Linda Green of the United Methodist News Service has a good article up about how churches should be careful about speaking politically in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The article is written mostly from the standpoint of avoiding non-profit status with the IRS. Church attorney Jim Allen:
"The mission of our church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ," said Allen. "We try to maximize the church’s resources to fulfill our mission, and one way we do that is by legally minimizing our income tax burden."
Allen said clergy should avoid political activism from the pulpit. "My first piece of advice would be to not invite candidates to speak in the pulpit, if the church is in the United States," he said.
Any statement interpreted as either endorsing or opposing a candidate is against IRS guidelines, regardless of whether a name is mentioned. For instance, a pastor declaring that "all good Christians should go to the polls and vote for the Christian candidate" would be improper if one candidate is known to be a Christian and the other is not, he said.
The prohibition extends beyond the pulpit into other church-sponsored events. "It does not matter if the activity is in the pulpit, fellowship hall, the vestibule or newsletter," he said. "It also does not matter whether the person doing or permitting the endorsement on behalf of the church is the pastor or a member."
I'm not really concerned about the tax issues related to church political involvement because, as I've written previously, the church shouldn't be involved in politics except in extreme circumstances, such as slavery or racial segregation. Christians, individually, should be involved in detailed policymaking and advocacy that reflects their understanding of Christian ethics. But the Church, as an institution, should be aware that taking stands on issues in which Christians can disagree with one another in good conscience serves only to divide the Body of Christ. When the Church takes a formal position on a political issue, it is engaging in a potentially very destructive act, and therefore should never do so casually.
Hat tip to Jim Parsons, who has a different angle:
I understand and agree with this article but I hope that does not scare preachers away from talking about politics and calling out the government when they need to. I am afraid people will take this and read into it. Saying that anything political from the pulpit will get the church sued. That is not the case. We as a church need to stand up for the rights of all humanity. We need to name the sins of government when they happen and lead the world into a right relationship with God.
UPDATE: Gavin Richardson has handily rounded-up what the Methoblogosphere is saying on this subject.