (53%) say American politicians would be more effective if they read the Bible on a regular basis.”
In addition, 46 percent of the adults surveyed “say they wish the Bible had greater influence on American society.”
As strongly as some Americans might wish for this intersection of society and the Bible, that intersection has consistently proved difficult, especially in an election year.
Churches hoping to get involved during campaign season face weighty Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations regarding their participation in political activity. With November swiftly approaching, “[i]t is now more important than ever for church leaders to be familiar with the consequences of political involvement,” writes attorney Richard R. Hammar in his article “The Politics of Religion,” part of the newly released download on politics and the church.
Because a church’s tax-exempt status could be at risk, “It is absolutely essential for church leaders to understand the ban on church involvement in political campaigns, and evaluate church practices to ensure compliance,” says Hammar.
In another article, “Avoiding the Elephant (or Donkey) in the Pulpit” by Bobby Ross Jr., the writer discusses the delicacy of preaching on hot topics, saying that “[e]very pastor must be careful to identify issues on which all Christians must stand together—and those on which legitimate differences of opinion could exist in terms of public policy.”
With so many fine lines and gray areas in the crossover between Christianity and politics—and the many contemporary examples of religiously-fueled political extremism—younger Americans’ general distaste for the authority of the Bible may not come as a surprise.
While the Barna survey report states that Americans have a high regard for the Bible, that regard varies among different age groups.
“Just two out of five Gen-Xers (42%) say [the Bible] has too little influence and only three in ten Millennials (30%) agree,” the report says. “In fact, Millennials are slightly more likely (34%) to say the Bible has too much cultural influence than any other generation.”
For Roxanne Stone, editor-in-chief of The Barna Group, these numbers make sense. “In a world where the blending of religion and politics is seen as increasingly dangerous and extreme,” she said, “it’s not a surprise to see young people hesitant about granting political influence to a religious document of any kind.”
Though that blend of religion and politics may seem hazardous—and navigating it an even more overwhelming task—churches need to learn what they can and can’t do in a critical political season. Church Law & Tax has made that task easier with a download entitled Politics and the Church: What to Know in an Election Year, which includes the two articles referenced in this post, additional articles, and a valuable chart of appropriate political activities for churches.
Emily Lund is the editorial resident for Church Law & Tax.
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