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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 2. Religious Worship as Partisan Politics


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As John Kerry crisscrossed the nation during the 2004 presidential campaign as the Democratic nominee for Commander-in-Chief, much of the media coverage on Sundays morphed into “wafer watch.” Would Kerry attend a Catholic church and receive communion? Or, in a twist that would create a stunning media image to fill hours upon hours on cable news shows, would he go forward only to be turned away by a priest? The questions arose after a few Catholic bishops publicly announced they would deny communion to Kerry because of his prochoice position on abortion legislation (although most bishops rejected this position). The attention to Kerry’s church attendance particularly grew as Easter—the holy high point of the Christian year—approached. Kerry, a Catholic from Boston, even found himself at odds with his own archbishop, Sean O’Malley, who declared at the start of 2004 (without reference to Kerry who was still fighting for the Democratic presidential nomination) that pro-choice Catholic politicians should not take communion because of “the sacredness of communion.”1 O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, explained:

These politicians should know that if they’re not voting correctly on these life issues that they shouldn’t dare come to communion.…I think it’s in the context of a greater problem—Catholics feel that everyone is entitled to go to communion all the ← 27 | 28 → time. That has to be addressed. You know if a (pro-abortion) politician asked me I...

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