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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 3. Religious Worship as Public Policy Promotion


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At the stroke of midnight to mark the start of October 1, 2013, many parts of the U.S. government shutdown. Due to an impasse between Senate Democrats and Tea Party Republicans in the House, Congress failed to pass necessary budget measures to keep the government running. Hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” governmental employees found themselves furloughed while governmental offices, public parks, and other official services hid from the public behind barricades and “closed” signs. Approval ratings for both major political parties tanked as media pundits and the public expressed frustration at the polarization and lack of cooperation. Giving voice to many of these complaints, Senate Chaplain Barry Black gained recognition during the shutdown for his harsh critiques of the nation’s elected leaders. These remarks from the first African-American and first Seventh-day Adventist to serve as the Senate’s chaplain came in the form of his official rhetoric—the Senate’s opening prayers. On an almost daily basis for four weeks, Black used his public remarks to the divine to express frustration about those in the chamber where he prayed.

A week before the government shutdown, Black started peppering his prayers—which are part of the Senate’s official discourse and included in the congressional record—with references to the political impasse. Exactly one week before the government shutdown, Black prayed on September 24: ← 75 | 76 →

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