With Kentucky in the midst of one of the most high profile and divisive senatorial campaigns in the nation, KBF Interim Coordinator Chris Sanders wants to remind churches that pulpits and partisan activities do not belong together. While churches can and should advocate for governmental policies that benefit the poor and protect the vulnerable, public endorsement by a religious body of one political party or candidate over another is a clear violation of the historic Baptist principle of separation of church and state and risks tax implications for the institution.
"Churches shouldn't endorse candidates for office," Sanders said. "That's partisan politicking, and we just can't. Individual Christians can, if we want, or not. What's more, churches, pastors, and individuals can express opinions in church and otherwise in public on the pressing issues of the day. We should. That's a calling, essential to our witness. So we speak up- we just don't cross the line into endorsing candidates."
Fellowship Baptists have long felt uneasy with partisan politics in pulpits, which would encourage divisiveness and invite a loss of tax exempt status. The Baptist Joint Committee, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministry partner that advocates for religious liberty and the separation of church and state, points out on their website, "The IRS warns that “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”"
Sanders' concerns have been elevated by recent candidate "issue forums" sponsored by and held in some churches that seem to be thinly veiled attempts to create a sense that one candidate holds views and will promote policies that are more Christian than the other. In this particular race, both candidates are members of churches. Sanders underscored the views of many in moderate Baptist circles that embrace the separation of church and state by stating, "Baptists don't do partisan politics from the pulpit."
Chris Sanders stepped into the role of Interim Coordinator of KBF last week and has been busy visiting with churches around the state.
Read additional coverage here:
Lexington Herald-Leader: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/08/18/3385691/baptist-group-calls-religious.html
Associated Baptist Press: https://www.abpnews.com/culture/politics/item/29098-state-fellowship-leader-terms-senate-debate-organized-by-southern-baptists-partisan
Baptist Joint Committee Website: http://bjconline.org/kentucky-baptists-criticize-church-sponsored-candidate-forums-081914/