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With election season in full swing, pastors must walk a fine line when it comes to politics and religion
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By RUSTY DENNEN
It's safe to say that God
But with the election season in full swing in
In recent weeks, for instance, Republican nominee Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has been brought up, and President Obama's recognition of same-sex marriage drew the ire of a group of evangelical pastors who pledged to oppose his re-election.
Area pastors, meanwhile, tread a fine line deciding how best to engage the faithful in the electoral process without alienating their flocks or inviting unwanted government intrusion into their affairs. A pastor representing a church, for example, cannot endorse a candidate for public office without the fear of the church losing its tax-exempt status.
"I would be very careful about doing that," said the Rev. Raymond A. Bell Jr., senior pastor at Mount Hope Baptist Church in Spotsylvania County.
One big reason, beyond any tax issue, he said, is that congregations are not of one mind.
"There's a lot of diversity. You have Republicans, Democrats and independents in the congregation," Bell said. "So to collectively go and endorse one candidate appears impossible."
Instead, Bell said, he encourages people to vote. "Vote for whoever you want to vote for, but vote," he said. "I have stayed away from corporately endorsing a candidate."
Moreover, he said, "I think I have an astute congregation, politically," that doesn't ask for or need guidance. "And a lot of people keep their political views to themselves."
Bell knows something about politics: He ran, unsuccessfully, for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors in the last election.
The Rev. Steve Aycock, executive director of the Fredericksburg Area Baptist Association, said there are all sorts of potential problems with mixing politics and the pulpit.
"Congregations are not necessarily on the same side of issues, so you can create difficult feelings when one side is represented, or even both sides," he said.
Aycock has no problem with pastors becoming involved in campaigns or actively working for or against candidates--as individuals outside the church.
"If we're going to have good government, then all people need to be involved," he said.
Here are some election-related tips
Do not endorse or oppose candidates, political parties or groups of candidates, or take any action that reasonably could be construed as endorsement or opposition.
Do not make available the use
Do not authorize distribution of partisan political materials or biased voter education materials on church property, in church publications or at church activities.
Do not invite or permit only selected candidates to address your members.Read more about the guidelines here: usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizen ship/dos-and-donts-guidelines-during-elec tion-season.cfm