Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misunderstanding these days about what pastors are and are not allowed to do during an election season. Let us separate the truth from the myths:
Myth #1: Ministers are tax-exempt. Having been an ordained minister for the past seventeen years, I can assure you this is completely untrue. If a pastor receives a salary from a church, that salary is as taxable as anyone else's salary. Ministers who own their own homes, as I do, pay property taxes on them. If ministers are tax-exempt, then the federal government and two state governments owe me some huge refunds!
Myth #2: Ministers are not allowed to endorse candidates. Ministers are allowed to endorse candidates as long as they do not do so on behalf of a church (since I lack the authority to endorse candidates on behalf of my church, that is not even an issue with me). We may disagree on whether it is wise for ministers to endorse candidates, but they are perfectly within their legal rights to do so.
Myth #3: Historically, American churches have stayed out of politics. That is absolutely false. Many churches supported the American Revolution, and many others led the fight to abolish slavery. Many civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., were ordained ministers. In fact, King probably described the relationship between the church and the government as well as anyone ever has: "The church is neither the master nor the servant of the state. The church is the conscience of the state."
So why do we hear so much about "separation of church and state" and "keeping religion out of politics"? Some of it is due to ignorance of law and history, but much of it is due to hidden political agendas. I'm convinced that Americans United for Separation of Church and State is in the latter category. Why do they invariably look the other way when liberal churches speak out on political issues and openly endorse candidates? The fact is, they have left-wing political sympathies, and they're trying to intimidate the opposition into silence.
Is it dangerous for a church to become too entangled with politics? Yes, and I'll discuss that in another blog. However, at this point in history, I believe it's a much bigger danger for churches and pastors to be silent. Some important issues are at stake in this election - not the least of which are traditional marriage, religious liberty, and the sanctity of human life. As I once heard a pastor in Missouri say, "Silence is not always golden. Sometimes it's just plain yellow!" Keep on preaching the truth of God, and if it carries over into the political arena, so be it. Remember, we will answer to a higher authority than the federal government!