Few pastors make political endorsements from the pulpit, but a growing number publicly back candidates when they step away from their church role.
Among US Protestant pastors, 1 percent say they have publicly endorsed a candidate for public office during a church service this year, while 98 percent have not, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Those numbers are unchanged from a 2016 LifeWay Research study.
Around a third of pastors (32%), however, say they have personally endorsed political candidates this year outside of their church role. That marks a 10-point jump from 2016 when 22 percent of Protestant pastors made an endorsement.
While the percentage of pastors endorsing politicians has increased in the last four years, most still avoid publicly backing specific candidates, even apart from their role in church. In 2020, 65 percent say they have not endorsed a politician. Three-quarters (77%) said the same in 2016.
“Pastors are more decided on who they are voting for in 2020, so it’s not surprising that more pastors have shared their opinions with others personally,” said Scott McConnell executive director of LifeWay Research. “The candidates endorsed by pastors may be local, state or national. But those who do so in an official church capacity are a rare exception.”
While the endorsements could have been for a candidate of any political office, pastors who say they are voting for Donald Trump are more likely to say they have made a political endorsement outside of church (45%).
Pastors voting for Joe Biden (34%) and those undecided (10%) are less likely to have personally endorsed a politician away from their church role.
In one area of political activism, Biden-voting pastors are more likely to participate—registering voters.
Around a quarter of Protestant pastors (26%) say their church has worked to get people registered to vote in this year’s election. Pastors voting for Biden are more likely to say they have done this than pastors voting for Trump (34% to 22%).
American views on church and pastor endorsements
Few want churches making official political endorsements or pastors doing so during a church service, but Americans are split on the appropriateness of pastors endorsing a candidate outside of their congregational duties.
Around 3 in 10 American adults (29%) say they are fine with churches making public endorsements of politicians. More than half (57%) are opposed. Close to half (45%) believe churches that publicly endorse candidates for public office should lose their tax exemption. Three in 10 (32%) disagree.
A quarter of Americans (24%) believe it is appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates. Almost two-thirds (63%) are opposed. Support for churches using their resources during campaigns has grown slightly in the past 12 years. In 2008, 13 percent saw it as appropriate, while 17 percent did so in 2015, according to two previous LifeWay Research surveys conducted by phone.
“Americans prefer for churches to remain religious sanctuaries rather than political rallies,” said McConnell. “While church support for politicians is seen as improper by most, Americans are less supportive of legal ramifications for such acts.”
One in four American adults (24%) believe it is appropriate for a pastor to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service. Six in ten (61%) disagree, with 47 percent saying they strongly disagree.
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Source: Christianity Today