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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


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Archived Comments

  • WGT
    September 8, 2017 at 7:17 a.m.

    Some how, the state of humans must get back to the understanding we are born atheist, and, completely reject the delusion of having an invisible entity in the sky directing our fate.
    Should one feel the need to have a faith in an idea yet to be proven to exist, it should go no farther than one's front door, or, place of worship.

  • Lifelonglearner
    September 8, 2017 at 3:08 p.m.

    Well said Steve! Or as I like to say "God did not give us free will, just so we can use government to force our will, and religious beliefs on others."

  • 3WorldState1
    September 8, 2017 at 4:11 p.m.

    Sad. Republicans are ruining Christianity.
    If you mix religion and politics, it ruins both. And we are witnessing that first hand.
    Keeping them separate protects both!

  • Foghorn
    September 8, 2017 at 4:20 p.m.

    Johnson Amendment can't be repealed soon enough. If any one questions that, just look at Joel Osteen's recent hypocrisy in Houston; refusing to open his mega church to displaced residents and blatantly LYING that it was due to flooding when the building was bone dry. That's just one of the more recent examples. Religions are cults. 'Clergy' are charlatans extorting from followers and taxpayers. Cut 'em ALL off now!

  • 23cal
    September 8, 2017 at 5:44 p.m.

    We need more Christians like Rev. Stephen Copley, and fewer theocrats who prostitute the special tax status of their church to endorse candidates. Keep the Johnson amendment.
    Do you know who will be voting for repeal of the Johnson Amendment? Every single one of our state's senators and representatives. Shame on them all.

  • BirdDogsRock
    September 8, 2017 at 7:17 p.m.

    I appreciate Rev. Copley's gesture here. But I'm afraid he is decades late and billions of dollars short. The mutual corruption between church and state has already happened; if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it will merely be a formality. I say pair repeal of the Johnson Amendment with repealing the tax sheltered status of all religions. Make religions pay taxes just like the big businesses they really are.