In the United States, to what extent do religious congregations advocate a political party, candidate, or political spectrum (liberal vs conservative)? The geological scope of my question is just the US and its territories. People's individual experiences with this here are welcome and will suit my needs should there not be a lot of formal studies or research. My specific questions are as follows:

  1. In the US how often does a minster/rabbi/cleric (etc) directly recommend a particular political party/candidate/spectrum to their congregation?

  2. If not direct are there more subtle and indirect techniques used to try to influence the congregation's political views? Examples of this would be highlighting what "evil" actions the undesirable side/party/candidate is undertaking, or brief statements such as "People like candidate Y has our interests in mind" or "people like candidate X are ruining our country"?

  3. Are there written or unwritten policies within any religion that cover questions 1 and 2? If so what are some examples?

  4. Do individual congregations tend to be comprised of one party/spectrum or is there ever a fair distribution of political parties/beliefs?

  5. When an individual is selecting a particular church/congregation/minister etc. (such as if the individual has just relocated to a new state) is the political side/spectrum of the congregation important in their selection process? If so how does the individual determine the side / spectrum of the congregation.

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    Hello and welcome to Politics.SE. As written this question is too broad, but several of the sub-questions would be a good fit here if they were asked as independent questions. (1) and (2) could possibly be combined. (3) is effectively asking about the stance on politics of every religious grouping in the USA, and may need some editing to make it more specific. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 12:19
  • As a partial answer: (1) is very uncommon, because churches and other religious groups usually claim tax exemptions, which require them to avoid explicit political campaigning. But there is a long established tradition of work-arounds as you suggest in point (2). Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 12:21
  • @Royal Canadian Bandit Thanks! Question #3 is more along the lines of "are you aware of any written or unwritten.." I can reword #3 if people object to it. I can remove 4 and 5 if need be, however I am thinking people with experience and knowledge with questions 1,2, and 3 would also be able to add valuable input to questions 4 and 5.
    – Beo
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 12:49
  • 2
    There's a useful 2016 bar graph from Pew Research with a ranked comparision of The political preferences of U.S. religious groups
    – agc
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


Writing from a strictly Catholic perspective:

  1. In theory, never. Part of tax exempt status for churches is that they do not advocate for parties or candidates. However, there's what is said and what is done. A preacher can use the pulpit to discuss a societal ill and why a party that supports that position is wrong. This doesn't rise to the merit of bothering the IRS. There is of late controversy with certain churches being used by politicians to act as auditoriums and just happen to have a large congregation in the audience. These tend to happen in more large cities, where it might be hard to find space for such an event that isn't a church.

  2. I haven't in my experience heard the name of a political candidate in mass, but the Catholic church does have some strong positions on policy issues, though neither lean exclusively one way or the other (for example, the Church is anti-Death Penalty (which is a more Democrat position) and anti-Abortion (definitely Republican). In the U.S. the Catholic Church is weird politically as more urban Catholics tend to Democrats while more rural tend to Republicans and the two sides seem to think they support their opposite more. The Catholic Church does have a more hierarchical structure, so if the priest is getting too political, the church typically handles it internally (and before you point out the sex abuse scandal, keep in mind that this is the IRS that will handle the matter... there are some battles even angels fear to tread).

    There is a point in the Catholic mass where it is not uncommon for a series of prayers for the community (characterized by the priest saying "We pray for..." followed by the topic, and the congregation responding "Lord, hear our prayer."). It is not uncommon for the priest to ask for prayers for government leadership, however these are non-political. The idea is that no matter who is in office, we are praying for the success of that individual. They may also pray for the candidates in an election, but only that both candidates act in the manner of decent people and that the nation makes the right choice (no definition of what that choice is).

  3. The Catholic Church does have some lawyers and probably do have policies that strongly discourage running afoul of the tax exempt status. I don't know how strong these are or how closely they need to be followed.

  4. Again, the Catholic Church is weird and the congregation runs the gamut though they tend to be left/right based on location. Generally, the church is more issue based and there are problems on both sides. As of Vatican II, it is acceptable to disagree with the church in matters of faith (you won't be told to leave if you are pro-choice or pro-capital punishment and the only time that you can't is the vary rare time the pope is declared infallible (only 6-7 times in 2 Millennia and not within living memory).

  5. I know my family went to another church because of ideological factors, but these were more related to matters of faith and internal-politics than external politics. Upon moving out of the area, we still haven't found the right fit for the family in terms of a particular church. The Catholic Church will also rotate the priests between the parishes so there is an effort to avoid a myopia of opinions.

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    The end of the first paragraph of section 2 is (very) muddled. Rewrite?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 15:24

Churches are banned from political endorsements if they want to keep their tax exemption (PDF describing rules more precisely). They can however advocate on individual issues.

For this reason, Ronald Reagan once said:

Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering, and so I know that you can’t endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you're doing.

This is mostly famous for understanding how the politics of his saying, "I endorse you" works. But this particular approach was dictated by the inability of the people there to officially endorse him. It was powerful because he said, "I know that you can't endorse me" (because churches can't endorse specific candidates). Note that it is unclear whether they would have endorsed him if they could have. But the speech created a presumption that they would have.

Due to increased partisanship, most city residents are Democrats and most rural residents are Republicans. This would also be true of most church congregations in those areas. Of course, there are exceptions. A person at a Jewish synagogue is more likely to be Democrat, even in a relatively rural location. And Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are more likely to be Republican even in the center of a city. Pew Study on political leanings of members of various religions.

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