ELECTIONS CAN BE challenging times for nonprofit organizations, especially those of us deeply committed to social change. Sojourners is incorporated under the IRS Code as a 501(c)(3) organization, which means that we are prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
While scrupulously avoiding “intervening” in any partisan activities, we of course remain committed to our mission, which is to “articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
Those two poles—staying neutral in partisan campaigns, on the one hand, and working to build a movement to “change the world,” on the other—define the space within which we work, during an election year and at any other time.
We believe that elections matter—especially, from a biblical point of view, because they profoundly affect those that scripture calls the “least of these,” the likelihood of war or peace, and the health of our planet. (See Jim Wallis’ article “How to Choose a President” for more on that theme.) And many of us have strong convictions about which candidates, and which party’s approach, better reflect those biblical commitments.
Individually, in our personal lives, we have the indisputable right to make our convictions known, to advocate for candidates, even to run for office if we so choose. But as an incorporated nonprofit, Sojourners must do its best to maintain electoral nonpartisanship.
That doesn’t mean that we avoid important issues of public policy—in election season or at any other time. For instance, this fall, as part of a faith-based coalition called the Circle of Protection, we invited both presidential candidates to share their views on how they plan to address the fact that we have the highest number of people living in poverty in the U.S. in a half-century, and both responded with short videos (see sojo.net/election). While we wouldn’t endorse either candidate’s agenda, we will continue—this year and always—to work to urge political leaders (and others) to engage the gospel agenda of pursuing peace and building a more just world.
The constraints on political engagement by our type of nonprofit can be frustrating, but not because of the restriction on endorsing candidates. Rather, it sometimes feels as if we can’t fully speak truth to an electoral process that at times seems dominated by political spin, half-truths, and even outright lies. When a candidate or a party makes a statement or runs an ad that, from our point of view, contains explicit falsehoods, we can’t offer a direct counter-argument, unless we do so in a way that neither favors nor opposes either side—which of course runs the risk of implying a moral equivalence where none exists. When one side argues for policies that we feel, say, would harm the poor or put the planet at risk, we can’t give our biblically based reasons why we think the proposed policy is wrong or harmful, if such a response could be construed as supporting or opposing a candidate for office.
Would we endorse candidates if we were allowed to do so? Probably not. Elections do matter, at so many levels and to so many vulnerable people, at home and abroad. But bringing about social change—being faithful to God’s redeeming word in our broken world—goes much deeper than any politicians or parties. Meaningful social change has, historically, usually begun with grassroots social movements that impel the political structures to change, not the other way around.
So while we won’t be endorsing one side or the other in this or any election, we will be endorsing, with our votes on Nov. 6 and with our actions on every other day of the year, any and all efforts to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness.” That’s a platform all Christians—right, left, and none of the above—can believe in.
Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine.
Image: Ballot box, Lisa S. / Shutterstock.com