Recent research has shown that there is an increase in the number of people who believe churches should take a more active role in political activities, even so far as to suggest that churches should be allowed to endorse and support individual candidates for public office. While the support for such activity is growing, it is not yet a majority of those surveyed.

It is a serious matter for a church, or any organization that has qualified for IRS 501(c)(3) status, to proceed down that path. The Seventh-day Adventist Church generally operates under the 501(c)(3) status obtained by the General Conference, which makes it imperative that all churches understand the laws that Congress—and the regulations that the IRS—developed regarding political activity by 501(c)(3) organizations.

A violation of the no-electioneering rule places that status in jeopardy, which means that the action of one Adventist church can put that status at risk for all Adventist churches and church organizations operating under the General Conference designation. A loss of that status means that contributions to the church are no longer deductible as charitable contributions, and the church loses its tax exemptions, and would have to pay taxes like any for-profit organization. What your church does can impact the tax-exempt status of all Seventh-day Adventist churches in the United States.

Being informed matters

The law does not prohibit all political activity by churches and it is essential to know what is and is not allowed:


  1. Endorsing or opposing candidates
  2. Donating money to a candidate
  3. Offering church space to one candidate and refusing it to another
  4. Sponsoring rallies for candidates in church


  1. Sponsoring non-partisan voter registration and encouraging voting as good civic behavior
  2. Discussing public policy issues
  3. Sponsoring candidate forums, as long as all leading candidates are invited and a broad range of issues are discussed
  4. Urging members to contact candidates and make their concerns known to them

Please do not take the position that the IRS will not pay attention to what your church does because you are small and only one of thousands of churches. In recent years the IRS has announced plans to step up its enforcement of the no-electioneering rule and has assigned career IRS agents to oversee a project introduced in 2004 called the Political Activity Compliance Initiative. Its stated purpose is to ensure compliance with the law and expedite the investigative process. The majority of cases investigated are not reported to the media; therefore the public is not aware of the enforcement activities.

Details matter

It is important that if a church decides to engage in any of the allowed activities that it be done very carefully. When discussing public policy issues, do not tie those issues with a specific candidate. When inviting a public official to speak at any church activity, it is best not to make the invitation during an election period. If it is necessary that the official be invited during an election period, be very careful that the election is not mentioned nor that the official is a candidate for office. Be sure that your bulletin, website or church letter does not even appear to be supporting a candidate.

The law does not restrict any church official from supporting or opposing candidates, but caution must be taken to ensure that the position of the official in no way be associated with the church.

Clear thinking matters

A study of the history of the Adventist church in regard to politics is interesting. Various positions have been advocated, from not voting to having a duty to take a position on social issue policies. When looking over the statements made by Ellen White and other early church leaders, it quickly becomes apparent that we as Christians must be issue motivated rather than endorsing political parties or organizational associations.

I would suggest that this principle applies also to church affiliation of a candidate. Educate yourself regarding the candidate’s position on issues that are important. Determine the candidate’s ability to lead, along with his or her experience that would support ability to function well in the particular public office. Then vote, disregarding party, church or social affiliations.

Darrel Huenergardt is director of Religious Liberty for the Mid-America Union Conference.