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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 7. Religious Worship as Politics


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In 1517, German Catholic priest and theology professor Martin Luther drove the Protestant Reformation into existence by nailing 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Although he intended to spark discussion and reform (instead of breaking away from the Catholic Church), Luther’s short declarations criticizing abuses and some teachings of the Church instead led to religious fragmentation and political civil wars across Europe. Luther offered his declarations as religious and was excommunicated for heresy, but many of his arguments included political implications. He challenged Pope Leo X’s wealth and authority (particularly on teachings related to the sacrament of confession). With the Pope also serving as a political figure leading wars and making political deals, Luther’s critique brought political undertones. As a result of Luther’s writings, Emperor Charles V, the political ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, decreed that Luther was a heretic who should be arrested and punished by the state. Luther avoided this fate in part thanks to protection given by Prince Frederick III of Saxony, who had founded the university where Luther taught and had been Pope Leo X’s candidate for Holy Roman Emperor before Charles V was elected. The Protestant Reformation therefore started as both a religious and political controversy, especially since church and state were closely aligned. In fact, political ← 221 | 222 → theology scholar William Cavanaugh explained that “political and economic factors played a central role” in the...

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