It used to be that Protestants and Catholics were at loggerheads over various doctrinal issues. It is hard to imagine that in the early days of the American republic there was deep hostility towards and prejudice against Catholics, with some even arguing against them receiving full citizenship because their allegiance to the pope made their loyalty to the new nation suspect.
That mutual distrust still remains but now there is increasing realization, especially among the evangelical Protestants and Catholics leadership, that they should form a closer alliance since they share deep opposition to social issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and what it considers the alleged ‘threats to religious liberty’.
Paul Rosenberg explores the steps that are being taken to forge a stronger alliance. He drew my attention to an article by Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates and author of the book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.
Clarkson says that this alliance within the Christian Right should be a cause for concern, that the recent setbacks they have suffered on same-sex marriage has deepened their resolve to fight back as their older leadership gives way to new generation.
But this generational transition is neither as challenging nor as important as the Christian Right’s efforts to overcome a long history of internal sectarian distrust, conflicting religious doctrines, and differing views about whose ideas should prevail in government. Those efforts are succeeding. The movement is guided by a clear strategic vision, and it is displaying a remarkable level of cooperation and capacity to keep pace with rapid social change.
The turning point was the November 2009 publication of a manifesto titled Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. Originally signed by 150 Christian Right religious and political leaders, its distinct achievement has been to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants. Indeed, the historic convergence of evangelical institutions and activists with the American Roman Catholic Church is underscored by the fact that fully 50 sitting bishops, archbishops and cardinals—not merely a token Catholic prelate or two—signed the Declaration.
The Christian Right, stung by recent losses in the culture war, is publicly doubling down on its antichoice and antigay positions. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have found common ground—and the motivation to set aside centuries of sectarian conflict—by focusing on these issues while claiming that their “religious liberty” is about to be crushed. The movement is mobilizing its resources, forging new alliances, and girding itself to engage its enemies. It is also giving fair warning about its intentions. It may lose the long-term war, but whatever happens, one thing is certain: It won’t go down without a fight.
In this long but important essay, Clarkson offers us a sobering reminder that the Christian Right is gearing up for a major assault and we should be ready for it.