I didn’t purposely schedule it this way, but on this post-election Wednesday, we’re going to review an excellent book that examines some of the regrettable aspects of evangelicalism’s dalliance with politics.
We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics
By Neil J. Young
Oxford University Press, 2015, 432 pages
Sixty-years ago, evangelicals generally had enough discernment to know that the Roman Catholic church propagated a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. Today, a large number, or perhaps even the majority of evangelicals embrace the RCC as a Christian entity even though it has not changed any of its basic doctrines. What happened? What changed? In this extremely informative book, historian, Neil J. Young, examines how American evangelicals gradually became focused on cultural/political battles against rising secularism, with Roman Catholics as co-belligerents. The Gospel and doctrinal distinctives were gradually overshadowed by shared “Judeo-Christian values” and political expediency.
During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the RCC radically changed its approach to Protestants, from militant confrontation to semi-rapprochement. Because of the language of some of the V2 documents, many evangelicals unwittingly assumed the RCC was shifting towards a more Biblically-centered approach, which was not the case.
The Roe vs. Wade SCOTUS decision (1973) galvanized conservative Catholics into political activism. Evangelicals would take longer. The possible passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the late-1970s presented another crisis. Theologian, Francis Schaeffer, challenged evangelicals and fundamentalists to become politically involved, prompting independent fundamental Baptist pastor, Jerry Falwell, to found the ecumenical Moral Majority organization in 1979. Moral Majority and evangelicals played a significant role in electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, but the anticipated pro-morality legislation wasn’t forthcoming. Moral Majority fizzled out and was replaced by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, founded in 1989, which didn’t produce much in the way of tangible, legislative results either.
Politically-minded evangelicals and Catholics, though co-belligerents in the culture battles, largely kept their distance from each other throughout the 70s and 80s because of doctrinal distinctives, but Chuck Colson’s “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” ecumenical initiative (1994), sought to turn co-belligerency into co-recognition and co-acceptance. Many evangelicals objected to ECT, but the spirit of ecumenism has continued to erode spiritual discernment and ecclesiastical separation over the past twenty-six years.
Everyone who desires to learn the history of evangelicals’ ecumenical accommodation to and compromise with Catholicism via political involvement would benefit from this book. Author Neil J. Young is not favorable towards evangelicals, but he tells the story with an acceptable measure of objectivity. One of the most maddening examples of evangelical politicos spinning their wheels was the misguided crusade to return compulsory prayer back to public schools during the Reagan administration. Argh! Young includes the LDS church as the third player in the religious-right, conservative-political triumvirate, but the Mormons generally operated on the periphery, with the exception of Mormon Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Mormon Glenn Beck’s recent appearances at evangelical venues is further evidence of eroding discernment and of politics and nationalism taking precedence over the Gospel.
Excellent book. Very informative. Highly recommended. This short review does not do justice to the amount of historical detail that’s presented. Unbeliever Young has more discernment regarding the serious pitfalls of interfaith politics than many evangelicals do.