Caucusing in the Pulpits

January 02, 2012

With the Iowa caucuses tomorrow, it seems that in many Iowa churches yesterday the focus was on politics. The co-opting of church services for partisan politics is one of the most troubling aspects of confessional politics. At many churches across the state, much of the discussion was about the caucuses and which candidates should be supported. This under-the-radar type of political discourse is hard to track but is so important some wonder if church discussions yesterday helped former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum sure up the vote for tomorrow (the photo is one I took of Santorum in Iowa in August). As the rising candidate in the polls, Santorum is clearly in the top three in the state and could win tomorrow. Thus, as many conservative evangelicals coalesce around Santorum, he might be able to peel away those who support Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, or U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. As supporters of those three candidates--who are likely to be in places four, five, and six tomorrow--look to stop former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, many might jump over to Santorum since he appears to be best positioned to win. Romney, the frontrunner in Iowa and nationally, is not trusted by many conservative evangelicals because of his numerous flip-flops and his Mormon faith, the latter of which is a symptom of confessional politics (see posts here, here, and here). Although conservative evangelicals are a key voting bloc in the Iowa Republican caucuses, they risk diluting their influence this year and helping Romney win--unless Santorum can continue the momentum he has experienced the last few days. Santorum, who attended mass at an Iowa Catholic church yesterday, clearly utilizes confessional politics (see posts here, here, and here) and might be able to use that and traditional Iowa organizing to pull out the win.

Also demonstrating the role church politicking plays in our age of confessional politics, Bachmann yesterday preached at a church in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Although her address focused on spiritual thoughts and was not explicitly political, merely giving her the pulpit on the Sunday before the caucuses sends a clear political message to the congregation. Bachmann has preached in other Iowa churches during this long campaign season (see post here). Politicians of both parties can often be found preaching in churches just before elections, which is a disgraceful part of confessional politics. Bachmann, who is likely to finish at the bottom of the pack tomorrow and see her long-shot campaign come to an end, has faced pressure from pastors and other conservative evangelical leaders to drop out so that she will not split the vote and help Romney win. She has refused to drop out and even mixed together biblical allusions to explain why not:

I am going to the White House because I want to overturn the money-changing tables that are set up in Washington D.C. I can't be bought because I'm not for sale and I wouldn't sell out for 30 pieces of silver.
Bachmann also claimed God is going to help her win tomorrow despite her low standing in the polls. As her campaign was being helped by students from the fundamentalist Oral Roberts University, Bachmann proclaimed:
We're believing in a miracle because we know, I know, the one who gives miracles.
This comment certainly fits her religious-political worldview since she--like Perry and the already defeated Herman Cain--claimed God called her to run (see post here). Perry also spent Sunday morning in an Iowa church--his only campaign event of the day. Although he did not speak during the service, his presence was noted by the pastor and Perry later called the people at the service "very supportive." At least now churches in Iowa will get a break from being campaign stops. Hopefully pastors in other states will be more careful about turning sacred space into campaign platforms.

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