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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 5. Religious Worship as Political Space


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In early December, the streets of Capitol Hill are briefly transformed into a 1st Century Middle Eastern scene as robed people march through the streets with sheep, donkeys, and camels. A “live nativity,” this annual event started in 2010 to enact the original Christmas message in the heart of the nation’s power structures. Christian churches of various denominations across the world perform living nativity scenes with humans and animals staging the biblical accounts of the Christmas story. A unique type of religious worship service started by Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century, live nativities actually predate the use of the now more common crèche (models of nativities found in many homes, churches, and even public sites, although the latter often sparks church-state lawsuits). Sometimes the live nativities are staged in one place (such as at a church) with people coming to see the presentation, and in other traditions the robed actors and animals walk through a community. The Washington, D.C., live nativity starts at the Supreme Court building and works across the street to the Capitol building. Although the sponsoring group, Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, is a conservative Christian group often involved in political activism (especially on abortion and court-related issues), they stage the live nativity as a typical, nonpartisan version of the Christmas tradition. ← 155 | 156 →

Faith and Action’s founder and president, Reverend Rob Schenck, shows particular concern for...

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