Extended Cabinet provides guidance on political activities


SPRINGFIELD -- The IGRC Extended Cabinet has issued guidance on political activities as the Nov. 3 election nears. The memo came in response to several inquiries as to what can and cannot be done by pastors and churches.

The memo has been signed by Bishop Frank J. Beard, Rev. Janice Griffith, executive assistant to Bishop Beard; the 10 district superintendents; the three directors and by the Rev. Mike Crawford, coordinator of congregational development which comprises the IGRC Extended Cabinet.

Memo on Churches and Political Activities

As we come closer to a national election, we’ve received several inquiries about what political activity is permitted and advisable for United Methodist pastors and churches. While individuals are encouraged to fully participate in their democratic governance through voting and organizing, churches have specific limitations under the nonprofit tax laws in the United States.

What is permissible? 

Our denomination’s United Methodist Communication has provided a good summary of do's and don’ts in an election season.[1]
Churches can:
  • Discuss issues, provided the discussion does not exhibit preferences for or against specific candidates.
  • Distribute voter-education materials and sponsor "get out the vote" campaigns.
  • Host a candidate if all other candidates are invited.
  • Serve as a polling place.
  • Invite a candidate in a non-official capacity, such as for a groundbreaking ceremony, provided the person is not introduced as a candidate, no mention is made of his or her candidacy and the event is not promoted as an appearance by "Candidate X."
  • Lobby for certain issues, provided the time spent in this endeavor is "insubstantial" compared to other church activities. 
Churches cannot:
  • Specifically espouse or denounce the views of any particular candidate.
  • Endorse a candidate;
  • Distribute materials biased toward or against a particular candidate, or distribute materials provided by a candidate or political party.
  • Raise money for a candidate or political party or contribute to a political campaign.
  • Clergy members may take sides for or against a candidate or issue if they are doing so as a private individual, not as a church representative. They may not use the pulpit, church publications or any other forum related to the church to declare their individual preferences.
Although the current federal administration has directed the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce these restrictions on churches involved in political activities, our denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration has urged caution as the underlying tax laws remain unchanged, and United Methodist churches may still be violating the law by engaging in unpermitted political activities.[2]

What is wise? 

As the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8:9, not all activities that are legally permissible are wise for Christians committed to disciple-making and world transformation. How does a wise pastor or church leader act during a hyper-partisan political election cycle? David Brubaker offers these specific steps in his article for Leading Ideas:
Within ourselves, we can start by refusing to hold others in contempt, by honoring the inherent dignity of every human being, and by broadening our thinking and speaking beyond the binaries of our typical discourse. In the context of our relationships, we can commit to seeking first to understand (before trying to be understood), inviting disagreement, and staying connected in the midst of disagreements.

As leaders in our congregations and other organizations, we can work to unearth the underlying issues (rather than over-focusing on the identified issue), strengthen the connections among members, and examine the historical patterns (including historical traumas) that may be keeping us stuck. Within our communities and society, we can work with others to change the political culture and structure, transform the religious and social culture, and perhaps most importantly, rebuild civil society.[3]
Religious communities, practices, and values are increasingly becoming drawn into partisan political campaigns. More and more pastors are reporting that their church members are drawing their understandings of Christian values from political leaders, rather than drawing their understandings of social values from the faith shared in their local churches. This is leading to increased pressure to divide our congregations along political lines, even though our congregations have historically been places that bridge political divides and are frequently more “purple” than “red” or “blue.” Pastors and church leaders looking for some helpful guidance in navigating this new social context can look to the excellent series of videos on “Pastoring in Partisan Times” provided by The Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church.”[4]
If you have additional questions or are seeking additional resources, please feel free to reach out to your District Superintendent or our Conference staff for further assistance.