Abstract Studies of clergy political behavior have used one of two empirical lenses to explain clergy actions—ideology and contextual influences. The first lens generally supposes that clergy behave according to their sincerely held preferences; the second takes personal ideology into account, but suggests that clergy are also subject to influence from the environment in which they serve. While both approaches have received adequate attention, there has been no attempt to develop a systematic decision theory outlining when and why clergy might elect to follow their ideological preferences in some cases, and respond to contextual influence in others. This research note proposes a decision theory based on work in the congressional behavior scholarship. It outlines the conditions under which clergy use their sincere preferences and reference group cues to determine their political behavior. It then tests these propositions using data from two national surveys of American clergy.