Whenever election season rolls around or legislation dealing with biblically-related topics is being discussed, pastors and church leaders often wonder about the legality of discussing those issues within the four walls of the church. While not wanting to sow discord among church members, many pastors feel a responsibility to share with their congregations what God’s word says about topics such as marriage, abortion, and a host of other issues facing our society today. Concerns about the church’s tax-exempt status and religious liberty are never far behind. Now there are some new resources available that can help.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently released a short five-point guide that covers what speech is allowed by pastors without violating IRS rules. Part of ADF’s Church Alliance initiative, the guide educates pastors and church leaders about sermons and speeches, general education of voters, use of church facilities, lobbying, and gifts and money.
As ADF describes it, “The goal of this guide is to empower you to both shepherd God’s people and protect your ministry.”
The guide includes a chart that provides a short description of a type of political activity, such as nonpartisan “get-out-the-vote” activities, and then whether a church or a pastor can engage in the activity. In this case, the answer for both is yes. Regarding lobbying for or against legislation, the guide notes a pastor may, but a church can do so only in a limited capacity, which is explained in the guide.
Overall, the guide instructs, “Always keep in mind that discussion about or efforts related solely to the issues is not restricted by law. Supporting or opposing candidates and specific legislation is where the regulation begins.”
In recent years, and especially since the pandemic, issues of religious liberty have been at stake. In Illinois and around the country, governors have issued controversial orders closing churches or severely limiting indoor attendance numbers. Early in the pandemic, drive-in church was prohibited for a time in Illinois. Additionally, before the pandemic, churches in Chicago and the central part of the state have had to go to court due to zoning regulations in their municipalities that were restrictive to faith-based organizations.
As these issues become more common, more Christians are speaking out, including Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who argued in a July 2020 New York Times editorial not to let up on the protection of religious liberty. “Americans disagree on some important things — not just on marriage and sexuality, but often on things as fundamental as God and the meaning of life,” he wrote. “But, as we have those arguments, let’s keep our First Amendment and our history of religious freedom intact. Without it, we will not be left with arguments at all, but just with the raw power of whoever has more votes at the moment. That’s not what most of us want. But if you do, and you get it, trust me — you’ll hate it.”
There is help for churches confronting questions of religious liberty or those more complex than the issues represented in the ADF legal guide. Through IBSA’s partnership with ADF, IBSA churches can become a member of ADF Church Alliance to receive legal advice from ADF attorneys. Visit ADFChurchAlliance.org to join, and enter code IBSA25 for a reduced annual membership rate of $125.
The Illinois Family Institute’s (IFI) website has a wealth of voter resources available for the November 3 election. Non-partisan voter guides offer candidate stances in the presidential, congressional, state senate, state representative, and federal races. For those unsure of which state senate or representative district they live in, it can be easily looked up by entering a zip code into a provided link.
The site also includes a voter registration link that may be used to update an address or note a name change.
While this year’s elections are hotly contested and people may be deeply divided, the resources provided by ADF and IFI can help make the 2020 election a little less complicated for churches and pastors.