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Lyman A. Kellstedt, James L. Guth, Corwin E. Smidt, and John C. Green


The Bully Pulpit, Revisited

Clergy and politics in the United States: new trends.

For students of religion and American politics, ironies abound. In a recent New York Times column, Charles M. Blow trumpeted the "Rise of the Religious Left," joining a bevy of liberal commentators and political strategists congratulating the Democratic Party for attracting religious voters to counter the power of the Christian Right. At the very same time, sociologist James Davison Hunter's To Change the World criticized both Left and Right as too fixated on politics and too likely to conceive of "power" in narrow political, rather than cultural, terms. Despite a profound difference of perspective, both Blow and Hunter assumed the centrality of religious institutions and their leaders in the process of "changing the world."

Clergy occupy strategic positions in both politics and culture: they are key intermediaries between the public and political leaders and they influence parishioners' attitudes by word and deed. Thus, they provide the regular guidance on political candidates and public policy that Charles Blow expects, as well as shaping the broader cultural formations that Hunter emphasizes.

Personal experience certainly suggests that clergy do both. We know one pastor who over a long career never mentioned political issues in his sermons, but during election years festooned the parsonage with campaign signs for all to see. Or, on the Sunday after the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, one of us attended a church service that felt like a Republican campaign rally. The congregation cheered loudly in response to the pastor's query, "Isn't it wonderful to have such a godly man in the White House?" Another author regularly hears sermonic admonitions about "creation care" as a Christian responsibility, a more subtle effort to shape laity culture. No doubt readers can add their own examples.

As social scientists, however, we need to confirm such anecdotal evidence with rigorous analysis of representative national surveys. For three decades we have conducted an extended study ...

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