How to Lose Freedom in One Easy Step


Written by Micah Clark

Millions of Americans may be watching the Republican national convention this week.  Some data is finding that this in an election year in which record numbers of voters seem to be interested in deciding who will be our next president.   For example, the Republican primary has seen a 62% increase in voter turnout this year over 2012, from 19.2 million votes four years ago to 31 million this year.

This may be why a new study of church engagement has caught pollsters by surprise. The new study from the American Culture and Faith Institute is being described as “nothing less than astounding.”  At a time when religious hostility is on the rise and recognized as a problem among a majority of all Americans, the very institutions targeted by such bigotry are in full retreating from the battle.

The study of 600 theologically conservative evangelical pastors finds that they are “unlikely to call their congregations to participate in any meaningful way” in the 2016 election.

Each pastor was asked about eight specific types of actions that churches could take in the months leading up to Election Day.  For a benchmark, the pastors were first asked if they had done any of these things during the 2014 mid-term elections.  There was not a single activity in which more pastors planned to engage during this major election compared to the less substantial 2014 mid-term elections.

For example, even the easiest, most obvious, and minimal of actions may see a large decline.  In 2014 more than three quarters of pastors (78%) encouraged their congregations to vote.   This year, less than two-thirds, just 62%, plan to do so.

Two years ago, 37% of conservative pastors attempted to educate their congregation with a sermon that taught Biblical principles on one or more issues relevant to that year’s campaign.  Now, only 21% say that they plan to teach a Biblical foundation for positions on issues relevant to this year’s election cycle.

The numbers for conservative churches planning on voter registration or voter guides distribution are even worse.  In 2014, only 21% did voter registration efforts in their church. This year, a mere 12% can be expected to do so.  The percent of conservative churches likely to pass out or point their members to online voter guides is expected to drop by nine points to just 36%.    (Other polls have placed the number of churches using voter guides to be less than 15%.)

In response to this study, religious pollster George Barna noted:

“In an election year in which nothing has been normal so far, the apparent choices of conservative pastors may be the most abnormal thing of all.   The fact that tens of thousands of conservative pastors – even more than during the mid-term election cycle – are planning to ignore this crucial election and have followers of Christ play little-to-no role in the electoral process is shocking.

This is clearly a time when Christian and conservative voters need spiritual leaders to help them make sense of what is happening and how to respond Biblically to the chaos and uncertainty . . . The message that conservative pastors are sending to their congregants is their Christian faith should have no influence on this election . . .while people with opposing worldviews and values make critical governance choices for Christians . . . with all due respect, that is a startlingly bold example of poor citizenship.”

One minister who is defying this mold in calling for church involvement in a time when our religious freedoms seem to hanging by a thread is evangelist Franklin Graham.  He has observed, “It seems that many pastors do not want to be judged for supporting a candidate who is morally imperfect.  But the truth is that none of us – these pastors included – are morally perfect which is why we need Jesus . . . all candidates have always been morally flawed – they’re human.  In the meantime we need to work together to elect leaders who will allow the Church to follow Christ with as much freedom and as little government interference as possible.”

Over the last 30 years the liberal media has done a very good job of indoctrinating the nation with a false narrative that serves their goal of marginalizing the church.  That falsehood is a picture of Christ following churches as regular gatherings to rail against abortion, homosexuals, and to train member on how to elect candidate who can moralize a nation.

The National Congregations Study conducted between 1998 and 2012 tells a totally different story.  This research looked at what churches really do in terms of social action.  The results may surprise many readers. Between 1998 and 2012, the percentage of churches participating in at least one type of service-related activity increased from 71 percent to 78 percent.  Yet, the percentage of churches participating in at least one type of political activity decreased from 43 percent to 35 percent.

The Congregations Study finds that among all types of churches participation in service activities is substantial and rising, while political participation is small and shrinking.  Political action is decreasing most among white evangelical churches with only between 7 and 11% doing anything in terms of elections or civic action.

However, the political participation rate among liberal churches has been substantial and increasing. In 2012, 80% of liberal churches participated in at least one type of political activity, making them three times more likely than conservative churches to be politically engaged.

I witnessed this disparity during the battle over marriage when Bible believing churches were noticeably absent in the Indiana State House.  Many times I had legislators ask me with great frustration, “Where are the churches? Why aren’t they here defending marriage?”  Yet, the liberal pastors and churches supporting the unraveling of God’s design were there in droves pushing the gay agenda.

When it comes to the churches embracing good works that society approves, such as food pantries, neighborhood clean ups, or intermural sports clubs, compared to the more difficult and less popular task of being “a watchman on the wall,” one often works against the other. A decline in political participation limits the role churches can play in seriously addressing social needs. Meeting immediate needs without also pursuing long-term solutions through political participation can make actually fixing the problem creating personal needs and harms impossible.

The issue at hand remains.  A surefire way to ensure the loss of religious freedom in America today is for the church to hide its light under a basket when it comes to our civic duties and the privileges of being Americans.  Our ability to choose leaders and impact public policies is a blessing that few nations in the world have ever enjoyed.

I sense that many in the church are motionlessly waiting for God “to do something” in the face of our cultural decline, when He may be waiting for us to act.  To modify Edmund Burke’s famous adage, evil prevails when good churches do nothing.”   Sadly, according to this research, “nothing” is exactly what most may be doing this election cycle.

Micah Clark is the Executive Director of the American Family Association of Indiana. His political experience has helped AFA expand into an organization with a consistent state house presence while maintaining its role as Indiana’s leading decency organization. Since joining AFA of Indiana Micah has conducted nearly 400 media interviews as its executive director.

Micah’s wife is a marriage and family therapist at a Christian counseling center. They have two children.