The tides are changing in the political theatre of the West. A strain now exists between political parties and the traditional conservative “Christian value” voters. His holiness is to blame.
In various interviews this year, Pope Francis has repeatedly stated his desire for the church to let go of culture wars – opining that his flock had become “obsessed” with issues like abortion and homosexuality. The Pope has signalled a desire to find common playing fields with atheists, perhaps even flirting with moral relativism. While this new tune has been met with excitement from the socially progressive, it has created a more consequential divide in the alliance between evangelicals and conservative Catholics – an alliance that has been instrumental in getting right-leaning politicians elected for over 40 years.
A senior analysts at the American Family Association and devout Christian Bryan Fisher stated recently that he was “disappointed and alarmed at some of the things that the Pope said” – a sentiment shared by many in the religious right.
“It raises questions in our minds because the Catholic Church has always been faithful shoulder-to-shoulder ally to social conservatives in the fight to protect unborn human life and the sanctity of marriage” says Fisher. “We simply have questions of whether we’ll be able to count on the Catholic Church to be comrades-in-arms to continue to fight there battles.”
The president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell More, is struggling to find any sort of “justification for the Pope’s comments. He has concluded that the proper is “guilty of severing the Love of God from the holiness of God.”
Even worse was when Pope Francis suggested that salvation was possible for morally-sound atheists. David Brody, a Christian Broadcasting Network report, responding by tweeting: “say what? Catholics please explain this…Evangelicals are not kosher with this.”
From the beginning of their dubious partnership, Catholics and Evangelicals have always made for a strange alliance. Prior to the 1970s, U.S protestants and Roman Catholics were arched in religious rivalry. While this rivalry occasionally sparked subtle theological debates, more often then not it came down to fist pounding sermons loaded with fire brimstone. Each side was convinced that the other was going to hell.
This was until the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision – where the U.S Supreme Court ruled in favour of abortion right, following a so-called sexual revolution of the 70s – that the two faiths bonded in a marriage of convenience. Since then, bipartisan Catholics and evangelicals have stood together, fending off the incursion of secularism, the evolution of sexual ethics, and the “decay” of American culture more broadly. Political influence was required, and the alliance became even stronger following the collapse of the USSR, when politically- charged pundits shifted their focus from the evils of communism to pro-life propaganda.
Soon, this alliance became the backbone of the Republican Party, starting a movement that saw a thousand HBO boycotts and the election of George W. Bush. This alliance saw the formation of a complex patchwork and inter bending of church and state.
Then Pope Francis came along.
In all fairness, Catholics in the U.S are not exactly retreating from this culture war of their own making in droves. For them, the liberal media has blown the Pope’s remarks out of proportion and stand by the fact that the church’s manifesto remains unchanged. “It’s hate the sin, love the sinner,” says Matt Smith, president of the conservative organisation Catholic advocate. “He’s encouraging folks to make sure that we’re still loving the person. In no shape or form is he endorsing gay marriage.”
But the Pope’s recent remarks have reignited old, concealed suspicions by evangelicals towards their Catholic peers. This was evident a following September’s Value Voters Summit in D.C.
“I’ve only seen the articles. You cannot base a conclusion on one article, one statement, one speech. It’s cumulative” responded Family Research Council President Tony Perkins when asked if the new Pope might drive Catholics away from political and social issues. This was followed by a sly admonishment: “Those that subscribe to Bible orthodoxy know what the teachings are when it comes to sexual morality. You can’t change that unless you ignore or change the word of God.”
Born-again Christians were less diplomatic with their responses when asked about the Pope’s recent comments. Tracy Poland, a Maryland mother of five who attended the conference opined “that’s infuriating. That man needs to read his bible.” She then added “I don’t mean any disrespect, but that man garners a lot of respect and he should earn that respect. He should not have done that…He’s not doing the job he was given, which is to represent Christ in a positive light.”
I guess not everyone loves Frankie’s new tone.