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Sean Everton

Whose Faith-Based Initiative?

A look at the 2004 presidential campaign.

In the fall of 2000 at the Houston meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), I sat in on a paper presentation by Kraig Beyerlein about a study that he and Mark Chaves had conducted regarding the political activities of religious congregations in the United States. While the results of their study changed somewhat by the time it appeared in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR),1 the story they told in Houston remained essentially the same: namely, that religious traditions tend to specialize when it comes to political activism. Conservative Protestants tend to do one thing, mainline Protestants another, and Roman Catholics still another. One result, more than any of the others, caught my eye: Black congregations are 7 times more likely than mainline Protestant churches, 24 times more likely than conservative Protestant churches and 42 times more likely than Roman Catholic churches to invite a political candidate to come and speak. Since we were in the midst of a presidential campaign, I could not help wondering who was speaking at more churches – Al Gore or George Bush. I suspected that it was Al Gore. That is, if it is true that Black congregations are more likely than any other type of congregation to invite a political candidate to come and speak, and since African Americans tend to vote for Democratic candidates, then it seemed likely that Al Gore was receiving more invitations from churches to come and speak than was George Bush.

I initially planned to test my hunch on the 2000 campaign, but for a variety of reasons it became easier to wait until 2004 to track where and when the presidential and vice-presidential candidates spoke. My working hypothesis, of course, was that Senators John Kerry and John Edwards would visit and speak at more churches than George Bush and Dick Cheney. As it turned out, my hunch was right.

To track where the candidates visited from March 3, 2004 (the day when John Kerry effectively wrapped ...

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