Churches Do Have A Voice and a Right to Use It (Response to Maine's homosexual "marriage" vote)
As a local pastor, I watched, listened and read with amusement the comments of people about the role of the “church” during the recent same-sex marriage scenario.
Many shared verbally on talk shows and by the written word in papers, blogs and so forth that the church had no right to be involved in politics during the same-sex debate.
Albeit the Catholic Church received most of the criticism, I am sure those complaining wanted their comments directed to all churches that were against same-sex marriage.
I found one item somewhat amusing. Those who were appalled at the Catholic Church being involved did not seem to mind other churches that took the side of same-sex marriage.
If it is wrong for a church to oppose same-sex marriage because of political reasons, it must then be wrong for a church to politically be in support of it. Makes sense to me. However, the latter was rarely if ever referenced. It is somewhat uncanny how personal passion blinds us sometimes.
That being said, was the “church” in error no matter what position it took on this recent issue? Was the church breaking the law when it was involved in taking offerings, promoting its position from the pulpit, telling its parishioners how to vote, holding meetings in its place of worship, and so forth?
Was it lawful for any church to be involved, and is this considered meddling in politics?
What can churches do according to the law? This is extremely relevant for a couple of reasons.
First, many local pastors and churches are somewhat unlearned in what they can or cannot do from the pulpit or where their church fits in the political arena.
Second, people who want to voice opinions for or against an issue concerning the churches’ involvement need to know the law.
People need to understand that the IRS allows churches to be involved in supporting or opposing political legislation. Churches are allowed to share sermons in support or opposition from the pulpit.
Pastors can encourage their congregants to be involved in the process. They can educate their constituents via video, written mate-rials, special speakers or any way they deem necessary.
They can raise funds by passing the plate to support or not support any moral or social issue.
There is a lot of ignorance on the part of churchgoers and nonchurch goers on this issue. However, there is a difference in supporting or opposing political legislation and supporting or opposing political candidates.
This is where many are confused. Churches cannot endorse or oppose political candidates. A clergy person can as a private citizen, but he cannot influence his church.
Churches cannot contribute to political candidates. They cannot contribute to a political action committee. Political candidates can be singled out in a church service and they can even share before the congregation, but they cannot tell the church people how to vote, and the church cannot solicit contributions for the candidate.