Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Study on Church Political Activity.

From Lubbock online, an article about the new study published by Duke on the most politically active denominations.

Catholic and black protestant churches are the most active while white mainline protestant and white evangelical were the least active.

Here's a clip from the article:

Duke University released the National Congregations Study this week, analyzing the traits of different religious groups, divided by race, and their political influence.

It also showed churches overall are getting more politically active.

The Most Rev. Placido Rodriguez, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock, said he wasn't surprised by the results.

"We follow our own tradition," he said.

The Catholic Church strives to focus on issues rather than individual candidates, he added.

Last month Lubbock Catholic churches distributed postcards urging parishioners to forward them to local congressmen. The postcards petitioned for immigration reform. Catholics have also been known to speak out against abortion rights.

The Catholic church may in part be more political because of its large size and many institutions, including Catholic schools, said the bishop.

"We have the principles and the teachings and many of the institutions to teach our faithful," he said.

The Rev. David Veal, a retired Episcopal priest, said he wasn't surprised to hear the survey found white mainline Protestant churches, the category his church falls into, among the least politically active.

"The Episcopal Church's tradition is not to get involved in politics," Veal said. "Of course, our people do, and that's just fine."

From slavery to prohibition, he said, the church has not preached for or against government reform.

On becoming more active overall, researchers asked church leaders to respond to the survey in both 1998 and 2006-07. The number of church leaders who encouraged their congregations to get involved in politics - whether by distributing voter guides or hosting an elected official as a speaker - increased.

I have to admit that I'm surprised white evangelical groups didn't rank higher in lobbying. Yet, as someone at Catholics for Choice told me during a phone interview a few months ago, evangelicals don't really have access to the Democratic party. But Catholics can access Democrats and Republicans equally. Their "palaces" and flowing robes still impress some legislators. And the bishops who do access legislators say they represent a large constituency that the Democratic party would like to appeal to; the problem is that most Catholics today are out of line with the hierarchical teachings of the church, particularly on women's rights and gay marriage.

The quote above from Catholic priest in Lubbock is typical. The Catholic church, as we've clearly seen during the health care debates, see itself as the keeper of morals in society, the teacher of the rest of us on how to live, govern, legislate and behave.

That the study find increased political activism over the past 8 or 9 years is, I think, significant.

Regarding the laws around lobbying and church political activism, the article states:

Separation of church and state has long been a sensitive issue, but church leaders everywhere have been known to preach about political issues such as abortion, the death penalty and gay marriage. Because of freedom of speech, church leaders are allowed to preach politics.

But church leaders also have been warned to be wary of such preaching. Besides polarizing members, churches also run the risk of losing their special status with the Internal Revenue Service that makes them tax-exempt.

IRS regulations are not specific, but the "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations" says the regulations prohibit churches from lobbying and supporting specific candidates either by donating campaign contributions or making public statements of position, in favor or opposition to a candidate. During the 2008 presidential primary, Brad Jurkovich, pastor of Victory Life Baptist Church, welcomed Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee and introduced him at a Lubbock rally.

Jurkovich said he invited Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher Jurkovich has known for more than a decade, to speak at the church, but it didn't fit into his busy schedule.

"Obviously, I love his conservative background," Jurkovich said. "... And the fact that he had Chuck Norris with him."

Despite his appearance at the rally, Jurkovich said he's not worried about the church losing its tax-exempt status. He said he typically tries to separate politics from preaching.

"I'm not preaching that Sunday by Sunday, but I certainly want our congregation to be responding to the freedom in this country," he said.

Larry Jones, the Lubbock Area Baptist Association's director of missions, said traditionally the Baptist Church as an organization is not politically active, but its members are. He cited past presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as members of the Baptist church.

"Baptists have pretty much led the way in separation of church and state," he said. "In those terms, they have a higher respect for the government."

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