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“When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Prov 29:2)

Equipping the Church to Vote

Chapter 5: Church Do's & Don'ts

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But
everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that
makes everything visible.” (Eph 5:11-14)

In the last generation, there have been at least two major developments external to the church that have helped stifle much of its proper role in equipping believers to be godly Christian citizens - the “separation of church and state” controversy and tax exempt status.

The separation belief has had a significant dampening effect on our perceived role as believers in a very hostile environment.  Though it sounds like a wise and insightful phrase, in reality it is a claim by non-Christians that few believers are able to effectively counter or correct.  In fact, there’s a growing contingent of Christians who have bought into this principle and are convinced churches shouldn’t have anything to do with political issues, government, or anything socially or culturally controversial.  The fact of the matter, however, is the United States Constitution specifically restricts government from establishing a national religion, or restricting its free exercise.  This is clear by reading the First Amendment to the Constitution (known as the Establishment Clause):

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

On the other hand, religion is free to influence government for good and ensure it fulfills its God ordained role (Rom 13:1-6).  To remove any vestige of religion from the public domain is not only impossible, but in reality formally institutes a secular (or atheistic) belief system in its place – this by itself would be establishing a religion and would therefore be unconstitutional.  Fortunately, numerous books have been written recently documenting the original intent of this Amendment and also the fallacy of the arguments involved 5.  The reader is encouraged to find and read these to better understand the issues and implications involved.

The second development is the 501(c)3 status of the vast majority of churches in this nation.  If a church is incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit, religious organization, they may engage in activities to influence legislation only if the total sum of these activities is not a “substantial” part of their overall activity for the year (generally considered 5% or less of the church’s annual budget).  Because the amount of involvement allowed by a church is not quantified, there is uncertainty as to what can be done and not incur IRS involvement.  This situation provides a convenient excuse for some church leaders to sidestep the entire issue of equipping believers to be salt and light in the political process.  Though individuals are still free to be active on their own, pastors many times will find it easier, and safer, to completely ignore any Biblical mandate to address who should govern us and what constitutes just laws.  Though this sounds like noble high ground, the practical implications are “issues” or “subjects” become off limits for teachers and preachers, independent of their conscience and what the Bible teaches.  This by its nature can deny the Bible is sufficient for every good work and all matters of faith and practice (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Where did this limitation on churches come from?  Believe it or not, it’s a relatively recent development in our nation’s history.  The current law prohibiting churches (specifically, non-profit religious organizations that are tax-exempt) from speaking out formally and directly on candidates and laws not directly affecting them is a descendent of a July 2, 1954 law.  At that time, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson was facing re-election.  He wanted to ensure “political activity” by tax-exempt organizations was prohibited to help ensure his re-election to Congress.  He introduced an amendment on the Senate floor, which was then approved without hearings or debate.  The result became the first time in our nation’s history that pulpits were effectively silenced on political speech 6.

Right or wrong, the legal environment surrounding the 501(c)3 church’s freedoms in the area of political involvement is murky at best.  There are obvious inconsistencies in legal interpretation in different parts of the country, but a definite swing has occurred towards a benign approach to addressing political issues to ensure no actual or perceived legal limit is violated.  I believe these decisions of convenience have become dramatic errors of omission (no involvement) in the guise of preventing any possible error of commission.

Given the above situation, the following is a short compendium of what a church (the formal entity itself) can and cannot do legally in the current environment.  However, if there are any doubts about these activities, it’s recommended professional legal advice be sought since interpretations of allowed activities and what “substantial” means can differ from region to region.

What a Church Generally Can Do:

  • Conduct non-partisan voter registration drives
  • Preach about citizenship responsibilities (e.g., responsibility to vote)
  • Discuss church doctrine pertaining to candidate views (such as abortion)
  • Distribute non-partisan voter education materials that address a wide array of issues the candidates will face (e.g., voter guides, scorecards)
  • Host candidate/issues forums as long as all candidates are invited to participate
  • Allow all candidates to speak at church services (pray, testimonies, preach) as long as all are given the opportunity and no campaign activities are conducted
  • Educate members about pending legislation
  • Distribute political statements and opinions on political issues in the church parking lot, so long as there is no church endorsement
  • Support or oppose judicial, department or cabinet appointments (not candidates, however)
  • Publish a church bulletin ad for all who request it, as long as it is purchased at the regular rate for such ads, and equally offered to all candidates
  • Publish neutral news stories and public endorsements of candidates in an objective news reporting context

What a Church Generally Cannot Do:

  • Endorse a political candidate, or allow candidates to solicit funds in church
  • Solicit for, or contribute to, political candidates or political action committees
  • Participate in fund-raising projects for political action committees representing interests of the church
  • Make a donation of a mailing list or office equipment to a political candidate
  • Sell a political ad at a discount rate to selected advertisers only
  • Pay to attend a caucus for a state or national political convention
  • Pay fees for political events from church funds
  • Allow the distribution of political materials clearly favoring one candidate or political party and implying endorsement of the church

It should be noted, however, that a pastor retains his personal right to endorse candidates and participate in political committees independent of the church (that is, not representing or speaking for the church).

The key to approaching elections and the issues addressed by voting is for a church to present information, facts, scripture, and sound reasoning in a non-exclusive manner.  By this I mean that church leadership shouldn’t tell a person who to vote for, but may present information as well as Biblical insights addressing all viable candidates so the believer is equipped to make their own decisions.  The same is generally true for ballot measures, though greater freedom is allowed.
The above list of do’s and don’ts was summarized from various references 7.  The reader is encouraged to access these resources directly to become better informed.

5Original Intent – The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion by David Barton, 1997; The Myth of Separation by David Barton; see also publications produced by Wallbuilders, at 
6“Dr. Kennedy Tells Congress to Restore Clergy Free Speech”, Impact article, Coral Ridge Ministries, July 2002
7Christian Coalition of America (; Center for Reclaiming America – Citizenship & Your Church; Focus on the Family – CitizenLink (; American Center for Law and Justice (; “The Eagle and the Cross” from the Rutherford Institute (; Liberty Counsel, “Political and Legislative Guidelines for Churches and Pastors”

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