Americans view pastors’ political endorsements as ‘inappropriate’

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Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research.

Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research.

(RNS) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said his pledge to let churches and other religious institutions endorse political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status is “my greatest contribution to Christianity and other religions.”

And the Republican Party has made the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the statute that prohibits it, part of its platform.

But Americans overwhelmingly view pastors making endorsements from the pulpit as inappropriate.

About 8 in 10 Americans (79 percent) say it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a political candidate during a church service, according to a 2015 phone survey by LifeWay Research published Thursday (Sept. 8).

“Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church. They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship,” LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a written statement.

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That number has dropped slightly since 2008, when 86 percent of Americans told the Nashville-based, evangelical research firm they believed such endorsements were inappropriate.

Those who self-identify as evangelical (27 percent) or express evangelical beliefs (25 percent) are slightly more likely to view endorsements from the pulpit as appropriate, compared with Protestants as a whole (20 percent), Catholics (13 percent), those who belong to other religions besides Christianity (18 percent) and those with no religious preference (21 percent), according to the survey. A previously released survey showed most churchgoers have heard politics preached from the pulpit, though few had heard a preacher specifically endorse or oppose a candidate.

Still, 43 percent of Americans say they strongly or somewhat believe it is appropriate for pastors to endorse political candidates outside their church role – a drop from 54 percent in 2008, according to LifeWay. And 52 percent do not believe a church should lose its tax-exempt status for endorsing a candidate.

The survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted by phone Sept. 14-28, 2015.  The sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, according to LifeWay, though margins of error are higher in subgroups.