Despite President Trump’s enthusiastic promise to allow evangelical pastors endorse politicians from the pulpit, a recent survey suggests most of them aren’t interested in doing so.
President Trump has said he would ‘get rid of, totally destroy’ the Johnson amendment, a 1954 law which threatens to deny churches their tax-exempt status if they publically endorse politicians. Trump said the move would ‘allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear’, but most are reportedly uninterested in the reform.
However, in a February poll of evangelical leaders by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 89 per cent of pastors asked said that pastors should not endorse politicians from the pulpit.
‘Most pastors I know don’t want to endorse politicians. They want to focus on teaching the Bible,’ said Leith Anderson, president of the NAE.
‘Evangelicals emphasise evangelism, and pastors often avoid controversies that might take priority over the gospel message.’
George O Wood, general superintendent of Assemblies of God said: ‘If we begin to endorse candidates, then we are politicising the Church, diluting our message, and bringing unnecessary division among our people. It is sufficient that we can speak on issues without endorsing specific candidates for office.’
In a separate poll of the general public by LifeWay in 2015, 79 per cent said that pastors shouldn’t make political endorsements. Only 19 per cent said that they should.
Anderson added: ‘Many pastors know their parishioners have diverse political opinions and fear being pressured to choose and endorse some while alienating others. They are grateful for rules that keep them out of political endorsement differences and battles.’
Some however, said that pastors who do endorse politicians shouldn’t be penalised for doing so. ‘Pastors must be free to say what they believe in and why, including politics. Censoring the pulpit is not in the country’s best interest,’ said Alan Cureton, president of the University of Northwestern–St Paul.
Eighty per cent of white evangelicals cast their vote for Trump in 2016 and Trump’s promise on the Johnson amendment has been seen largely as an attempt at returning the favour.
Since he announced his intensions at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, little mention of his reform plans have been made.