The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Politics in the Pews

Wed, May 21, 2008

The Sunday morning worship at Red Memorial* progresses like many services in African-American churches. Parishioners sing classic hymns, clapping and swaying along to the music. The pastor, the Rev. Red, greets the congregation the same way she does each week.

However, there's something different about the service, explains Dr. Eric McDaniel, assistant professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin who studies the politics of faith and race.

Along with a spiritually uplifting sermon, the Rev. Red delivers a less-than- otherworldly message to the congregation. Tuesday is Election Day and she emphasizes the importance of voting with an African-American church ritual, the call-and-response, to mobilize the congregation for democratic participation:

The Rev. Red: "Everybody..."
Congregation: "Vote!"
The Rev. Red: "And vote right."
Congregation: "Vote right!"

At the end of the service, members pick up the church's Sunday bulletin in which one page contains a single word: "VOTE!"

The scene at Red Memorial is one example of the discussions about the upcoming presidential election happening in African-American churches throughout the United States, McDaniel says. He researched churches in Detroit and Austin, Texas for his forthcoming book, "Politics in the Pews: The Political Transformation of Religious Institutions."

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