It's hypocritical to denounce right-wing churches for their overt support of a political candidate, while churches we like make a more subtle or cheeky endorsement of a candidate, innocent, intentional or not. I bring this up because Unitarian Universalist minister, Prairie Star district staffer and blogger Phil Lund (Phil's Little Blog on the Prairie) considered a failing, fictional test-case church website where the congregation clearly loved a candidate in 2004. (And hasn't updated their blog since.)
To recap, a nonprofit organization like a church can engage in political advocacy and even a limited amount of lobbying, despite false folk-wisdom to the contrary. And I think it should do rather more than less. But involvement in a political campaign is verboten. Don't support candidates for public office and not oppose them. Don't use coded language to suggest one candidate over another. I'd go so far -- to be safe -- to avoid slogan language embedded within sermon titles, and I'd certainly not change advertising (including the church website) to imitate a campaign before an election. I would not have, for instance, begun to use the typefaces Gotham (Obama) or Optima (McCain) after the conventions. If that meant not calling a sermon "Hope" until the Sunday after election day, so be it. (If rather cautious.)
But the IRS isn't very helpful in defining what isn't allowed. Some of the decisions would be situational.What might be fine now -- and another reason to mention it now -- might cause trouble in September 2012. Or a bit of church phrasing used now and consistently would be OK even if a campaign coincidentally used it in a campaign later. (But I'm not a lawyer, and that's not legal advice.)
Instead, let me point you toÂ two good sources of information. Â One is from the UUA. Another, more detailed resource, is from the Alliance for Justice (and if you are near D.C., they offer very good courses.)
And more about permitted political -- non-electoral -- activity later.