Do North Texas Churches Endorse Political Candidates?
FORT WORTH, Texas – Addressing a packed house at Mercy Culture Church in East Fort Worth, Reverend Landon Schott brought two members of his church on stage – mayoral candidate Steve Penate and city council candidate from District 9 Erik Richerson, who at the time had just been disqualified from the election.
Penate’s website address was on a large screen behind Schott, as the young pastor spoke about what he saw as the mistreatment of Richerson by the city of Fort Worth.
“They say, ‘They believe in righteousness,’” the pastor said. “But they want to take the mistake of a 17 year old boy, and because he’s a conservative black man, he doesn’t get the same justice?” It has nothing to do with politics. He was disqualified because he said, ‘I stand by biblical values.’ “
Richerson was later reinstated by the city clerk, although he told Spectrum News 1 his campaign suffered from the uncertainty. Neither Penate nor Richerson garnered even 10% of the vote, but both found themselves in the center of media attention, as did several prominent church leaders some critics accused of campaigning from the pulpit.
Similar to Schott at Mercy Culture, Senior Pastor Doug Page’s First Baptist Grapevine was part of a group of North Texas mega-churches where leaders named members who showed up for Tarrant County offices while cheering the others to vote.
Gateway Church senior pastor Robert Morris was also among those who spoke out the names of people running for the Southlake, Colleyville and Grapevine board and school board races as their races appeared on a big screen .
Morris was among the Fort Worth evangelicals, including Gloria and Kenneth Copeland, and Colleyville evangelist James Robison, who advised former President Donald Trump before his election in 2016.
Another church was forced to distance itself from the Southlake run after a woman called out members – identifying themselves as a congregant – and encouraged them to vote for two school board candidates, saying they must be elected because they are against “critical race theory” and in support of “freedom of speech and religion”.
Schott said his endorsement of Penate and Richerson was personal and that he was not speaking on behalf of the church – it would undermine Mercy Culture’s nonprofit status.
In order to maintain their tax-exempt status, churches and religious organizations must adhere to certain rules according to the IRS. Under the IRS Code, “all IRS section 501 (c) (3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or interfering in any political campaign. in the name of (or in opposition to) candidate for an elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public position statements (oral or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the ban on political campaigning activities. “By breaking this rule, the IRS can deny or revoke the church’s tax-exempt status and impose certain excise taxes.
The IRS rules also deal with “the individual activity of religious leaders.” An IRS publication claims that the ban on political campaigning activities within these tax-exempt organizations is not intended to restrict individuals’ freedom of expression on political matters. Religious leaders can express their opinion and endorse candidates as long as they do not do so as an official representative of the church (i.e. in church publications or at official functions of the church). ‘church). When expressing / writing their opinions on political matters outside the church, religious leaders are urged to indicate that these are their personal views and not those of the religious organization that they are concerned with. ‘they represent.
An IRS spokesperson told Spectrum News 1 that she was not aware of any ongoing investigations resulting from the so-called pulpit policy, and that legal vagaries in the language of the rules would make it such a difficult investigation.
Schott said he announced that two members of his church were running for office in the same way he would spotlight another member’s humanitarian work in the community or business project.
“There are a lot of great Christian conservatives running for office all over DFW,” he said. “I don’t think of it as Republican Party stuff. I think it’s more value-based.
“I don’t even consider it political,” he added. “This is not my intention. We want to help as many people and serve as many people as possible. This is our MO – whether it is to help survivors of human trafficking or to feed them. people or other injustices that we see in the city. We are passionate about helping people. So through politics you are able to help people. “