Evangelical leaders have been heavily courted by presidential candidates for endorsements, but a new survey revealed how evangelical churches themselves avoid advising congregants who to vote for.
The board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals - the largest evangelical body in the United States – overwhelmingly responded that their churches do not advise parishioners to vote for a specific candidate, according to the survey results released on Monday.
"Most survey questions produce a broad range of responses from evangelical leaders but this time was different," commented Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, in a statement.
"Only one person answered yes," he noted, but added that the person "comes from a minority group where church endorsements may be part of the tradition."
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the NAE board of directors and includes the CEOs of 60 denominations and representatives of a broad range of evangelical organizations including those specializing in missions, universities, publishing and churches. The poll question topic is shaped by the events occurring in that particular month.
One March survey respondent, a denomination head not identified by NAE, explained why churches in the group do not endorse candidates:
"We do not advise who to vote for. We continually endeavor to have a prophetic note in our preaching that addresses the various social issues – especially on issues of justice," the leader wrote. "We then leave it to each parishioner to evaluate the candidates and to make their own personal decision about who they will vote for."
Similarly, a longtime New York City pastor said "no" to the survey question but explained that his church does encourage its members to know the candidates in all parties by holding an annual Civil Government Sunday, which is attended by many of the elected officials of both major political parties.
But other respondents were more blunt, such as a university president who insisted that "the pulpit is not the place for electioneering," according to NAE.
"The avoidance of politics in the pulpit and endorsement of any political candidates certainly fits my own experience with American evangelicals," Anderson commented afterwards. "It surprises me when I hear critics accuse evangelicals of promoting specific candidates. That is a long way from reality."
But some prominent evangelical leaders and pastors have endorsed presidential candidates this year, as individuals, including Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family; the Rev. John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio; and Pat Robertson of Christian Broadcasting Network.
Several NAE leaders who responded to the survey said that their churches, while not endorsing a candidate, did distribute voter guides that detail candidates' public positions on political and moral issues.