Elections: What can pastors do?
by Kent Choate
(Provided by the BGCO’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee to provide Political Dos and Don’ts For AChurches.)
With the advent of threats from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Internal Revenue System (IRS), I’m afraid many pastors are not sure what they can and cannot say legally from their pulpits related to political processes. It has caused many of our pulpits to be silent regarding the application of Scripture to the moral and social issues facing our country.
So, I went to Jay Sekulow, a lawyer with American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and our own ERLC Faith and Family Web site and discovered some interesting things. Let me share what a pastor can do:
• Pastors can freely preach on moral and social issues and encourage their people to be engaged in the civic processes. In fact, in this country, more Christ followers are needed to influence the secularization of America.
• Pastors can help their people get registered to vote within the church as long as they are not promoting any one candidate or political party.
• Pastors can distribute educational materials for the voters in their congregations as long as it doesn’t favor a particular candidate or party and that covers a wide range of issues.
• Pastors can invite candidates or elected officials to speak at church services. However, if this is done, no candidate should be prohibited from addressing a church if others running for the same office have been allowed to speak. Exempt from this are public figures who may speak at church, but must refrain from addressing their candidacy.
• A pastor can also conduct candidate or issue forums where each duly qualified candidate is invited and provided equal opportunity to address the congregation. For example, Pastor Rick Warren did this at Saddleback Community Church in California when he interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain with similar questions. You can view those interviews on YouTube: www.youtube.com.
What a pastor can’t do is:
• Endorse candidates on behalf of the church.
• Use church funds or services to contribute directly to candidates or political committees.
• Permit favoritism of one candidate through the distribution of material on church premises.
• Use church funds to pay fees for political events.
• Set up a political committee that would contribute funds directly to political candidates.
• Allow candidates to solicit funds while speaking in church.
Pastors must not be spooked into thinking that we cannot speak the truth of God’s Word from our pulpits for fear of losing a non-profit tax status or offending hearers’ political views. Our stewardship as shepherds is to handle the truth of God’s Word responsibly, no matter who it may offend and make a difference in the world for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. It should be us doing the spooking!
Read more about “Political Dos and Don’ts” by visiting www.BGCO.org/ERLC.
Kent Choate, Ph.D., is senior pastor, Sand Springs, Broadway.