Survey: Pastors Want IRS Out of Churches, Churches Out of Politics

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Protestant pastors overwhelmingly agree government should not attempt to regulate pastor’s sermons through reevaluation of a church’s tax exemption, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research.

Protestant pastors overwhelmingly agree government should not attempt to regulate pastor’s sermons through reevaluation of a church’s tax exemption, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research.

The research, which was sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, followed a related study conducted by LifeWay Research in October 2010 that found Protestant pastors also largely believe candidates for public office should not be endorsed from the pulpit.

In the new study, conducted in August 2011, a full 79 percent of 1,000 Protestant pastors strongly disagreed – and another 7 percent somewhat disagreed – with the statement: “The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church’s tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church’s moral beliefs or theology.”

The earlier 2010 survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found 84 percent disagree – 70 percent strongly and 14 percent somewhat – with the statement, “I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.”

A June 2008 LifeWay Research survey also found 87 percent of American adults disagreed with the statement, “I believe it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service.” In an October 2008 study, less than 3 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that they had publicly endorsed candidates for public office during a church service that year.

Religion has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. Reporters are asking candidates questions about their religious faith and how it relates to their approach to governance.

“Pastors and church people have strong feelings when it comes to moral issues that some consider political, and historically churches have played a significant role in shaping political opinions,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources. “Pastors, however, clearly don’t think the pulpit is the place for politics, nor do they think the church is the place for the IRS.”

Methodology: The August 2011 and October 2010 LifeWay Research studies reported in this article were conducted by telephone among Protestant pastors using the same methodology for both surveys. Churches were selected randomly and each interview was conducted with the church’s senior pastor, minister or priest. Size of church was controlled through interview quotas and church location through statistical weighting to represent all Protestant churches. The sample of 1,000 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.2 percent for the total sample. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. The 2008 voting intentions survey was conducted by phone in October 2008 among 864 Protestant pastors and the June 2008 survey of Americans included 1,208 adults randomly selected throughout the country in proportion to population.

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Jon D. Wilke
Lifeway Christian Resources
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