Objective. I examine the degree to which U.S. clergy might be considered utility maximizers in determining whether to undertake political behavior among their parishioners. Specifically, I investigate whether mainline Protestant clergy elect not to engage in political activities due to a general concern that their behavior might lead to a downturn in parishioner contributions.
Methods. Six maximum likelihood models are employed to analyze survey data of clergy in the Presbyterian Church, USA, and the Episcopal Church, USA.
Results. Evidence from six maximum likelihood models shows that clergy are less likely to undertake political behavior when this financial motive is in play, suggesting that even religious elites are susceptible to the maximization motive.
Conclusions. These results have implications for elites in voluntary organizations more generally. An example is interest group leaders who might be compelled to take the views of their rank-and-file members into account in making policy when group solvency is a concern. Overall, these findings advance the literatures on clergy politics, interest groups, and elite theory, and recommend a reexamination of the general assumptions about elite influence in organizational settings—both religious and secular.