Religion in Society

Clergy Stay Neutral on Elections, Like They're Supposed to

| by AUSCS

By Sandhya Bathija

Yesterday was the last Sunday before Election Day, and as usual, candidates in many communities flocked to the pews in hope of getting

parishioners’ votes. That’s not a violation of federal tax law, as long as churches welcome all candidates and don’t endorse one candidate over another.

In fact, many of the news media reports we’ve seen from around the country suggest that most houses of worship played by the rules.

For example, several clergy urged congregants to go out and vote, but they didn’t tell them who to vote for.

According to the Associated Press, the Rev. Michael Thurman, preacher at the historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., opened his sermon Sunday by asking parishioners to vote, but he didn’t endorse any candidates.

Pastor Johnny Shaw also told 100 congregants at the West Tennessee town of Brownsville to go to the polls, no matter whom they supported.

In many black churches, AP said, pastors reminded congregants of the civil rights fight and the struggle to obtain the right to cast a ballot.

“Even though thousands of our brothers and sisters had to die in the struggle that we might be able to go in a voting booth and vote for the candidate of our choice, thank you, Lord!” said the Rev. George McRae, pastor of Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church in Miami.

Other churches that welcomed candidates as speakers held off from giving their endorsement.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. Senate candidates in Pennsylvania – Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey – spoke to congregants on separate Sundays earlier this month at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, whose complex covers a city block in south Philadelphia.

Church officials said they did not they did not endorse either candidate, but welcomed them as speakers.

The Mercury News reported Sen. Barbara Boxer wound down her re-election efforts Sunday in Los Angeles County by attending the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.  Church leaders didn’t endorse any of the candidates, but encouraged the several hundred in the congregation to vote.

This is how it should be. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found few regular religious service attendees (5 percent) say that their clergy or other religious groups have urged them to vote  a certain way.

That’s great news because religious services should be about spirituality, not politics. Plus, that means most houses of worship want to follow federal tax law and keep their tax exemption.

How is it in your community? If you have heard of any houses of worship that may have broken the law, let us know.

And don’t forget, tomorrow is Election Day. Go out and vote!