jefferson longshotWritten by Don Byrd

Over the weekend, the annual “Values Voter Summit” featured numerous office holders, politicians, conservative activists, and pundits offering their generally conservative Christian perspectives on the current election season.

This year, many of those speakers, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, emphasized their focus on ending the IRS ban on political campaigning by tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship. In fact, Mr. Trump said repealing the so-called Johnson Amendment is “the first thing we have to do” to “bring[] our country back together.”

Who knew the rules of tax exemption would be at the top of a national agenda?

I have written at length this year about why that rule change would be a bad idea, not only for our campaign finance system, but also a bad idea for houses of worship. And so I was not surprised to see the results of new Lifeway poll research indicating a large majority of Americans do not want to hear political endorsements from the pulpit. Politicians and politically-minded ministers, take note!

Here is an excerpt from the poll’s findings:

Eight in 10 (79 percent) say it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church. Three-quarters say churches should steer clear of endorsements.

Yet fewer than half want churches to be punished if they do endorse candidates.

“Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” said [executive director of Lifeway Research Scott] McConnell. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”

Support for endorsements was tepid across denominational lines in 2015. Few Protestants (20 percent) or Catholics (13 percent) see endorsements as appropriate. A quarter of those with evangelical beliefs (25 percent) agreed, while 16 percent of other Americans agreed.

Most Americans also want churches to steer clear of any involvement with political campaigns. Eighty-one percent disagreed with the statement, “I believe it is appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates for public office.” Seventeen percent agreed. Two percent were not sure.

Americans seem to agree with the IRS’ enforcement approach, which emphasizes education over the loss of tax-exempt status, which rarely occurs. Most Americans, by a small majority, do not want to see such extreme punishment for violators.

But the evidence could not be clearer: Americans simply do not want to see their church engage in electoral politics.

For more, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resources on church electioneering.