Weapons of the Meek: How Churches Influence Public Policy

How do churches influence public policy and why does their influence vary across similarly religious societies? Prevalent accounts focus on the mobilization of voter demand and coalitions with political parties that offer policy concessions in exchange for electoral support. This article argues, by contrast, that such strategies are both risky and costly, and it demonstrates instead the power of direct institutional access for writing legislation, vetting officials, and even running sectors of the state. Such institutional access is available only to churches with high moral authority: those perceived by the public as representing the common good and the national interest. Churches in Christian democracies have gained such moral authority by defending the nation against a foreign regime, state, or colonial power. In short, churches are most influential when they have the high moral authority to obtain direct institutional access—thus avoiding popular backlash against overt and partisan church politicking.