While the new tone coming out of the Vatican has drawn plaudits from progressives, it has also driven a wedge into the powerful political alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians.
As political spectators gawk at the “civil war” currently engulfing congressional Republicans in the wake of the government shutdown, a potentially more consequential rift is beginning to form within the party’s traditional coalition of conservative Christian value voters. Blame the Vicar of Christ.
In a series of interviews earlier this year, Pope Francis repeatedly signaled a desire for his flock to disengage from the culture wars — complaining that the church had become “obsessed” with issues like marriage and abortion, actively seeking common ground with atheists, and even appearing to flirt with moral relativism. While the new tone coming out of the Vatican has drawn plaudits from progressives, it has also driven a wedge into the powerful political alliance between conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians that’s been instrumental in electing hundreds of Republicans over the past four decades.
Bryan Fischer, a senior analyst at the American Family Association and devout Christian, said he was “disappointed and alarmed at some of the things the pope said” — a sentiment shared by many of the protestant culture warriors on America’s religious right.
“It raises questions in our mind because the Catholic Church has always been a faithful shoulder-to-shoulder ally to social conservatives in the fight to protect unborn human life” and the sanctity of marriage, Fischer said. “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 these battles.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, struggled to find theological justification for the pope’s comments. In a column earlier this month, he concluded that Francis was guilty of “severing the love of God from the holiness of God” — even as he mused that he was not interested in “refighting the Protestant Reformation.”