8 in 10 Americans Say Pastors Shouldn't Endorse Political Candidates in Church, Survey Finds

Nearly eight out of 10 Americans believe it's inappropriate for pastors to endorse political candidates at church, while over seven in 10 Americans feel it's inappropriate for churches to endorse political candidates.

As part of a LifeWay Research survey released last week, 1,000 randomly selected Americans were asked over the phone about their views on whether or not it's appropriate for clergy and churches to endorse politicians for political office.

The survey comes as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which puts churches at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they endorse political candidates or if their pastors endorse political candidates in church.

According to the survey, which has a plus-or-minus 3.6 percentage point margin of error, 79 percent of the respondents either somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with the sentence: "I believe it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service."

Meanwhile, 75 percent of respondents said they somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with churches endorsing political candidates for public office. Additionally, 81 percent of respondents somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with churches using their resources to campaign for political candidates.

As it does not violate the Johnson Amendment for a pastor to endorse a political candidate outside church as a citizen, 53 percent of respondents somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with pastors endorsing candidates outside of their role in the church. Only 43 percent somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with it being appropriate for a pastor to endorse a candidate for public office outside of the church.

Although many Americans might not think it's appropriate for pastors or churches to endorse political candidates, 52 percent of respondents felt that churches should not be stripped of their tax-exempt status for endorsing candidates.

"I don't think pastors should endorse candidates and I don't think churches should endorse candidates," said Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and a member of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board, to The Christian Post on Tuesday.

"They should be looking for candidates who endorse them, but I believe that should be a decision that is left to the churches, not dictated by the government," added Land, who is also CP's executive editor. "I favor the repeal of the Johnson Amendment but at the same time, I don't think that churches ought to endorse political candidates. That ought to be a decision made by the individual church, not dictated to them by the government. To me, that is a violation of the First Amendment. How does that fit with the free exercise of religion?"

The survey data was broken down into religious demographics and found that Protestants (20 percent) are more likely than Catholics (13 percent) to agree with it being appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates. About 27 percent of self-identified evangelical Protestants feel it's appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates.

About 33 percent of self-identified evangelical Protestants said it's appropriate for churches to endorse political candidates, while only 27 percent of Protestants and 18 percent of Catholics agree.

"My main concern would be that churches would end up being embarrassed by the later behavior of politicians they have endorsed. Richard Nixon comes to mind," Land said. "When Billy Graham heard the Watergate tapes, he went into the bathroom and vomited because he was so upset that Nixon was so different than the person he had presented himself to be."

Land added that when churches and pastors get involved in endorsing candidates, that can "turn off people we are trying to reach."

"If you endorse Republican candidates, you are going to seemingly make it more difficult to reach Democrats with the Gospel," he said.

Land concluded that the church's role is to make sure that their congregants understand the biblical positions on political issues. However, it is up to each voter to "connect the dots" at the voting booth.

"I think that the church, we are commanded to be salt and light, so we can get involved on issues and we make it clear where the Bible stands on issues," Land said. "But, we have to leave it to the people to connect their own dots."