Reflections

A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

Politicking At Worship?

In a furious election year, politics and religion find a way to mix in American worship services – at least some of the time.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, about two-thirds of churchgoers said they’ve recently heard clergy address social and political issues. Only 14 percent said they heard their clergy directly speak for or against a specific presidential candidate.

“Most people surveyed say political speech is the exception, not the rule, in their churches, synagogues, mosques or other houses of worship,” said a Pew report, which was released in August.

When they do surface, political issues break along familiar ideological lines.

  • Nearly half of worshipers have heard clergy talk about homosexuality. What they hear depends on the congregation. “About as many mainline Protestant churchgoers have heard clergy encourage the acceptance of gays and lesbians (19 percent) as have heard religious leaders speak out against homosexuality (17 percent),” said the report, which was based on polling in June and July. “But white evangelicals and black Protestants are more likely to say they have heard clergy preach against homosexuality than speak out in favor of acceptance.”
  • About 30 percent said their clergy have talked about abortion. The same percentage holds for immigration. About 20 percent of churchgoers said ministers brought up the environment and economic inequality.
  • Regarding immigration, about 20 percent said they’ve recently heard their clergy urge welcome and support of immigrants. By contrast, 4 percent said their clergy expressed the need for stricter immigration enforcement.
  • 16 percent said clergy have spoken in favor of earth protection, while 1 percent said they heard their religious leaders speak against environmental regulations.
  • About 60 percent of African-American Protestant worshipers said their clergy encouraged them this year to vote in the general election. Among white evangelical Protestants, 47 percent said they have been so encouraged. Fewer white mainline Protestants and Catholics say their clergy urged them to vote, the survey reported.

The US Internal Revenue Code limits political activities of churches and other tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. “They are prohibited from coming out in favor of one candidate over another (though not from discussing political issues) if they wish to retain their tax-exempt status,” Pew reported.

Source: Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)

Issue Title: 
Spirit and Politics: Finding Our Way
Issue Year: 
2016