Religious Right Seeks New Catholic-Protestant Unity

Frederick Clarkson warns that the religious right is forging a degree of cooperation never seen before between the Catholic Church and Protestant evangelicals.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision striking down DOMA, much of the progressive response was typified by pieces such as “ The Religious Right's Terms of Surrender” by Gabriel Arana at the American Prosepct, which began by saying, “Conservative intellectuals have accepted that gay marriage is inevitable, and are asking what the future holds for its opponents.” A more realist perspective was expressed by Ian Millhiser at Think Progress in How Religious Conservatives Plan To Regroup After Losing Marriage Discrimination”, which noted “Nearly 7 in 10 Americans under 40 approve of the Supreme Court’s recent pro-marriage decision,” but went on to say,:

Religious conservatives, however, still have one more card to play in their efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT Americans. As the socially conservative writer Ross Douthat suggested shortly after the Court struck DOMA, the best way to continue to limit the rights of gay people is to “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.”

But is this hunker-down strategy really all that the religious right has left? Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy warns that it's not. A taker of the long view, as the title of his book suggests, he reminds us, “It is easy to forget that much of Christianity is still emerging from the fog of religious war and the smoldering tensions of the Protestant Reformation.” That's not exactly how most political observers — even on the left — approach trying to understand the Religious Right, and it's exactly why they all should be paying more attention to Clarkson, and the developments he tracks — central to which is an unprecedented degree of cooperation between Protestant evangelicals and the Catholic Church.

Compared to the examples cited above and others like them, Clarkson provides a deeper, more chilling view of what may well be in store, based on a much deeper, fine-grained understanding of that's gone before, which he lays out in a just-published article for magazine at the Political Research Associates website, "Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance".

Although seemingly on the defensive, Clarkson argues that leading conservative Catholics (including Church leadership) and evangelical Protestants have just in the last few years become more politically unified than ever before in their history, and this newly-achieved unity — something never really seen before — needs to be viewed as potentially deeply threatening.

Clarckson calls attention to “We Stand in Solidarity to Defend Marriage and the Family and Society Founded Upon Them” a statement from a group of 250 Christian Right leaders, issued after the DOMA decision and writes:

Given the Christian Right’s recent defeats in the realm of marriage equality, it might seem that its power is diminishing and that the so-called culture wars are receding. But “We Stand in Solidarity” is one of many indications that its resolve has deepened rather than dissipated in the face of recent political setbacks. This dynamic, multifaceted movement — one of the most powerful in U.S. history — aims to become a renewed, vigorous force in American public life, and it continues to evolve even while maintaining its views on core issues.

Notably, the movement is being shaped and sustained by a political alliance between evangelicals and the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Though it was unthinkable as recently as a decade ago, this developing evangelical-Catholic alliance is key to understanding the Christian Right’s plan for regrouping in the near term—and ultimately reclaiming the future.

This statement, in turn, builds upon an earlier key document which Clarkson describes:

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 theDeclaration.

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.”

Anyone who knows the actual text of King's Letter should be horrified to see it perverted like this—invoked by forces who want nothing remotely like the sort of profound transformational moral dialogue which King explained was the whole point of the Civil Rights Movement's campaign of civil disobedience. But why wouldn't they mistake themselves for Martin Luther King, if they mistake Barack Obama for Hitler?

Remember when all of the Beltway denounced MoveOn because one anonymous member uploaded a proposed ad to their website comparing Bush to Hitler? Those were the good old days, apparently. Now, Clarkson makes clear, the religious right's Hitler comparisons are increasingly central to its profoundly twisted worldview, as he elaborates further on the potential significance of the Declaration:

The signers of the Declaration cast themselves as patriots challenging “tyranny” in the tradition of the American Revolution and as warriors for social justice. While laying claim to the mantle of the Revolution is not new or unique to this group, the Declaration has ratcheted up the seriousness with which Christian Right leaders are treating the nature of the confrontation. “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” they conclude. “But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

Of course, civil marriage has always been Caesar's, and these guys have never “fully and ungrudgingly” rendered it to Caeser. But who ever said that honesty was a core Christian value? Not for these guys! It's not like it was in the Ten Commandments or anything. They're all about sex, right? Continuing:

Revolutionary rhetoric that goes beyond civil disobedience to suggest violence is now routine among prominent conservative religious and political leaders.

Because that's what Martin would do! Not to mention Jesus. Continuing:

In 2012, a rising star of the Christian Right, evangelical author Eric Metaxas, spoke at a Washington, D.C., bookstore operated by the arch-conservative Roman Catholic order Opus Dei. (A few weeks earlier, Metaxas had been the keynote speaker at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, hosted by the secretive evangelical network, The Family.)  President Obama, as has been the tradition for U.S. presidents, also spoke. In his bookstore presentation, Metaxas compared proposed federal regulations regarding contraception coverage in employer-insurance packages to Nazi-era legislation in Germany.

Metaxas is a best-selling biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German anti-Nazi theologian, and he warned that the plight of conservative Christians “is so oddly similar to where Bonhoeffer found himself” early in the Nazi era. “If we don’t fight now,” Metaxas warned, “if we don’t really use all our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now. It’ll be over . . . We’ve got to die on this hill. Most people say, oh no, this isn’t serious enough. It’s just this little issue. But it’s the millimeter . . . it’s that line that we cross. I’m sorry to say that I see these parallels. I really wish I didn’t.”

Leaders of the Christian Right are increasingly drawing such parallels and encouraging followers to consider how they should respond. Manhattan Declaration co-author Timothy George explained in 2012, for example, that the authors of the Declaration drew inspiration from a group of Protestants in Germany in 1934, who swore their allegiance to Jesus Christ, “whom we are to trust and whom we are to obey in life and in death. It was a way of saying we will not go along with the usurpation of human rights and Christian commitment that Hitler was calling for at that time.”

….

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.

You should read the whole article. It's deeply disturbing. As indeed, it should be.

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