Faith 2016 News Politics

Most churchgoers are hearing politics from the pulpit: report

Most American churchgoers are hearing politics from the pulpits of their churches during this presidential election season.

(RNS) Most American churchgoers are hearing politics from the pulpits of their churches during this presidential election season, according to a new survey.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (64 percent) in the survey released Monday (Aug. 8) by the Pew Research Center say their clergy have spoken about at least one political or social issue in the spring and early summer.


RELATED: Trump throws social conservatives a bone


And 14 percent said their pastors even have spoken about a specific presidential candidate. That’s even though churches can be stripped of tax-exempt status for endorsing or opposing a candidate under the Johnson Amendment, which both Donald Trump and the Republican Party platform have said they want to repeal.

But more than three-quarters of all recent churchgoers say the political talk happens “only sometimes, rarely or never,”

Most often, that comes in the form of remarks on political or social issues, according to Pew.

Hot topics included religious liberty and homosexuality, with about 40 percent of recent churchgoers saying they’d heard about either one of those two topics. That was followed by abortion (29 percent) and immigration (27 percent) and, less frequently, environmental issues (22 percent) and economic inequality (18 percent).

Messages on religious liberty and abortion echoed positions traditionally associated with political and religious conservatives: 32 percent said they had heard from their pastors that religious liberty is under attack and 22 percent had heard messages against abortion. Messages on immigration and the environment seemed more aligned with political and religious progressives: 19 percent heard comments welcoming immigrants, and 16 percent, on the need to protect the environment.

Pulpit talk was more mixed on homosexuality: 20 percent had heard critical views of homosexuality, while 12 percent heard messages encouraging acceptance of LGBT people. Another seven percent of churchgoers said they had heard both sides from pulpits.

A few recent churchgoers heard pastors endorse (9 percent) or oppose a presidential candidate from the pulpit (11 percent), according to Pew. Despite some prominent endorsements from evangelical leaders for Donald Trump, more churchgoers have heard their pastors speak against the Republican candidate (7 percent against Trump compared to 4 percent against Hillary Clinton) or for his Democratic opponent (6 percent for Clinton, compared to 1 percent for Trump).

Black Protestant Christians were most likely to hear about the candidates at church: 28 percent had heard messages supporting Clinton (compared to 2 percent supporting Trump) and 20 percent opposing Trump (compared to 7 percent opposing Clinton).


RELATED: James Dobson joins evangelicals for Trump


The survey was conducted online and by mail June 7-July 5 among a nationally representative sample of 4,602 adults, according to Pew.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

13 Comments

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  • Re: “That’s even though churches can be stripped of tax-exempt status for endorsing or opposing a candidate under the Johnson Amendment …”

    Never happens! The IRS — despite its reputation for ruthelessness — somehow lacks the courage to do it.

  • Interjecting all this politics into church frankly seems rather sacrilegious to me. I always thought churches were refuges from worldly issues and that the church should be focused on spreading the Gospel, not partisan politics. At least I somehow doubt Jesus wanted churches to be turned into partisan cheerleading political social clubs.

  • While pastors and officials of churches are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit, their free speech rights and those of their congregants are not so prohibited when they step out of the pulpit. As for political commentary which does not address specific candidacies, there are no prohibitions in place.

  • As an atheist I couldn’t care less if politics are discussed from the pulpit. Free speech is important to me. The Johnson law has been broken, ignored and not enforced for many years. To invoke it now is ridiculous. However I do not want to see tax exempt churches making donations to campaigns or PACs.

    Didn’t Jesus state that his kingdom was no part of this world? In Christianity today church and state are intertwined like snakes mating.

  • “That’s even though churches can be stripped of tax-exempt status for endorsing or opposing a candidate under the Johnson Amendment, which both Donald Trump and the Republican Party platform have said they want to repeal.”

    If you bought some Swiss cheese with as many holes in it as that law has, the package would contain nothing but air that merely smells like Swiss cheese.

  • EVERYONE’s donations to campaigns or PACs are tax exempt. That, specifically, is no church problem, but a problem with the structure of political campaigns and PACs as IRS 527 organizations.

  • I think the separation of church and state is critical to America’s success as a nation. The IRS really needs to enforce the constitution by revoking dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of tax exemptions.

    I can see clergy addressing issues in worship via biblical reference, but not specific candidates. Using threats to one’s membership or salvation should also be off limits. “If you vote for X candidate/issue, you will be expelled from this church/go straight to hell/be damned.”

    (BTW, the same loss of tax exemption ought to happen to those pseudo charitable organizations that are really partisanly political in nature and action.)

  • “Using threats to one’s membership or salvation should also be off limits. ‘If you vote for X candidate/issue, you will be expelled from this church/go straight to hell/be damned.'”

    If you can find one instance in which a cleric of any faith literally threatened damnation should their congregation vote for a certain candidate, that resulted in a member of that congregation changing their mind about what they were going to vote for, THEN you may have a point.

    Until then, [citation needed], because I’m fairly certain that anyone who goes to a church where politics is preached so frequently and fervently that the cleric literally threatens hellfire to anyone who votes against his wishes ALREADY agrees with that cleric politically and would have voted that way anyway.

    When you make your club/group/religion/whatever THAT political, you ONLY attract people who already have the same political worldview.

  • So then you’re saying that, as long as everyone is already in agreement, it’s okay to threaten them? Seriously?

    No, of course I don’t have citations, Ferpete’ssake. I think lots people have anecdotal examples. That tends to be the way such things exist. If you don’t think it happens I’d have to characterize you as very naive.

  • “Things have come to a pretty pass when one should permit one’s religion to invade public life.”

    –William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, future prime minister of England, in opposition to William Wilberforce’s faith-based efforts in support of abolishing the slave trade.

  • Dobson and Focus on the Family are the reason the country is in the turmoil it is today. He decided that we should take care of the family, then started by pointing out all the things wrong with non-believers-starting with homosexuality. We have a huge number of problems within our religious families, that lead to about 50% divorce rate, and yet they persist in trying to fix everybody elses’ family but their own. This organization is the foundational one for the insidious and persistent hatred that has permeated the US. THere are huge needs within church-going families. And there were in the 70’s when this man started “focusing on the family” just not the church family. If he had truly done that, we might be in a different place in AMerica today.

  • While taking sides may not be good for small “p” church politics or the greater society to take sides on some secular political issues, the constitutional freedoms of religion and speech still remain. The government has no role regarding how religious groups believe or clergy members advocate for individuals or causes. Using the tax code to control religion and speech is unconstitutional no matter what society’s opinion of one religious group’s positions on issue is at the time.

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