In politics, the “amen corner” refers to the most fervent supporters of a politician or an ideology.
The term originally was used in a religious context. Inside a church, the “amen corner” referred to the section where the most devout (and vocal) worshippers sat. Over time, the phrase expanded to mean a group of people with strong, fixed political beliefs.
A politician’s “amen corner” supports him unquestioningly, in much the same way as church’s amen corner supports the preacher.
William Safire said that amen corner was first used back in 1860, in a religious context. By 1884, the expression was used to refer to political support. It had a negative connotation right away. In 1894, for example, the Congressional Record sneered at “those saintly Republican monopolists who sit in the ‘amen corner’ of protected privilege.”
In 1990, Pat Buchanan used the term “amen corner” to criticize supporters of the first Gulf War. Buchanan was a former presidential candidate and a staunch isolationist. In a TV appearance, he said, ”There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East – the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.”
In 2009, Barack Obama gave a speech to the NAACP. He received a warm welcome. The crowd hung on his words, sometimes repeating his words right back to him. The president got such a positive reaction that at one point he laughed and said, “I’ve got an amen corner back there.”
More recently, Bloomberg News revisited the term. In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the US and gave a speech to Congress. Bloomberg reported that a select group of Netanyahu supporters was thrilled with the speech (Pat Boone, Joe Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, and Sheldon Adelson). The article was titled “At Netanyahu’s Speech, Scenes from the Amen Corner.”
Pundits often use the term as a way to jab at politicians, implying a kind of guilt by association. In 2016, the progressive Right Wing Watch published an article titled “Donald Trump’s Amen Corner: Prosperity Preachers and Dominionists.” The article charged that Trump was supported by “preachers who tout wealth as a sign of God’s favor” and by “a leading advocate of Seven Mountains dominionism, which teaches that government and other spheres of influence…are meant to be run by the right kind of Christians.”
In Pittsburgh, there is a real club which calls itself the Amen Corner. That club – one of the most exclusive organizations in Pennsylvania – caters to politicians and lawyers. It’s often described as an “old boy’s club” and has been around since 1870. In 1965, Gerald Ford was invited to be a member of the club. In a speech to his fellow members, Ford gushed with gratitude and said that becoming an “Amener” was a much bigger deal than being elected House minority leader earlier that year.
“There is absolutely no parallel between acceptance as a member of Amen Corner and an obscure political happening in Washington not so long ago,” Ford said.