ACTS OF FAITH: Churches and Political
David E. Campbell
Many observers suggest that white evangelical Protestant churches serve to mobilize
their members into politics, while others argue that they encourage withdrawal from
political life. This paper reconciles these two claims. I hypothesize that the time
members of evangelical Protestant denominations spend in service to their church
comes at the expense of participation in the wider community, contrary to the way
mainline Protestant and Catholic churches foster civic activity among their members.
However, I further hypothesize that the tight social networks formed through this
intensive church activity can at times facilitate rapid and intense political mobilization.
Data from the Citizen Participation Study supports the ﬁrst hypothesis, while applying
King’s method of ecological inference to two elections in Alabama supports the second.
Key words: political participation; churches; religion and politics.
The study of religion’s role as a political force in American politics presents
an intriguing puzzle. Why are conservative Christians perceived as such a
potent electoral force when their rates of political participation are often lower
than what is observed in the general population? From the writings of both
political scientists and pundits, one might be led to believe that white evan-
are a wildly participatory religious group. For example, the
standard account of the recent history of how religion and politics intersect in
the U.S. generally includes the assertion that evangelical Christians were
awakened from political quiescence some time in the late 1970s (Dionne,
1991; Wald, 2003; Wilcox, 1996) In the words of Guth and Green, ‘‘The
common view is that clergy and lay activists in theologically conservative
David E. Campbell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, 217 O’Shaughnessy
Hall, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556 (Campbell.firstname.lastname@example.org).
Political Behavior, Vol. 26, No. 2, June 2004 (
0190-9320/04/0600-0155/0 Ó 2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation