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ERLC expands values-centered websites

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new iLiveValues.com initiative of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is calling Baptists and other evangelicals to apply their faith-informed convictions in all areas of life, not just at the ballot box.

So with another presidential election on the horizon, the ERLC has retooled its iVoteValues.com website as part of the new iLiveValues.com effort.

iVoteValues.com still has features that made it popular with voters in 2004 and 2006, ERLC President Richard Land said, while noting the site has expanded to include interactive features.

Launched in 2004, iVoteValues.com energized people of faith to fulfill their civic duty, prompting thousands to register to vote — some for the first time — and hundreds of thousands, as Land put it, to connect “one’s personal values, beliefs and convictions with their decisions on which candidates to support.”

Citing the ERLC’s ongoing emphasis on active and principled civic involvement by Christians, however, Land noted: “While voting is a critical civic obligation, we make important decisions every day — decisions in which our faith should play an important part. Whether in our home, our workplace or the marketplace, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to live out our values,” Land said.

“Considering your values on just one day a year falls far short of what God expects from us,” Land continued. “Our biblically based beliefs should guide and direct our thoughts, speech and activities every day of the year.”

The iLiveValues.com website features three audio portals, with download and podcasting capabilities for featured content from the ERLC executive’s weekly radio program, “Richard Land Live!”; highlights of the daily “For Faith & Family” broadcasts; and a new exclusively online offering — Richard Land Answers — in which Land deals concisely with issues of the day.

The iLiveValues.com launch coincided with the For Faith & Family radio program’s 10th anniversary celebration during the National Religious Broadcasters annual meeting, March 8-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

At the iVoteValues part of the iLiveValues.com umbrella, new features utilize the reach, portability and interactivity offered by the Internet, said Kerry Bural, ERLC vice president for public relations and marketing, who is the brand architect for the voter awareness and registration initiative.

“It is, at its heart, an online tool designed for pastors and local churches to help believers maximize their civic opportunity,” Bural said.

The updated iVoteValues.com site now has informative blog posts as well as a Values TV component offering videos with subject matter germane to the iVoteValues.com message. Land noted that the site is structured to allow individuals to “talk back” to the blog posts.

The site’s most popular feature remains the “Do’s and Don’ts” section that addresses what the Internal Revenue Service allows and forbids churches and pastors to do in an election year.

Organizations classified under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code, which includes most churches, are restricted from engaging in partisan political activity.

As an example, churches can engage in voter registration activities that do not promote one candidate or political party and can provide biblical instruction pertaining to moral and cultural issues that may be of issue in a campaign. Churches cannot show favoritism or any type of support to one candidate or a group of candidates in deference to others running for office.

According to the IRS website: “The political campaign activity prohibition is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3), leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions.”

Technically the IRS guidelines allow pastors as private citizens to endorse candidates, yet Land said he advises church leaders to avoid such involvement in partisan politics, fearing it will compromise a church’s pronouncement of the Gospel. “I prefer to stay within the hash marks,” he said, speaking of the markings on a football field, “instead of getting too close to the sidelines.”

Land said the iVoteValues.com initiative will produce bulletin inserts, available for download from the website in July, addressing Christians’ civic responsibility. The ERLC also will publish its nonpartisan political party platform comparison guides in late September, once both of the major parties have concluded their political conventions. Land said the guide is carefully crafted by excerpting the Democratic and Republican platforms on a wide range of issues; it contains no analysis or commentary on the two parties’ positions.

The platform comparison guides will be available for pre-ordering by churches this summer. “This publication is well within the IRS guidelines for distribution within a church,” Land emphasized.

Months before the election, churches and other groups are free to organize voter registration events, Land added, noting that, despite intensive efforts by many organizations to register voters over the past eight years, millions of Americans have yet to register to vote. According to the Census Bureau, 72 percent of American adults, 18 years and older, were registered to vote in 2004. Just over 88 percent of those registered actually voted on Election Day.
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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