Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ethnic Religions


On January 7, 2013, the New York Times carried a story about the race to fill the Congressional seat in Chicago vacated by the resignation (apparently for both health and legal reasons) of Jesse Jackson, Jr. The district is still strongly African-American, though less so than it used to be because of recent remapping. The story described the candidates eagerly seeking the endorsement of black clergy in the area. The candidates are black as well, with one exception: a white woman who had previously run and lost against Jackson. She too is actively seeking the same clerical endorsements.
Jackson had been endorsed by a considerable number of pastors. This political involvement of clergy is by no means limited to Chicago, but is common elsewhere if African-Americans are a significant factor in the electorate. Candidates are not only openly endorsed by pastors, but often are invited to speak from the pulpit. There is some dispute on how important these endorsements are, given the decline of the church as an institution in many black communities. Apparently it is still worth the effort. One candidate observed: “You can go to a church and talk to a few thousand people. That’s a huge audience to capture at one particular time. You can walk blocks and knock on doors and not reach a thousand people”. And this is how one of the pastors put it: “We want it stay an African-American seat. We want a voice for us in this area. There’s access that comes with culture.”
An interesting question here is the legality of such endorsements by tax-exempt institutions. But this is not my interest here. Rather it is the linkage between religion and ethnicity. Through much of history this linkage has been very close indeed. Even in our time ethnically defined religion has been an important social and political reality—for example the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, Buddhism in Tibet.
Read the rest here

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