Hi Wise Ones, I know you're not lawyers, but can you clarify what is allowed in political campaigning, if you are a parish pastor? And, do you have any stories or advice about things going well or badly that might help us out? Thanks!
Well, our matriarchs aren't lawyers and didn't have much to say on it, but a colleague of Ann's in the Episcopal Church is rector of a church in California that had its own run-in with the IRS as a result of a sermon that a priest gave a few days before the 2004 election, so she asked around a bit and got some information and some links:
As far as the IRS is concerned, you may not endorse candidates from the pulpit or you will lose your 501c3 status. This is your not-for-profit status which allows members to deduct their gifts from their taxes and your church to have tax-free status for its building.
You may discuss issues and give your opinion.
Personally, I don't preach on political issues except as they pertain to the Gospel or other readings. I prefer to hold forums with a variety of speakers. I will tell people in the church about my party affiliation if they ask but not who I vote for. I want people to respond out of their beliefs, not mine. I do encourage activism and voting and writing one's leaders. That can make a huge difference. The Episcopal Church has a Washington Office that makes it easy to contact our legislators.
Ann points us to the Interfaith Alliance, which publishes a guide for candidates and religious leaders:
The guide for religious leaders offers legal and ethical counsel on how religious leaders, congregations and religious institutions may appropriately participate in the electoral process. The guide for political candidates describes proper and improper ways to incorporate religious language and references into campaigns.
It's available here.
PBS's News and Religion Weekly did a piece on it in 2006, centered around a nondenominational megachurch in Ohio that garnered some attention for helping swing results in that state for President Bush. You can read it here.
If any of you have denomination-specific resources you'd like to share, or have had colleagues affected by that at-times hair's-breadth thread that divides religion and politics, please do so in the comments. In an election season where the choices are complex and nuanced (for a wonderful change), this may well prove to be very challenging!