Politics and social morality trump the Gospel

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.

20 thoughts on “Politics and social morality trump the Gospel

      1. For some reason we rarely have sandwiches. I love a good luncheon meat sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mayo, etc. But my wife is anti-cold cut sandwiches because she says they’re unhealthy. Our mayo is veggie mayo and our bread is whole grain, not good ingredients for a tasty sandwich.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love cold cut but she’s right its probably not as healthy than my wishful thinking want it to be no big deal lol. I don’t use Mayo really…what about Mustard for you? Its gross to me lol

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      3. My Mom was German and always used mustard on sandwiches, never mayo. She also thought mayo on sandwiches was gross. I occasionally like mustard in combination with sauerkraut on a hot dog, but that’s the extent of it.

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      4. Hmm. I googled “Germans mayonnaise” and I found out that mayo is quite popular with Germans along with mustard, of course. Evidently mayo was frowned upon by my German mother and her parents rather than Germans in general. I had unknowingly employed the logical fallacy of composition; one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. LOL!

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      5. Lisle’s book is rubbing off on me for all kinds of applications. I see Richard Hellmann, founder of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1903 and began selling mayo in 1905 although I’m sure there was mayo here before that. I googled it and I couldn’t find anything about Germans not liking mayo. I think my Mom just had a quirk about it.

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  1. The political climate has gotten so crazy over the years. That include the “religious right” composed of Catholics and even Mormons, all groups that don’t believe the same thing! I’m grieved how the politics then gets brought into the church and Christian theology. Where I live the Christian radio if you call in their afternoon political talk show and mention Romanism is problematic they make sure you somehow don’t finish, be it you suddenly get “disconnected” (seen that several times) or the hosts talk over you. I’ve seen this over the years with different hosts that replace the afternoon show. I learned Salem Radio owns the station and are big with religious right politics. Shame politics is a priority over theology.

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    1. Thanks for the good comments, including your experiences listening to local Christian radio. Yup, there is very little tolerance in the Christian media or at para-church organizations for criticisms of Roman Catholicism. Shared political concerns with conservative Catholics did a lot to mitigate/de-emphasize doctrinal differences. Chuck Colson favorably dubbed it “fox hole ecumenism” or “ecumenism of the trenches” aka “any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine.”

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      1. I remember Chuck Colson in Breakpoint commentary bragged how he’s not closed minded since he works with Catholics…so Rome’s theological beliefs are ok 🤦‍♂️

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      2. Yup, Chuck Colson was 100% committed to removing any and all barriers between evangelicals and Catholics. Irreconcilable doctrinal differences were easily dismissed with appeals to shallow unity.

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