Pulpit politics: Tell us how you feel, preacher

Wednesday, October 17, 2018
 | 
Bill Bumpas, Chris Woodward (OneNewsNow.com)

church congregation (rear view)A Christian law firm says when it comes to politics and elections, silence isn't an option for pastors. A recent survey indicates, however, that a substantial percentage of them are still unwilling to jump into the political fray and express their feelings about President Trump.

Liberty Counsel says pastors and church leaders are free to speak up regarding biblical and moral issues relevant to the upcoming election, including educating their members about the positions of candidates.

"Pastors can preach on any topic at any time, no matter whether this is a political discussion at that moment," explains Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. "You may educate the people on these biblical topics and then explain to the people the candidates' positions on these topics. You can do that by the distribution of voter guides or other means."

Staver

Staver adds that candidates may also speak at a church. "You may acknowledge candidates who are attending your church and you can have candidates engaged in a forum or debate at your church," he continues. "You can encourage people to register to vote. You can actually bus them to the polls."

The bottom line, Staver says, is that pastors and church leaders must be empowered to confront what he calls the "assaults" on culture, faith, and freedom.

"This is not about politics [but rather] biblical and moral issues that have become politicized," the attorney stresses. "The truth is [that] no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for either endorsing or opposing any political candidate. Nor has any church lost its tax-exempt status for supporting or opposing local, state, or federal law."

Are some pastors really 'undecided' – or are they just unwilling?

On the annual National Day of Prayer in 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that promotes free speech and religious liberty, making it easier for churches to participate in politics. He has also loosened the unenforceable IRS restrictions on churches regarding political activities, effectively weakening the "Johnson Amendment" enacted in 1954.

LifeWay Research October 2018Despite those decisions by Trump, a recent survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors indicates they remain divided when it comes to assessing how they feel about his Oval Office performance. The results of the survey by LifeWay Research show a slim majority of pastors, 51 percent, approve of how Trump is handling the job; 28 percent say they disapprove of the president's performance; and 20 percent are not sure.

Pointing to the number of those who are uncertain, Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based evangelical research firm, says when asked about politics typically some pastors are just reluctant to commit.

"When we asked about the approval of President [Barack] Obama during his first time, we saw that nine percent of pastors were not sure, were not willing to say one way or the other," he recalls. "But we see twice that many today giving that kind of response related to President Trump."

McConnell continues: "There's definitely no lack of information on how the White House is doing and the decisions they've been making; and so the undecided posture really seems to be an unwillingness to kind of jump into the political fray at all or to pick sides in how the president is doing and really the current state of American politics."

McConnell, Scott (LifeWay Research)He says younger pastors are least likely to approve of the president's performance, explaining that it appears they are a little less tied to political identities.

A LifeWay Research survey conducted prior to the 2010 midterm elections found 30 percent of Protestant pastors approved of President Obama's job performance. More than six in ten (61%) disapproved and only nine percent said they were not sure. By way of comparison, another survey by LifeWay Research – taken in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election – found that only 32 percent of Protestant pastors were planning on voting for Trump while 19 planned on voting for Hillary Clinton. A full 40 percent were undecided.

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