Should politics return to the pulpit?
Religion News Service reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes about a commission of religious leaders urging Congress to drop its ban — in the name of free speech — on preachers making political endorsements from the pulpit:
A commission of religious leaders has called for clarity in churches’ ability to endorse candidates and issues from the without fear of losing their tax-exempt status.
IRS enforcement has been inconsistent, the report suggests. A 2012 Pew Research Center study suggests that black Protestant churchgoers are eight times as likely to hear about political candidates at church as white mainline churchgoers.
“The report shows that black churches have, for lack of a better word, gotten away with it for many years,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who gave advice on the commission report. “Simply put, this gets the IRS out of the pulpit.”
In 2008, about 30 churches participated in the attempt to challenge the IRS by sending sermon transcripts in a bid to invite an IRS audit. In 2012, 1,600 churches participated, but none of them have heard from the IRS, Stanley said.
Clergy want the freedom to do and say many things, but it’s unclear what kinds of churches will take up the mantle, said Eric McDaniel, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I don’t think many clergy want to open up a can of worms because then churches become havens for certain candidates and parties,” McDaniel said. “It can turn churches into Democratic or Republican churches that preach the gospel.”
In many ways, however, that’s already happening. A day before the report came out, Baltimore-based pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant tweeted his support for Cory Booker’s campaign to become the next senator from New Jersey, while outspoken Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., proudly touted his new status as a registered Republican.
A 2012 Pew Research Center poll suggestsabout two-thirds of Americans oppose churches endorsing candidates. And some clergy prefer maintaining the status quo.
“My concern is what that kind of change would make to the integrity and the unity of the church itself,” said C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance. “It’s about the sanctity of the religious voice in the context of worship and to compromise that authority would be devastating to religion in America.”