Aiding Refugees Benevolently and Prophetically

I wrote the cover package for the February issue of Word&Way (a Baptist magazine in the Midwest). The focus of the issue is "Aiding Refugees Benevolently and Prophetically."

The first article, Ministering to the World Down the Street, focuses on Baptists assisting refugees who came to the United States. The piece includes comments from Zachary Treadway (missions and youth director for Tower Grove Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri), Micah Fries (a vice president for LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tennessee), and Duane Binkley (former missionary in Burma who now holds a joint appointment with both International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and works closely with Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas).

The second article, Missouri Clergy Speak Out Against Fear of Syrian Refugees, highlights an effort at the Missouri State Capitol in December where an ecumenical group of clergy addressed anti-refugee comments made by some state legislators. The piece includes comment by Doyle Sager (senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Jefferson City) and Jeanie McGowan (a retired minister who worked at First Baptist Church of Jefferson City and Churchnet).

I hope the articles bring attention to important efforts and inspire more churches to welcome refugees. 

Book Reviews

Two reviewers recently wrote about my newest book, Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action.

Leah Sophia, an artist who runs Suntreeriver Design, previously wrote a review of my book. More recently, she included my book in her list of 11 top books of 2015. Here are a few highlights from that assessment:
Such an important book, with so many aspects of our lives as Christians to consider! 
... Faithfully contextualizing texts that come from a very different culture and that variously are between 4,000 and 2,000 years old always is difficult and dangerous. However, if any congregations, pastors, judicatories or even lone solitary individuals would dare, they need to read and consider this book! Because Sacramental Politics focuses almost exclusively on the USA, they'll discover God never has been a Democrat of any era or any variety, a Republican from any place or space, a Libertarian, a Communist or a member of the Green party, or even a declared Independent. But you know, God still is passionately political!
Check out the whole post on the 11 books.

James Matichuk, a minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, also recently wrote a review of my book. He starts the review by noting, "It is an election year and so the circus begins again" Here are a few highlights from his review:
Sacramental Politics examines the way religion is co-opted in the political sphere and suggestively explores the political nature of Christian praxis. 
... This is a well-researched book. Kaylor presents many examples from past and current politicians, all documented with copious footnotes. He shows how politicians use religion to justify their ends (i.e. praying campaign slogans) and to project certainty (52). While the Right is the more overtly religious, the political left also makes use of religious rhetoric. 
It is the second part of the book that I think is the most interesting. Here Kaylor explores the political dimensions of religious ritual (focused particularly of Christian religious ritual). The power of ritual is not just about forming you into a good American, but the idea is that things like liturgy, Eucharist or Baptism and sacred song makes you into something else. 

...Kaylor is descriptive of the way religion and politics meld in the American political landscape. He argues that religion inherently carries with it political implications 
... The central argument of this book, pushes us toward a conscious awareness of the political implications of our own faith. Kaylor wants to move us beyond partisan religious rhetoric to see how our religious practice shapes us into an alternative polis. Kaylor wants us to see that our worship is poltical, and therefore political worship is a political act (193). This helps us imagine new possibilities. 
...Kaylor’s analysis is comprehensive but not exhaustive and certainly more can be added to his argument as this election season shakes out. 
This book has a very Mennonite-y feel (which I like). ... I give this four stars.
You can read his whole review, And I hope you'll pick up my book for yourself!

Taking a Selfie with Bernie & Photobombing Jeb!

While in Iowa for the last 1.5 days of the presidential campaign in the Hawkeye State, I saw six presidential hopefuls and met two of them. I got my photo taken with both Republican Jeb! Bush and Democrat Bernie Sanders. It turns out I also showed up in press photos with both of them!

The most exciting photo came as a Bloomberg photographer snapped a shot of me taking a selfie with Sanders. The timing of the two shots is impressive as they show two angles of the same moment.

Various media outlets ran the Bloomberg photo, including the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and the National Post (Canada). I probably should add, however, that despite what the captions suggest I was there as a reporter and not as a supporter.

I also got a photo with Jeb!, though it wasn't technically a selfie since one of his staffers took the shot. He's really tall! Again, I was there as a reporter (and actually had official media credentials for the Jeb! event and a later Donald Trump rally).

I appeared in two media photos from that rally. An Associated Press photo of me in a crowd of people around him appeared in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, the Chicago Daily Herald, the Seattle Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Daily Mail (United Kingdom).

In a less-used Getty Images photo, I accidentally photobombed Jeb! I have no idea what I was doing at that moment, though it looks like Jeb! just said something shocking (like he thought he would win). I think I was looking around to find a good angle to take a photo. Regardless, it makes for a funny photo, especially since it was used by the Wall Street Journal and Florida Today.

You can see the rest of my photos from the Iowa Caucus here.

Going to Church for the Iowa Caucus

I spent the last 1.5 days of the Iowa presidential campaign in the Hawkeye State. Arriving midday Sunday and staying through the voting and partying Monday night, I enjoyed seeing firsthand some of the politicking. By being on the ground, I better understand the campaign. Below are three key lessons I learned from the trip.

My previous visit to the Iowa Caucus in 2008 helped me explain the process in an video last week. Traveling this year helped me write a more nuanced article on the vote and the role of conservative evangelicals. That article, Iowa Evangelicals Answered Call to "Elect a President Who Will Lead in Godly Ways, includes items I learned from attending rallies, observing a caucus precinct, and listening to radio ads while driving around the state. The article includes a photo I took of Republican winner Ted Cruz speaking in a church.

In addition to Cruz, I also saw Jeb! Bush (and met him), Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders (and met him). That's 6 of the 14 candidates, and I would've made it to half but Ben Carson cancelled at the last minute since his plane couldn't get through the fog (perhaps an apt metaphor for his campaign). I also saw some other political figures at the rallies, including Glenn Beck with Cruz, Ron Paul with his son, and Sarah Palin with Trump. You can view photos from my trip here.

As I reflect on being in Iowa, three key observations come to mind about the role of religion in the campaign. While I had inklings of these ideas, they are clearer now than before the trip.

1. I better understand the Republican caucus process, especially the way meeting in a church could impact the civic decisions. In 2008, I attended a Democratic caucus in a college town. The Democratic ones - as I explained in the video - are generally more dramatic and entertaining. But since I'd already seen that (and since it was going to be less interesting this year with so few candidates), I checked out a Republican one. I stopped in the town of Newton to observe a caucus in Community Heights Church (which actually hosted five different GOP caucus precincts). About 10 percent of Republican caucus precincts (and four percent of Democratic ones) occurred in churches.

The one I attended, which was in the church's sanctuary, started with everyone standing and bowing their heads for prayer. I didn't see that coming. Sure, many governmental meetings start with a prayer (though as a Baptist who cherishes the historic principle of separation of church and state, I disagree with doing that). But I still didn't realize a vote would start with a public prayer, especially one so sectarian as the pray-er asked God to keep America "a Christian nation" and mentioned "Jesus Christ."

Additionally, when it came time for speeches for the candidates (each candidate can be represented with a three-minute speech), the people stood in front of a large cross and an American flag. All of this could impact the vote since research suggests than merely voting in a church - even without public prayer - can influence a voter's decisions. (I also write in my newest book about the importance of physical space when mixing religion and politics.) The GOP caucus in the Newton church was definitely much different than the Democratic one I attended eight years ago.

2. I better understand the role of faith-based ads in the Iowa campaign. I spent several hours driving around Iowa to catch the various candidates: up to Cedar Rapids, over to Davenport, down to Iowa City, back to Cedar Rapids, over to Newton, and on to Des Moines. Along the way I heard numerous campaign ads. It's amazing how many there were, which is why many Iowans are excited the candidate left to torture New Hampshirites.

Although I knew presidential hopefuls highlighted their faith in speeches and ads in Iowa, it was interesting to hear so many of the faith-filled ads. Many ads sprinkled in a reference to assure listeners the candidate was "a man of faith." Others - like one for Cruz, one for author Ben Carson, and one for former Arkansas Governor and Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee - were entirely about faith with virtually no non-religious political issues covered. I wrote about some of the ads in my article. Although often not known about outside Iowa, these ads can win votes and perfectly follow the confessional political style I wrote about in my award-winning book on religious rhetoric in presidential campaigns.

3. I better understand the extreme mixing of religion and politics. On Sunday night, I went to Adventure Christian Community in Davenport for a Cruz rally. I chose the site to see Cruz in action at a church. Yet, the experience surpassed even my worst fears. I found it disgusting to watch the transformation on the sacred space into a partisan political prep rally. I've written about the dangers of such mixing of religion in politics in all three of my books. But I've never experienced it on this level. I wrote a short Instagram essay reflecting on the night.

Went to a church Sunday night & Ted Cruz was the preacher (after a warm-up speech by Glenn Beck). The church had #Cruz signs everywhere & was packed with people standing out in hallways trying to hear. We weren't in the gym or fellowship hall, but the worship space. Communion plates were stacked in the back, out of the way. The screens normally used to project praise song lyrics & sermon notes instead glowed with Cruz videos & logos. // Beck cursed as he praised the glory of American might. When he said #Hillary shouldn't be in the White House but in jail, someone in the political congregation yelled, "Preach, brother, preach." // Cruz took the stage. Like a fiery revival preacher, he stirred up the crowd with his sound-bite stump speech. He called America the "shining city on a hill." People clapped & cheered. I wondered if there was a Bible in the house to double-check that claim. With a cross just off to the side of him, he preached against immigrants & for bombing people. // I somehow managed to leave without pulling out a whip & turning over tables. #iacaucus
A photo posted by BrianKaylor (@briankaylor) on