Many are calling this election cycle the most important in a lifetime for conservatives and evangelicals. So why are evangelical pastors less involved in the political process this time around?
The numbers from a American Culture and Faith Institute survey conducted last month show that compared with 2014, conservative pastors are about half as likely to sponsor a voter registration drive at their church, about ten percent fewer of them plan on passing out voter guides, and only six in ten of them even plan on talking about the importance of voting.
Christian pollster and culture monitor George Barna took the survey. He shares some of his impressions.
"So many pastors are concerned about the character of both major party candidates," he observes. "Secondly, we know that because of how pastors are evaluated in their positions, they don't want to see people leave the church – and so their concern is if they begin to engage in political activity, some people may leave the church."
Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, tells OneNewsNow that many evangelicals are also discouraged. "A certain group of people, after last summer's ruling on marriage and the trajectory of the culture, feel as though there's not much we can do," he laments.
Jackson is among the panel of evangelical leaders invited to advise presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. He says he has been telling Trump if he wants to turn the numbers around, he should be specific in reaching out to evangelicals.
"He needs to articulate, in terms that our Christian evangelical community can understand, the things he will do for our constituents. He needs to pinpoint his language," says the bishop.
Dr. Richard Land of Southern Evangelical Seminary is also on that panel of advisors. He has counseled Trump to pick a strong social conservative as a running mate.
"I also think he could help himself enormously if he were to hold a press conference and say that if he is indeed elected president, that he will nominate Ted Cruz to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court," Land adds.
Issues? What issues?
According to a recent Gallup poll, economic concerns top the list for voters, followed by dissatisfaction with government, immigration, and national security. But Barna's survey indicates only one in five (21 percent) conservative pastors plan on preaching a sermon on a specific policy issue between now and November. That compares with 37 percent two years ago.
According to Barna, pastors are facing policy issues they haven't faced before. "A large share of today's pastors have no idea what to teach about the issues of the day – they're not sure how the Bible actually connects with those issues," the pollster cites.
Dr. James Dobson with Family Talk urges pastors to lead their congregations to biblical truth rather than to react to their political fears.
"This is a time for moral leadership," says the respected Christian leader. "Our country is sliding morally almost every day – and it is time for the Church to be the Church."
The political priorities for the Church should be crystal clear, Dobson adds – and those, he says, would be marriage, religious freedom, and life.
"Tell me about the sanctity of human life, sir," he says, rhetorically addressing pastors. "Do you really have to do a lot of thinking about that? Are you going to avoid that subject because somebody is not going to like it in the church? I think that is cowardice."
The table below summarizes the findings of the American Culture and Faith Institute survey.
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