By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON, W.Va. — Members of the clergy were glad Thursday to have the freedom of speech necessary to endorse candidates and political parties, but they planned to be thoughtful when it comes to making those endorsements.
President Trump chose the National Day of Prayer to sign an executive order asking the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over a rarely enforced regulation known as the Johnson Amendment. Trump referred to the regulation as a “financial threat against the faith community,” adding that “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”
The Johnson Amendment was named after then Sen. Lyndon Johnson. Put into force in 1954, the policy allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues, but in the case of houses of worship, it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit.
Local pastors who offered prayers during National Day of Prayer observances at the Memorial Building in Mercer County shared their thoughts about the president signing the new executive order. Prayers were offered for local governments, schools and churches, the governor and the Legislature, the federal government and the men and women serving in the military.
“Well, I believe churches should be free to say whatever they wish to say, but it does concern me that we can be divided from the Gospel and be tempted into partisan politics,” Pastor Larry McCallister of the First Church of God said.
Another member of the local clergy doubted any political endorsements would be made during services.
“Even if we can, I don’t think we will from the pulpit,” Assistant Pastor John Coffey of Calvary Chapel stated.
Some clergy believed that churches already support candidates and parties.
“All I would say is I think we already do it,” Pastor Chris Stansell of the First Christian Church said. “We are already seasoned with that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We as a nation preach freedom, so why should a church not be allowed to endorse a candidate or a party?”
Other pastors felt that while being free to endorse political candidates is good, endorsements could also generate divisions because not all members of a church’s congregation will necessarily agree about who or what to endorse, or whether to make any endorsements at all.
“I think it’s good to have the freedom,” Scott Catron of Cornerstone Family Church said. “ I personally would not. It could be divisive in the congregation, but I’m glad to have the freedom if we need it. Opinions change over the years. The day may come when we have to exercise that right.”
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