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Sacramental Politics

Religious Worship as Political Action


Brian Kaylor

Religion and politics have often been called taboo topics for polite dinner conversation, but in political campaigns and religious services, the two often mix. This book looks at how religious worship remains embedded with inherent political messages and behaviors, showing that conflicts between church and state exist not just in the public arena, but in each sanctuary and house of worship. To explore this religious-political tension, the book first examines more obvious examples of worship as political action, such as when candidates speak during church services or when political parties hold prayer services at party events. The initial analysis acts as a foundation for the idea of worship serving a political purpose, and is followed by analysis of non-partisan and less obvious political worship services. Religious sacraments (such as baptism, confirmation, communion/mass, and confession) function as key moments in which religious participants pledge allegiance to a power that resides outside Washington, D.C. or statehouses, thus highlighting the alternative political messages and space carved out through worship.
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Chapter 1. Religious Worship as Political Rhetoric?


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A couple dozen people gathered in the Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson, Arizona, on Pentecost Sunday in the spring of 2013. One of the holiest days in the liturgical calendar, the date celebrates the account in the biblical books of Acts when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples during the “Festival of Weeks” (celebrating God giving the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai). The Mennonites in Tucson—like Christians around the world—gathered to pray and sing as they reflected on that dual referent to the coming of God’s religious-political law and the Holy Spirit. They also joined Mennonites across the country in setting time aside that day to write to their congressional leaders in Washington, D.C.1 With paper and pen in hand, some grabbed a hymnal and others a Bible to have a hard surface on which to write. Reviewing public policy information provided by the Mennonite Church USA, each of those gathered started to write their personal letter to their state’s U.S. senators and their U.S. House member. As they wrote, their pens left words on the paper and slight indentions from their advocacy on the hymnals and Bibles. A few letter-writers paused to sip coffee as they pondered their word choices. Others sat still, thinking—perhaps even praying—about what to write. A white-haired man leaned over to read his wife’s letter as he considered what else he should add to his own....

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