Bush enlists churchs’ support, icky suspicions ensue

This article printed in today’s Washington Post outlines the Bush/Cheney election team’s attempt to mobilize its religious base. The article outlines strategies sent to Bush supporters to help those supporters involve their congregations in the Bush campaign. The suggested “goals” include turning over membership lists to the campaign, organizing voter registration drives, and hosting partisan pot-luck dinners.

The Post explores the possibility that these activities could put the churchs’ tax exempt status at risk. The Bush team counters that all the suggested activities fall well within election laws.

So, like a good Democrat, I got a little fussed when I read the article. Let’s explore why.

1. It could be that I’m hopelessly partisan, and that anything Bush/Cheney does, including walk, talk, and breathe annoys me. I don’t know, I’m certainly annoyed with the administration, but I’d like to think I have my logical reasons. However, I’m willing to accept any and all suspicion to the contrary and think about it before dismissing it as wrong.

2. I have an active pot-lucking life, and don’t want to be suspicious at every invitation I receive; i.e. perhaps I resent Republican encroachment into my social life.

3. I don’t want my ward list forwarded to the Bush campaign. Now, I know that kind of behavior is prohibited by the bi-annual reading of “the letter.” (My favorite moment in sacrament meeting when the church reaffirms its non-partisan status, and everyone in the congregation thinks the letter is aimed at everyone but themselves.) But let’s face it, there’s a reason “the letter” is re-read so often.

4. The whole tax exempt thing is a problem. That’s one church/state line of separation that I’d like to keep separate. For many reasons, including my tithing-boosted personal income tax refund.

5. I really dislike the implication that the Republican party is home of church-goers and the Democratic party home of sinners. I dislike the assumption that every person on those church lists would welcome inclusion on the Bush/Cheney supporters list. I resent the implication that I cannot be a person of deep faith, and disagree with a majority of the tenets of the Republican party.

So what do you all think…I’m I in the middle of an over-reacting snit, or do we have a problem here….


  1. Churches _are_ allowed to spend money on lobbying. However, it can’t be “significant” & the IRS has held that less than 5% is de minimis.

    Karen: Perhaps you’d like to explain why Church’s should be discriminated against for using their free exercise & free speach rights? And please, something besides “they get tax benefits.” Churchs have historically (say 1000s of years?) been tax exempt & have been politically active…

    or perhaps the current use of _actual_ Democratic candidates of Black Churches & the protestant pastors of the Revolutionary War period are forgetten?

  2. Clinton worshipping Satan? I find it very implausible. It would interfer with Clinton’s devotions to Clinton…

  3. Kristine says:

    D.–I second the vacation suggestion, and I hear Massachusetts beaches are quite lovely, if the Sunbelt is too far away. Cape Ann beckons!

  4. Heidi: I think that a large part of it also has to do with what the McGovern commission did to the national Democratic party. In particular, I think that by rearranging the internal power structure of the party, it gave greater power to precisely the “litmus test” groups that you are talking about. This has made it difficult for moderate, religious Democratic politicians who disagree with certain special interests (espeicially those devoted to abortion rights) to go very far in Democratic politics. In the 1990s to a certain extent the GOP did the same thing, giving groups associated with the religious right much greater internal power. If abortion rights groups are essentially given a veto power within both parties, then it is hardly surprising to see things polarized around this issue.

  5. Hey Karen! Good to have you back!

  6. Hey Karen, I took the liberty of reworking the post so that the article becomes a link.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    Hey, Dave, how do you feel about the other way, when the Church actively pursues a political agenda? I’m thinking of when the members in California were asked to donate money to a political campaign to fight same sex marriage. (not to bring up a sore subject, but hey!… that’s me today)

  8. I admit that when I moved here, someone got my name off the ward list and called me about political stuff. It bothered me as I’d not given out my name/number to anyone but the Bishopric so it clearly was the ward list. I really found it somewhat tasteless and troubling, although I never could put my finger on why. So abuse of ward lists does happen.

    On the other hand both parties (Democratic and Republican) try to organize activists on the community level – often dealing with blocks. They are to do various “get out the vote” and promotion of some candidate – especially the week before election. In heavy Mormon areas, how are these people going to do it? Hmm. Well they are almost always going to follow ward boundaries and use their knowledge of fellow ward members to do it.

    I guess that were it just get out the vote drives it wouldn’t bother me. Heavens, the last five times I’ve tried to vote I couldn’t find the polling place. (Whole other story) So I appreciate those things. But the campaigning issues seem more problematic – even when they are for Republicans I support.

  9. I think of church/political activism as appropriately a one-way street. That is, if a church wants to encourage and sponsor a voter registration drive, I think that is a fine thing (and since when is registering Black voters a Democratic campaign tactic…I would think that registering voters would be a neutral act.) If a church has a stance on an issue that they see as a moral one, such as the LDS church’s positions on abortion and SSM, or the 1960’s Black churches’ position on civil rights, then they absolutely should be able to mobilize their congregations to spread their opinions. I don’t like the idea of hiding the church’s involvement (as was sometimes the case, so I hear, on the DOMA in California, and the ERA in the 70’s), but if a church feels that it has the responsibility to promote a certain position, then they should go for it.

    I DON’T like the idea that the traffic should go the other way. Politicians reaching into churches strikes me as icky. Politicians issuing instructions to churches (“Give us your membership list”) strikes me as REALLY icky.

  10. I think the answer of the day is “all of the above.” I’m too lazy to read the article, but yes this sort of active involvement of churches in politics (at least for individual candidates as opposed to initiatives or public policy issues) rubs most people the wrong way in my opinion, not just Democrats.

    On the other hand, the Democrats as a party have done nothing to make it any easier for active churchgoers (not just LDS), which is surprising since Catholics and Jewish persons have historically favored the Dems. Both churches and the Democrats (as well as Republicans who see something to gain) seem to be feeding polarization. It’s not a good sign.

  11. I’m with Heidi–I can understand why large segments of the church-going population would be in favor of laws restricting abortion, banning SSM, etc., but it simply escapes why it is that these same people then feel the need to adopt the entire Republican platform hook, line, and sinker. Of course, we see precisely the same thing on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Truly puzzling.

    A couple of years ago, the former executive secretary of our ward began emailing links to rabid right-wing web sites (proclaiming that the holocaust was staged, that Clinton worshipped Satan, etc., etc.). Talk about icky.

  12. I’ve got to admit I’m not crazy about the idea, but I don’t suppose there’s anything inherently wrong in using churches as a way to reach out to voters. What bothers me is the implied endorsement; that God supports Candidate A over Candidate B and to not support A is an affront to God.

    I’m glad our Church has specific policies against it though.

  13. If people in my area use their ward lists to contact me for political purposes (of any persuasion) rather than to recruit me to their latest multi-level marketing scheme, I would welcome it!

    At least I’d have something to talk about with them, rather than telling them eight hundred different ways that I don’t want/need Noni juice, dietary supplements, scrapbooking materials, new phone service, etc.

  14. Incidentally, I’d like to thank you all for leaving email addresses, through which I intend to solicit votes for our BCC poll. Go, Team All-Of-The-Above!

  15. Interestingly, black churchs — especially in the South, especially in rural areas — act as (among other things obviously) a well oiled cog in the local Democratic machine. In rural Arkansas, local democratic officials regularlly open up the county clerk’s office on Sunday so that buses can bring people from church to register to vote. Our current republican governor does moderately well among black voters precisely because he is a former preacher and can connect at some level with the rural black churches.

  16. It’s kind of interesting to see the Church in a two-party democratic system. I think the Church could be a lot less polarized if we had a political system that allowed for more parties to participate and have influence.

    While living in Israel it was always interesting to see the variety of political parties that would attempt to get the minimum number of votes to have a representative in the Knesset. There would be political parties for old people, for environmentalists, for people who wanted to legalize marijuana (if I’m remembering correctly) — you’d get parties that really were only about one single political issue or a very specific group of people (Russian Jews, for example). Sometimes I think it would be more fun to have a more representative system in the U.S. But that would have it’s own problems of course.

    Personally, I’d like to join a “People Who Watch the Simpsons” political party.

  17. Jeremy/Grog: Lol…

    Clark has the right idea with his balanced comment. If you are bothered by this…are you _equally_ bothered by Democratic abuse of Church links, aka Black Churchs, etc?
    If not, why?

    Frankly, I’d love to keep church & politics separate. However, as Dave’s other post re: polarization in the media/entertainment industry highlights…

    both sides have to disarm & not abuse their ‘religious’ or ‘media’ or ‘movie’ ties…

  18. Karen,

    As the rare non-lawyer on this and other blogs, I’m not familiar with the law surrounding the tax exempt status of churches, other than that they are tax exempt, and for some reason this means they can’t be involved in politics. I would assume the web of regulation and law surrounding this matter is thick and sticky, and I wouldn’t presume to weigh in on a subject of which I know so little. So, if it’s illegal, then it’s illegal, and none of the campaigns should do it. But I suspect some aspects of using a church politically are legal, and others aren’t.

  19. Aaron Brown says:


    Why don’t you just admit the obvious … that you’re a TOTAL APOSTATE! Repent, Karen, and come back to the Lord’s political party!! I’m praying for you!!!


    Aaron B

  20. Heidi Stern says:

    I don’t have any comments yet, but I have been anxiously awaiting your post!

    Oh, and I’ll go ahead and second Aaron’s call to repentence. I’m praying for you too.

  21. Ok, my two cents.

    As a demographic trend, I believe it is true that more churchgoers voted for Bush (and vote Republican?), so this type of outreach is logical as an attempt to rally the base.

    Why is this, though? Why is it the case that more churchgoers vote for Bush and (based on an informal sampling of Mormons) identify themselves as Republican?

    The explanation I come up with is that certain “litmus test” issues have been blown completely out of proportion. Certain interest groups are so committed to their pet issue (e.g. abortion) that they seem to co-opt the party that more or less supports their side. A religious group that takes a position on that issue then seems to implicitly endorse the political party taking the same position.

    What I have always wondered is why, once this association is made, do many people seem to adopt wholeheartedly the other, unrelated positions and policies advocated by their chosen party? Why do people (my brother comes to mind) register as Republicans when their current life circumstances (special ed. teacher, environmentalist) seem to indicate that they personally would be better off if represented by Democrats?

    I think it may be because religion is the most important influence on their lives and, above all else, dictates what they do. If they view their church as supporting a particular political position, they will associate with the party adopting that position and feel that they have made the morally correct choice.

    My comments are largely anecdotal, so I would be interested in hearing how this issue has played out historically. Bush can’t be the first to play this card, can he?

    Oh, and I agree that asking for church lists in order to campaign is icky–no matter which side you are on. I have been wondering how I ended up on Bush’s list of Nevada Republicans!

  22. Speaking of which, Grog, your Herbalife rep called; the order is on its way. He’ll bring it when he comes to put the lawn sign up/do his home teaching.

  23. Steve, thanks for fixing the link. Were I more technically savvy, I would have done the same.

    Aaron, go smoke pot. I mean, go eat pot luck.

  24. To all of you who aren’t particularly opposed to using churches to mobilize political campaigns, what about the tax implications. Should the law be changed to allow churches to be partisan? (That seems problematic to me…as any political group could claim to be religious and then get the tax benefits.)

    Or should churches make a decision, they can either be part of the political machine and lose tax privileges or remain non-partisan and retain them. This is essentially the non-enforced status-quo.

    (Hey there Heidi…nice of you to join us. You should meet Nate Oman, class of 2003. Heidi was HLS class of 1999. I’m the bridge between your generation gap….) :o)

  25. To be honest, I don’t really have too much of a problem with a campaign approaching a church; churches are gatherings of generally like-minded people, and it makes sense that campaigns would seek them out. Nothing is stopping the Kerry campaign from doing the same thing. If the members of a church share a common ideology that is generally represented by a campaign, I see no problem with a campaign approaching the membership of that church.

    That, however, doesn’t mean that your ward list should be given to the Bush, or Kerry, campaign. That would be in direct defiance of Church policy. However, not all churches have the same policy.

    I don’t think this action of the Bush campaign implies “that the Republican party is home of church-goers and the Democratic party home of sinners,” or any of the other things you believe it implies. It simply implies that it’s going to be a tight race, and BC04 thought of yet another way to mobilize supporters. Nevertheless, it’s a statistical fact that churchgoers suppoerted Bush in much greater numbers than they did Gore (now, what that actually means is up for debate).

  26. Wait a minute . . . when did Clinton stop worshipping Satan? I guess I didn’t get the memo . . .


  27. Well, that would just confirm some suspicions about Mormon Democrats, wouldn’t it!

  28. D. Fletcher says:

    When I first read #2, I thought it said “active pot-smoking life.”


  29. While disagreeing with the republican mobilization of church congregations through the use of church generated lists of members, I have to ask…

    Don’t democrats do the same thing?

    I think this tactic is disgusting of both parties. Can’t they win on the merits of their party platforms without involking the backing of religious organizations, who are supposed to be supporting kingdoms not of this world?

    Disgusting… Can we request that our name be removed from a church directory? :)

  30. Yes, that was an interesting episode. The Church worked hard to keep the organized LDS efforts on the California initiative “off the books” and out of public view. When the SP had his fundraising meeting, it was at his house, not at an LDS facility. When there was a ward meeting to pass around phone lists for members to call to “get out the vote,” it was at the commons building of a gated community where a member lived, not at an LDS facility.

    So I think everything was technically separate. And I view most left-leaning criticism of churchy involvement in politics to be purely cynical–they are just trying to undermine the opposition, there’s little principle involved.

    That said, the LDS effort in California left a bad aftertaste for some members. If it comes around again, there might be less support for that kind of benevolent arm-twisting. But that’s still a minority reaction–most members, if asked to cut off their arm with a butcher knife, would merely ask, “At the elbow or the shoulder?”

    Hope that cheers up your day, D. I think you just need a vacation. Think Sun Belt.