A recent RNS article written by Sarah Pulliam Bailey revealed that a commission of religious leaders is advocating for clergy members to be able to endorse political candidates from the pulpit without losing tax-exempt status. The commission recommends that clergy members should be able to say “whatever they believe is appropriate” from the pulpit. Under current regulations, clergy members are allowed to speak on political issues but cannot endorse a specific candidate for office.
My initial reaction was shared by the individuals who commented on the article: if a congregation wants the ability to discuss candidates from their pulpits, then there is nothing stopping them from willingly forfeiting their tax-exempt status to do so. If a congregation decides that endorsing candidates is a priority, they can accept the financial consequences of that decision.
But as I followed this train of thought, I encountered a question begging to be asked – if a congregation wants to or is talking about politics and political candidates to the extent that it influences their status with the IRS, can that congregation still be considered a church?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that faith should influence public life, including public policy. My understanding of Christ and the Gospel is foundational to how I think the poor, the underprivileged, those imprisoned, and others should be treated. I strongly believe that the Church should be a prophetic voice as we as a society address the most pressing issues that affect us and our future.
Religious leaders who are fighting for the ability to endorse political candidates need to reassess the goals of their ministry.
Yes, pastors and faith leaders should always encourage their congregants to consider the public repercussions of their personal faiths. How a person understands God and the Scriptures should always inform how he or she lives out their daily lives.
But the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Christ is much more than political ideology or one party’s agenda. And churches should be about unity and oneness, instead of promoting things that cause divisions. A congregation that focuses more on political campaigns than it does on the Scriptures and discipleship is misguided and should be cause for concern.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment below.