Paul L. Caron

Sunday, June 5, 2022

WSJ Essay:  Why Most Pastors Avoid Politics

Wall Street Journal Essay:  Why Most Pastors Avoid Politics, by Ryan Burge (Baptist Pastor; Author, Twenty Myths About Religion and Politics in America (2022); and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Eastern Illinois University):

Rev. [Greg] Locke and Robert Jeffress ... are often raised up by critics as examples of how American Christianity has become overtly political, sparking a movement on social media to revoke the tax-exempt status of all U.S. churches.

In fact, research shows that only a very small fraction of American pastors invoke politics from the pulpit. The reason isn’t ministers’ fear of running afoul of the IRS, but instead a strategic calculation about their own careers and the future.

In 2019, I conducted a survey of 1,010 Protestant Christians asking them if they had heard their pastor discuss a list of 10 political issues from the pulpit over the previous year. The list ranged from simple encouragement to vote on election day to hot-button issues like abortion and gay rights. The survey showed that 30% had heard none of the issues discussed in church, while another 25% said they had heard only one. The most commonly mentioned issue was religious liberty, cited by 30% of respondents. Just a quarter of churchgoers said that they had heard a sermon about gay rights or abortion, and only 16% had ever heard Donald Trump’s name invoked from the pulpit.

These results suggest that overall, there is an overwhelming absence of sermonizing about politics in American houses of worship. As a Baptist pastor who has preached nearly every Sunday of my adult life, I can fully understand why that’s the case: Pastors are worried about their jobs. ...

While pastors are no doubt beholden to their understanding of the scriptures and their divine calling, they are also rational actors who are looking for ways to protect themselves and their congregation. A few pastors may earn headlines for their seemingly unwavering devotion to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, but the vast majority of Sunday sermons encourage and edify members of their flock to be better, more thankful spouses and citizens, without delivering any fiery messages about how to vote on election day.

(Hat Tip: Steven Sholk)

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