August 26, 2016

Church Participation in the Political Process

This fall, Episcopalians have a unique opportunity to do the holy work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth by engaging in the electoral process. Engaging in the election is an opportunity to be with and speak out with people who are oppressed, hungry, and/or an outcast, and to insert compassion and justice into our country’s guiding systems and structures. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us,

“If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor?"

As we look toward Election Day on November 8, we encourage you to faithfully discern how you will engage in the public square.

It’s important to first understand the parameters churches engaging in elections must follow so that you may confidently and legally implement your election engagement plan. As a 501(c)(3) organization, your church may not engage in the election on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for office. All engagements must be done in a nonpartisan manner- without preferential treatment for a candidate or political party. When it comes to individual activity by religious leaders, the IRS writes:

“Religious leaders can’t make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions. To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of church functions and publications, religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.”

The IRS has developed a detailed guide for churches on this issue with helpful examples. NonProfit Votes also has helpful resources to assist you in planning nonpartisan voter engagement.

Once you have an understanding of the nonpartisan guidelines, you can begin to plan your election engagement activities around relevant timelines. Voter participation efforts are a perfect engagement opportunity for congregations. Voter participation efforts include hosting a voter registration drive, encouraging people to take the Episcopal Pledge to Vote, and hosting Get Out the Vote campaigns. These types of engagements are designed to empower every person to exercise their right to vote. Most voter registration deadlines are in October, so think about planning a registration drive in September. Throughout October and until Election Day on November 8, you can host educational events about the process of voting, issue education forums, and more. The EPPN has designed an Election Engagement Toolkit that provides specific ideas and resources for planning an election engagement event. It also includes additional resources and suggestions for engagement in voting rights advocacy, issue education, and practicing civil discourse.

How will you participate in the electoral process to better our democracy, and serve your neighbor as yourself this fall? By speaking out for voting rights, engaging in civil discourse, and casting a ballot, you have a sacred opportunity to serve the whole body of Christ. And if we reflect on one of the foundations of our faith, loving your neighbor as yourself, it is clear that our voices and our votes count. A vote for a candidate or a ballot initiative grounded in love and compassion can impact the hungry student in our community school, the health and wholeness of our Earth, and the immigrants and refugees that seek safety and opportunity in our nation.

Will you accept the sacred invitation to build a just and peaceful society by participating in this election season?

A version of this piece was featured in the Disciple, the magazine of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

Additional church, public policy, and elections resources from ECFVP

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe via email or RSS, using the grey box on the upper right.