Should I endorse candidates from the pulpit?

The attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday got more than they bargained for. Then again, when the keynote speaker is Donald Trump, you might assume that something striking will come out of his mouth.

After ripping on Arnold Schwarzenegger, his replacement on The Apprentice, Mr. Trump offered some sweeping condemnations of the so-called Johnson Amendment, named after Lyndon Johnson when he was still a senator. The amendment goes back to 1954 and forbids political endorsements from pastors when speaking as congregational leaders. The penalty if caught—loss of the congregation’s tax exemption. Mr. Trump said he will “totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” Hmm. We shall see about that.

But it invites reflection of pastors and congregational leaders as to whether this is something they even want. The New York Times reports that 80% of Americans don’t want their pastors endorsing political candidates in church. Lifeway Research claims that 87% of pastors don’t want it either.

I suppose there are some passionate far right-wingers who are excited by the possibility of naming names without fear of IRS retribution, and probably some intensely progressive church leaders are already publicly excoriating Mr. Trump. I suppose that if a congregation is politically homogeneous, people might be fine if the pastor endorses or rejects individual candidates and elected officials.

But that certainly isn’t my church. St. Marcus has a broad spectrum of political opinion, and I can’t imagine any circumstance where I would publicly endorse or reject a candidate. People have intense opinions about issues, and what is someone’s number-one issue might not even register with the person sitting one pew ahead.

I have never felt hindered from trying to bring Scripture’s teachings to bear on an issue. But I do not intend to name names even if the Johnson Amendment is “totally destroyed.”

What do you think? Am I an idiot? Am I on the right track?

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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