Political Animal


April 30, 2012 5:17 PM Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mainline Protestants: A Culture-War Realignment?

By Ed Kilgore

In a post last week on the dangerous legacy of Chuck Colson, I mentioned that one of his big projects was an effort, conducted in close conjunction with the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, to expand the relationship between Catholic “traditionalists” and conservative evangelicals beyond tactical cooperation in the fight against legalized abortion, feminism and gay rights into a full-blown alliance, up to and including a detente on ancient theological differences.

That led me into a meditation on the anomaly that this trans-confessional conservative alliance seemed to be displacing an earlier convergence between Catholics and mainline Protestants on doctrine and forms of worship—you know, those items that Christians have been fighting over for many centuries, and that gave rise to the Reformation in the first place—along with non-cultural social and political issues like poverty and war. I wrote this up in a column for TNR that some of you might find interesting. Here’s the conclusion:

All these cross-cutting trends and counter-trends in American (and global) Christianity call into question any glib arrangement of denominations, movements, or individuals as conservative or liberal, traditionalist or modernist. Neuhaus and Colson certainly had little doubt that what brought them together as culture-warriors was more important than any of the divergent ways their two Christian traditions have developed doctrinally in two millennia.
And for now, at least, the most powerful leaders among conservative evangelicals seem to agree with Colson. It’s too early to conclude that Neuhaus’s argument has won over the U.S. Catholic hierarchy for good—much less the many millions of Catholic lay people, priests and religious who have not enlisted in the culture wars. But if the recent alarms raised by the Bishops on “religious freedom”—complemented by the Vatican’s crackdown on non-compliant American nuns—are any indication, that’s the direction they seem to be headed. If so, they will stand against the mainline Protestants who increasingly find common ground with them at the altar and in the pews, if not on the cultural and political barricades.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 30, 2012 5:58 PM:

    The Religious Right's POV:

    'Aye, we're all in this together, because the enemies of the feckin' idjit Liberals, and their Communist/Fascist/Socialist Nigra, are our friends!'

    Liberal POV:
    'Tis a deal with the Devil's, for the Devil's work.'

    Damn the Chinese!!!
    We live in TOO interesting a time...

  • rrk1 on April 30, 2012 6:27 PM:

    Welcome back c u n d gulag. We've missed you.

    Main Line Protestantism has no leader. The modernist Protestant movement of a century ago has run out of steam and identifiable spokespeople. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Robert J. MacCracken, and William SLoan Coffin represented three generations of outspoken religious liberals, and all three occupied the important Riverside Church (in New York City) pulpit for considerable tenures. That church was built with Rockefeller money as a testimonial to an updated theology with roots in the Enlightenment. Sadly, it is no longer the home of an intellectualized and relevant theology that spoke reason and hope to generations of young people seeking to find meaning in their lives.

    Right-wing so-called Christians have (or had) their Falwells, and Robertsons. Mainline Protestantism has no equivalent. The prosperity gospel has replaced the Beatitudes, and Social Darwinism is the word coming from the mega-churches. If you are successful in life - read rich - it's because god loves you. And if you're poor, down-trodden and in dire straits it's because you have offended god. How much simpler could it be? Tell people what they want to hear, and they will love you. The gullible flock to these monuments to greed as a thirsty man to a dripping faucet. What comes out of that faucet may sustain life, but it has no nutrient value.

    Religion may be an important component of life, but here, in the most religious country of the developed world, it has taken a very dark turn.

  • golack on April 30, 2012 8:08 PM:

    Sad thing is every bishop who transferred a priest one too many times knew exactly what was going on--and chose to deny it in order to "protect" the church. And the drive to the culture wars and alignment with the the right is a pathetic attempt to gain the "moral high ground".

    So now the bishops still trivialize the raping of kids by priests, while, in an attempt to be holier than thou, declare contraception is actually abortion.

    They have taken a page from evangelicals--faux outrage over non-issues so they can claim they are "under attack". They are the real victims here.

  • Paul on May 01, 2012 9:49 AM:

    Interesting thing is that fundamentalist protestants don't consider Catholics to be "Christians" because they don't have the right set of beliefs. For example, fundies believe Catholics preach "salvation by works" instead of "salvation by faith."

    That they are eager and willing now to form an alliance demonstrates that they are not religiously motivated people trying to work out their faith in the public sphere, but are political people trying to work out how they can justify that through religion.