In 1943, during World War 2 an airborne unit was formed that still exists and whose mission is unique. Today that mission encompasses several agencies in the US government including the US Air Force Reserve, NOAA and the US Navy. The mission…to track and acquire data on tropical cyclones by flying into them. They are known as Hurricane Hunters.
Watching the political rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential contest, and just having gone through both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it is easy to imagine the whole scenario as a figurative hurricane. Lots of wind, rain and collateral damage. How do we as ministers, especially as bivo pastors out in the secular workplace, address the current situation? Do we visibly back a candidate? Do we support them from the pulpit? Can we post to our church website links to a candidate? Ask for donations? Can we do any of these as private citizens? Even if we CAN do these things, SHOULD we do them? Folks, we are about to fly into the eye of the storm!
The first question is CAN we do these things suggested? The answer is two-fold. On the public level, from a pulpit or from a church website or other official forum we reference the Johnson Amendment put forward by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1954, which refers to a change in the U.S. tax code prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 501(c)3 organizations are also specifically addressed in the US Tax Code and have strict limits or prohibitions imposed on them. So very simply…the answer is no, unless you want to endanger your tax-exempt status.
On the private level, yes we can endorse or work for any candidate we wish as long as our official capacity is not used or referenced. Be warned, this is sometimes a thin line.
Should we endorse a political candidate? That is an ethical question which should be approached on a case by case basis. In some contexts it may merely serve to push people away from the church on account of their knowledge your choice of candidate. In other contexts it may be perfectly fine.
In practicality I have found that simply reminding people that the Bible has specific things to say, urging them to read the Bible and then getting out to vote is sufficient. I specifically tell them I don’t care who they vote for as long as they have chosen a candidate that lines up with their view of what is best and what God is telling them. I leave the rest in God’s hands.
One final note. I remind our congregation that we are Christians first, and citizens of an earthly nation second. The words of John Wesley in his journal still ring true today…
“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
Go and do likewise. Amen.