The overwhelming majority of America’s religious leaders have apparently rejected the Religious Right’s efforts to politicize their pulpits, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
A new poll by LifeWay Research has found that 95 percent of pastors strongly disagree that their church has provided any endorsements. Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, reported Oct. 30 that 53 percent of Protestant pastors affirmed that they have “personally endorsed candidates for public office this year,” but only outside of their church roles.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “I have always believed that the vast majority of America’s clergy had no interest in politicizing their houses of worship. Pulpit partisanship divides congregations and communities and jeopardizes the integrity of religious institutions.”
Lynn said the Religious Right’s aggressive efforts to lure churches into partisan politics and violate federal tax law have been largely unsuccessful this year.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), one of the nation’s largest and most influential Religious Right groups, urged evangelical pastors to intervene in the election by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit on Sept. 28. Only 33 did so.
Americans United has filed eight complaints with the Internal Revenue Service about churches that participated in the ADF’s so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
Americans United this year has also distributed some 100,000 letters to Christian, Jewish and Muslim houses of worship about provisions of the federal tax law governing candidate endorsements by tax-exempt institutions.
Said AU’s Lynn, “This is the last weekend before Election Day. I’m sure there may be a few misguided clergy who cross the line and endorse candidates from the pulpit. But I am confident that most will obey the law.
“Americans United,” he said, “has chapters, members and supporters in all 50 states. If we learn of tax law violations, we will contact the IRS. I hope we don’t have to.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.