Land Clarifies: the Church "Does Not Endorse or Oppose any Political Party or Candidate"

SBC “is committed to encouraging Christians to grow in understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus at home, in their communities, workplaces, and in the public square"
( [email protected] ) Jun 09, 2004 12:26 PM EDT

In response to a National Public Radio report that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)-run voter registration campaign was encouraging members to “vote Republican,” the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission clarified that the denomination had no political alignment and reiterated the role and motive of the nationwide campaign.

“Through the iVoteValues initiative, the ERLC seeks to advance the democratic process generally by encouraging all people to be good citizens by registering, inquiring, learning, and voting,” ERLC president Richard Land said of the Internet-based campaign in a June 2 letter to the executive producer of NPR’s All Things Considered program, Chris Turpin. “This activity appropriately avoids any candidate or party endorsement or disparagement. The ERLC works closely with legal counsel to assure compliance with regulations applicable to tax exempt organizations, including the prohibition on participating or interfering in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”

Land noted that the May 21 edition of the NPR program included statements by a reporter named Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “together with a sound bite from Mr. Barry Lynn, that incorrectly implied that the Southern Baptist Convention has been making questionable political statements, including a message to vote Republican, in connection with the iVoteValues voter registration campaign.”

Land then reiterated the fact that the ERLC is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity that is non-partisan.

“It does not endorse or oppose any political party or candidate. It does not take sides as to candidates or parties in any federal, state, or local election. The ERLC does not instruct individuals as to the candidates or political parties for which they should vote,” Land wrote.

Additionally, Land said, the ERLC and SBC “is committed to serving a needy culture with the transforming love and power of Jesus Christ. It does this by exhorting and encouraging Christians to grow in understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus at home, in their communities, workplaces, and in the public square. The iVoteValues initiative continues this mission by educating Christians on the importance of growing in their understanding of Biblical values. It also encourages connecting their values with roles and responsibilities as citizens. Consistent with its religious principles, the ERLC seeks to promote healthy democracy through encouraging informed and participating citizens.”

He then encouraged the NPR to “strive to be more accurate and careful in its reporting, and extend the professional and journalistic courtesy of prior confirmation with the source.”

Much of the May 21 radio broadcast was centered on the controversial statement made by the Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado, who said Catholics who vote for politicians supportive of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research should not receive communion. The radio host and guests were discussing whether the bishop’s letter could jeopardize the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status.

According to the NPR transcript, Lynn says, Sheridan “may not have crossed the line yet, but he’s dangerously close.”

In response, Hagerty says, “Lynn says he’ll be watching the bishop closely to see if he gets more specific. And he says Bishop Sheridan is hardly alone in making questionable political statements. He says consider evangelical Protestants.”

Lynn adds, “The Southern Baptist Convention has this ‘iVoteValues’ campaign, which encourages people to get out and vote, tells them what values -– it turns out to be the values of the religious right -– they should adopt and then actually, on its Web site, links to candidate position papers. So Protestants and Catholics are getting the same message.”

Hagerty responds, “That is, vote Republican....”

Following this broadcast, the attorneys for the ERLC also issued a letter to Lynn, president of the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“Given the implication in your statement that the iVoteValues voter registration project may be partisan in nature, we are writing to correct your misimpression, and to assure that any future statements about our client and its iVoteValues site are factually based and not misleading or defamatory,” attorneys George R. Grange II and Stephen H. King wrote.

“We trust that you will contact us directly if you have any future questions or concerns about the iVoteValues initiative,” the attorneys wrote in concluding the letter.

Land concluded in his statement: “We want to make sure all Americans are registered to vote and that they understand they have an obligation to participate in the process.”

“I do not believe the church should be endorsing candidates, but I do believe citizens should be looking for candidates who endorse them and who endorse their values and their convictions.”