I am a United Methodist pastor and Chair of Faith Voices Arkansas. As a pastor, I believe houses of worship are meant to be places where people worship and gather in community.
They are also places where people of faith reach out in mission and service to their community, nation and world. This may be a ministry to older adults, feeding hungry people, or engaging in public witness with Congress or the state Legislature about wages adequate to survive.
But a congregation is meant to be a safe place from political endorsements.
In houses of worship, members have partisan leanings in terms of electing candidates for office. But a house of worship should not favor a side in those disagreements. This would lead to great partisan divisiveness. They should be safe places from partisan efforts.
That's why I'm so concerned about efforts by the administration and Congress to repeal the Johnson Amendment, the law that prevents houses of worship from endorsing political candidates.
I'm not the only one who believes in keeping political endorsements out of our houses of worship. In fact, I signed a petition along with 4,000 faith leaders from around the country urging congressional leaders, including my elected members from Arkansas, to protect the Johnson Amendment.
The law has been in effect for many decades and it also recognizes that houses of worship and other community organizations known as 501(c)(3)s receive a tax break because they work for the common good.
Political races can be divisive. That's why houses of worship should not be places where endorsing and opposing political candidates should occur. House of worship should be protected from the pressure by political candidates to make endorsements.
As I mentioned earlier, houses of worship and people of faith care deeply about the issues that affect our communities, state, nation and world. We should and do engage in discussions of these moral and social issues that are impacting us. We need to be connecting with other people of faith in these critical discussions. This moral and social dialogue is part of the work of people of faith. I certainly encourage these dialogues.
But there is a difference between dialogue on the important moral and social issues and houses of worship getting into the business of picking candidates. One leads to great connection and one leads to partisan division.
As a person of faith and a pastor, I cherish the right of free speech. There are many ways that a house of worship can exercise that cherished right. We can each support the candidate of our own choosing. We can work for that particular candidate.
But getting into the business of supporting and opposing candidates seeking political office as an institution is something different. That moves houses of worship from being places of sacred space that connect communities into being ones where political candidates and partisan differences divide us.
As our leaders in Congress representing Arkansas continue doing the work of leading our country, I hope they will not weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment. It protects us all, as people of faith and houses of worship, by keeping political races separate and apart from the work of our congregations.
Rev. Stephen Copley is Chair of Faith Voices Arkansas and a United Methodist pastor.
Editorial on 09/08/2017
Print Headline: Keep it separate