Sorry, Trump: 3 in 4 Evangelicals Don’t Want Pastors Endorsing Politicians from Pulpits

Bennett Tobias
Bennett Tobias

However, survey finds they also don’t want pastors who do campaign to be punished.

Since the 1950s, the IRS has banned preachers from endorsing candidates during church services. Donald Trump has pledged to eliminate the ban, calling it his “greatest contribution to Christianity” if he is elected president.

However, most Americans—including evangelicals—seem to like the status quo.

Four out of five Americans say it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church, according to a newly released report from LifeWay Research. Three-quarters say churches should steer clear of endorsements.

For the most part, Americans with evangelical beliefs agree that pastors and churches should abstain from using their resources—including the pulpit—to campaign for a particular candidate. Seventy-three percent say pastors should abstain, while about 65 percent say churches should abstain.

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

Yet fewer than half of Americans—and just 33 percent of evangelicals—want churches to be punished if they do endorse candidates.

The ban on endorsements, known as the Johnson Amendment, dates back to a conflict between then–US Senator Lyndon Johnson and a Texas nonprofit, which opposed his re-election bid. Approved in 1954, the IRS rule bans all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, from active involvement in political campaigns.

Since 2008, a group of mostly Protestant pastors has challenged the ban each year by endorsing candidates in an event called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Recent polling shows few churchgoers have heard their pastor endorse a candidate.

[Editor’s note: Trump, who helped make repealing the Johnson Amendment a plank in the GOP platform, has received fewer sermon endorsements than rival Hillary Clinton, according to the Pew Research Center. While some atheists have pushed for the punishment of pastors who participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, support for the freedom of pastors to publicly endorse candidates is on the rise—even among religious nones.]

The new LifeWay report, which compares results from surveys of 1,000 Americans in 2008 and 2015, found that disapproval of endorsements, while a little lower, remains high overall.

In both surveys, LifeWay asked Americans to respond to the following statement: “I believe it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service.”

In 2008, 86 percent of Americans disagreed, a number that dropped to 79 percent in 2015. The 13 percent that agreed with the statement in 2008 grew to 19 percent in 2015.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today Gleanings – Bob Smietana