Church, Pastors, Can Speak on
‘Moral’ Ballot Issues, NARLA Says
North American Religious Liberty group urges responsible participation
BY MARK A. KELLNER, Adventist Review News Editor
hile current Federal regulations in the United States bars churches and pastors from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates in an election, Seventh-day Adventist pastors, as well as the church itself, can speak on moral issues coming up for a vote, such as marriage, gambling, and alcohol licensing without fear of losing a tax exemption for the church, the North American Religious Liberty Association said.
The group, which is sponsored by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, offered the statement after receiving inquiries about what is and isn’t permissible for the Church and its pastors to undertake during an election season. A 1954 Federal U. S. law prohibits churches and pastors from endorsing or opposing candidates for elective office, and this year, more than 30 churches in the U. S. have taken on the Internal Revenue Service’s implementation of that law, often from the pulpit, media reports indicate.
At the same time, NARLA noted, in respect to the U. S. elections that ballot issues in at least three states directly impact moral positions of longstanding within Adventism: “three such issues are slot machines in Maryland, Proposition 8 in California (which defines marriage as between [one] man and [one] woman), and a local referendum in Texas regarding the sale of alcohol in a historically ‘dry’ community.”
FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Seventh-day Adventist Church pastors and employees can speak on moral issues that are on ballots this year, the North American Religious Liberty Association says. [Mark A. Kellner photo]
The question of moral issues is different, the NARLA statement indicated. These are topics where churches can take a position without fear of IRS consequences.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a long history of advocacy in the public square,” the statement said. “Our pioneers supported the prohibition of alcohol, the abolition of slavery, and religious liberty for all, among other issues.”
The statement also quoted from Gospel Workers, a book by Ellen White, a pioneering co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: White, the statement added, “implored Adventists to vote on issues of moral imperative: ‘Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?’”
The statement also quoted instruction of the Office of General Counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, that neither the Church nor its employees can use their official positions to advance an individual candidate’s cause: “the General Conference and all related organizations in the Church must stay away from any indication of support or opposition to any political candidate. This means that as an employee of the Church you must not use your position, Church resources or equipment (bulletin boards, emails, Web sites, stationary, publications, the pulpit in the case of a church, etc.) to either support or oppose any political candidate. Certainly you are free to do this as a personal matter but please refrain from any involvement in such activity as an employee of the Church.”
According to the statement, “while we are clearly instructed not to advocate for or against a particular political candidate, we may certainly take our stand on moral issues. This in no way violates our long-held position on church-state separation either, since the First Amendment [of the U. S. Constitution] was never intended to silence the voices of people of faith in the public square. It should be kept in mind, however, that we will probably be most persuasive if we can show that our point of view serves a valuable secular purpose.”
At the same time, NARLA suggested Adventist Church employees use care in their planning: “We strongly urge that church members carefully consider their involvement in any public debate and always act with courtesy and respect towards others. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we wouldn’t want anything we do or say to reflect poorly on the One whose name we carry,” the statement concluded.
Founded in 1897, the North American Religious Liberty Association is dedicated to representing the cause of freedom to lawmakers in the United States and Canada. More information on the group can be found at www.religiousliberty.info.