O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
– Psalm 8:1 (KJV)
Guidelines for United Methodists during this election season
From ¶164b of the United Methodist Book of Discipline on the Political Community and Political Responsibility:
While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society.
The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens…
As United Methodist Christians we are always concerned that all citizens, including the poor and most vulnerable, find an advocate and friend in the church.
I find it more than merely appropriate for Christians to engage in conversation during the days preceding and following the presidential election. We are part of the United Methodist family, the larger faith community, and the even greater human family that has a moral imperative to pray for the common good, and work for a more humane, compassionate, and just society. Fear is being offered on a platter of partisan finger pointing and name calling that begs for a more excellent way.
This election cycle is cause for parents to talk to their children about the value of truth-telling and valuing all people regardless of their religion, race, gender, politics, and prominence.
Access to affordable education, economic opportunity, and jobs that offer a living wage should prompt us to do more than be silent observers of political debates that professional pundits score like prize fights.
Democracy at its best, in my opinion, is as the church is at its best. Our goal is not to circle the wagons around our particularity of experience and self-interest. Our goal is to seek what is best for the whole of the community and pay particular attention to those who are the most vulnerable. Jesus said, “He came to serve, not to be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” – Mark 10:45 (Message)
As a pastor and a Bishop, I pray for all who offer themselves in public service. When elected I give public officials the proper respect and encouragement to seek the greater good.
As a private citizen, we all have a right to support the candidates of our choice. However, there are things we who are pastors cannot do as representatives of The United Methodist Church.
Because The United Methodist Church is a religious institution subject to the laws that apply to non-profit 501(c)(3) religious organizations, we must balance what is both appropriate and legal.
Political Campaign Activity
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of excise tax.
Individual Activity by Religious Leaders (Pastors and Clergy)
While individual free expression on political matters by leaders speaking for themselves as individuals is not prohibited, there are restrictions.
“However for their organizations to remain tax exempt under IRS 501(c)(3), religious leaders can’t make partisan comments in official publications of their organization (church) or at official church functions.”
There are two reasons pastors should not endorse candidates from the pulpit or at church functions.
- It is prohibited by law and threatens tax exempt status.
- More importantly we as pastors must be available to be in ministry with the diversity of our congregations and communities.
It is both possible to be non-partisan and refrain from illegal behavior and still be pastoral and prophetic. Review the Department of Treasury Publication # 1828 IRS laws and 501(c)(3) organizations. There you find examples of what is permitted.
Child poverty in the United States is among the worst in the developed world. When 21 to 25 percent of children, nearly 16 million, live in poverty the work of the church is not done.
When 42.2 million Americans live in food insecure households the work of the church is not done.
When millions live without joyful hope having not met a joyful Christian who because of Jesus Christ is a harbinger of hope, the work of the church is not done.
I invite you to join me in prayer for 13 days prior to the election; every day at 12 noon wherever you are in Indiana or around the world.
I share a quote from Archbishop William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-1944), “If we choose wisely, God reigns. If we fail to choose wisely, God Reigns.”
Bishop Julius C. Trimble