Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fred Clarkson on Christian Right's Determination to Renew Itself by Alliance of Catholic Leaders and Evangelical Right: Important Discussion

As one week ends and another begins, I want to take note of a very important new article by Fred Clarkson  at the Political Research Associates' website. It's entitled "Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance." Fred's thesis is that, far from being moribund, as many political commentators keep suggesting, the religious right is alive and well in American politics, and is now renewing itself via an alliance between the U.S. Catholic bishops and right-wing evangelicals.

This alliance is strongly focused and on message in a way typical of the American political and religious right, and is determined to use the issues of abortion, marriage equality, and "religious liberty" to continue extending its influence in the public square. Fred points to the publication of the Manhattan Declaration in 2009 as a turning point in the history of the American religious right that signals the strong intent of the current leaders of the U.S. Catholic church to ally themselves and the church they lead with the evangelical right. As he notes, 50 sitting bishops, archbishops, and cardinals signed this document, which was spearheaded by Catholic neocon activist Robert P. George.

Here's how Fred summarizes the main thrust of the Manhattan Declaration:

The document is a statement of shared principles and a common approach to politics and public policy for the foreseeable future. It focuses on three interrelated values: "sanctity of life," "traditional marriage," and "religious freedom." Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," it calls for "resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage."

As he adds, the narrowly focused tripartite argument is all about uniting key leaders of the Catholic and evangelical right in a common battle--a common political battle with clear partisan overtones--against its perceived political enemies at this point in American history:

The Christian Right sees the times as dire indeed. The Manhattan Declaration’s integrated approach to abortion, marriage, and religious liberty is designed to unite key leaders of major factions around common arguments and to function as a catalyst for political renewal.

As Fred points out, it's not in the least accidental that the mantra the U.S. bishops began to chant as the 2012 elections approached was precisely this three-part mantra about abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty as intrinsically connected issues, issues on which the church stands or falls today and where it has a political obligation to impose its will on the culture at large, if Christianity is to retain any influence at all in secular culture at this point in time. This was a primary theme of the U.S. Catholic bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom" in the 2012 election cycle, and the "religious freedom" guru of the bishops, Archbishop William Lori, made it explicit in a homily entitled "Godless Secularism Assaults Life and Liberty" on the eve of the elections. 

That homily suggests, as Fred notes, that all Christians who do not buy into the ideology and rhetoric of the religious right about the trinity of core issues now defining the religious right are not truly Christian: they're, in the words of Lori, "Godless secularists." As the leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, stated on behalf of the bishops' conference in January 2012, marriage and religious liberty "stand or fall together," and, by implication, the church itself stands or falls according to its determination to oppose abortion and marriage equality as interlocking issues, and in the name of "religious liberty" when the culture at large moves in a direction different from that proposed by the bishops. 

Increasingly, with the direct leadership of the U.S. Catholic bishops, the religious right movement is depicting itself as the defender of authentic Christian and American values that are under assault by mainstream culture and the current political leaders of the nation. As the Manhattan Declaration makes plain, the movement is threatening outright resistance and civil disobedience insofar as the culture at large and the political sphere move in directions that the religious right wishes to place off-limits, especially regarding the issues of abortion and marriage. 

Fred's conclusion:

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.

And for a concrete illustration of how this religio-political trend is now playing out in various sectors of the nation's cultural and political life, see Chris Rodda's report at Talk to Action about the alliance between the U.S. bishops' point man for the military, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the head of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, and an evangelical right not conspicuous for its respect for Catholicism, as these folks battle the rights of gay members of the armed forces. Since those rights represent, the alliance maintains, a threat to the "religious liberty" of real Christians . . . . 

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