Churches engaging politics

The National Congregations Study was published this week by Duke University, and can be found HERE and it offers much to reflect upon for churches and church leaders.

Study shows which churches are politically active

By Kellie Bramlet in

Catholic and black protestant churches are usually more politically active, while white mainline Protestant churches and white Evangelical churches were the least politically active, according to a national study – and local religious leaders say it’s not much different in Lubbock.

Duke University released the National Congregations Study this week, analyzing the traits of different religious groups, divided by race, and their political influence.

It also showed churches overall are getting more politically active.


Mark Chaves writes in the Duke Divinity School blog Call and Response a summary and analysis of the study.

First, notwithstanding extensive media coverage of political mobilization within conservative churches, conservative white Protestant churches do not stand out in their level of political activity. Catholic and black Protestant churches, overall, are more politically active than either liberal or conservative white Protestants. About three-quarters of Catholics and black Protestants attend churches that engaged in at least one of these eight political activities, compared to about half of white Protestants, either conservative or liberal (Synagogues’ political activity rates, by the way, are as high as the Catholic and black Protestant rates).

Second, although political activity of some sort is common in American churches, religious traditions have different political styles. Distributing voter guides is the most common way that white conservative Protestant churches do politics. These churches distribute voter guides at about the same rate as Catholic and black Protestant churches do, but they are much more likely to distribute voter guides produced by Religious Right organizations. Two-thirds of the white conservative Protestant churches that distributed voter guides used guides from those sources, compared to only 1 in 5 mainline churches, 1 in 10 Catholic Churches, and 1 in 20 black churches. We tend to think of voter guides as a political tool of conservative Protestants, but mainline Protestants, black Protestants, and Catholics all have their own versions of voter guides.

Beyond voter guides, black churches are much more likely than white churches to engage in electoral politics by having a candidate or elected government official speak at the church, or by participating in voter registration drives. And Catholic churches are much more likely than Protestant churches to engage in the direct action and pressure group politics of marching, demonstrating, and lobbying elected officials.

It is difficult to say why religious groups have such different political styles. Congregations in highly centralized denominations may do politics differently than independent congregations or congregations in decentralized denominations. Religious groups also focus on different issues, and perhaps different issues elicit different political strategies and tactics. More broadly, religious groups differ in the kinds of church-based political actions they consider appropriate. All of these factors probably shape a religious group’s political style.

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