church and state hi res_newWritten by Don Byrd

You read that headline right. Despite significant, organized efforts over the past few years to persuade pastors to violate the rules of their tax-exempt status and endorse candidates from the pulpit; despite a current push to repeal those rules; and despite the fact that the IRS rarely if ever investigates or penalizes houses of worship for pulpit electioneering, only around 10% of churchgoers report hearing about candidates from the pulpit.

Christianity Today relays a new Pew study that shows that pastors understand the difference between endorsing candidates, which is prohibited by the rules, and speaking out on the issues of the day, which is not:

Even with the current the ban, which has been part of the tax code since 1954, about 1 in 10 recent churchgoers say their leaders discuss the candidates, Pew found. Additionally, more than 6 in 10 (64%) say they’ve heard clergy speak out about political issues. The most common issues: religious freedom (40%), homosexuality (39%), and abortion (29%).

This comports with another recent study showing political activity on the decline in churches.

The upshot is this: the vast majority of ministers respect regulations governing their church’s tax-exempt status, and respect their congregations too much to interject politics into their ministry. They also have no interest in becoming the servant to political organizations.

Not only can ministers speak out on the issues of the day without endorsing candidates, they can do so more effectively that way. As the Washington Post Editorial Board argued in an editorial over the weekend, “pulpit freedom already exists.”