To look at the way religious views form public opinion here in the United States, it seems pretty clear that conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics are growing closer and closer in their world-view. They make common cause lobbying the government in terms of political wedge issues. The favorite candidate of much of the Evangelical South in the recent Republican primary season was Rick Santorum, a very conservative Roman Catholic.
And so most commentators are noting a growing gulf between the mainline denominations and the Roman Catholic Church. And that’s certainly true on most of the political issues discussed in the primary. But it misses a whole different view of convergence between the mainline believers and the Catholics when it comes to social issues and justice questions. And a growing convergence in liturgy as well.
“But even as conservative Catholics and evangelicals agree to subjugate their continued differences in doctrine, worship, and non-cultural political traditions to a unified front against the enemy of moral relativism, the often-ignored third force in American Christianity—mainline Protestants—have been steadily overcoming precisely those doctrinal barriers that have long divided them from Rome. We may be on the brink of a religious realignment, whereby the issues on which Christians argued, fought, killed, and persecuted each other (and others) since the sixteenth century are giving way to a different source of division: the culture wars.[…]Yet the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council Catholics and most mainline Protestants have long since adopted a common ‘lectionary’ of scripture readings for use during worship services throughout the year. At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding; mainliners are far more likely to recite the historic Nicene or Apostle’s creeds during worship than are evangelicals. In other words, a growing number of mainline Protestants now worship much like Catholics. And on non-cultural issues, from social justice to anti-war protests, Catholic and mainline Protestant cooperation—particularly at the local level—has become a familiar part of the civic landscape. This tradition, in fact, is continuing currently in the combined criticism of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal by both mainline Protestants and Catholic Bishops.”
Ed Kilgore, the writer of the piece argues that this realignment is coming but has not yet arrived. The odd thing is that he seems to view Roman Catholicism as monolithic; every Catholic agrees with the Pope’s views. But that’s just not true. There is stronger support for marriage equality and reproductive choice among the Roman Catholic laity than among just about any other religious demographic group.
What does seem to be happening is that the progressive Catholics are making common cause with the mainline protestants and the conservative Catholics with the Evangelicals. If realignment occurs, it would make more sense that the split with be somewhere in American Catholicism.