Did President George W. Bush’s re-election have roots in a statement signed by 40 conservative Protestant and Catholic leaders 10 years ago?
UPI guest columnist Martin Sax observed that goals of a groundbreaking statement called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” are “well worth remembering” given the role of religion in last Tuesday’s election.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
According to exit polls, Bush won three-fourths of the vote by white evangelical Christians. Bush and Sen. John Kerry split the Catholic vote, with more traditional Catholics—those who attend Mass every week—voting for the Methodist president over their fellow Catholic 55 percent to 44 percent.
A similar alignment was behind a series of consultations between evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars beginning in September 1992.
The meetings resulted in what was termed a historic document that first appeared in the May 1994 issue of First Things, a journal published by the interreligious Institute on Religion and Public Life and edited by Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran theologian turned Catholic priest.
Participants included <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land is widely credited with helping to deliver the evangelical vote to Bush in the 2004 election.
The document sought to outline both areas of unity and disagreement between the two faith groups, while committing participants to work together on common social concerns. Those included opposition to abortion, euthanasia and eugenics, support for parental choice in education and fighting pornography.
Observers labeled the document as signaling a “new ecumenism,” marking a major shift for evangelicals, who were suspicious of the ecumenical movement in the 1950s that characterized mainline Protestants.
Those suspicions soon came into play in the Southern Baptist Convention, however, in the form of complaints that the theological portions of the document compromised too much.
Phrases describing evangelicals as “brothers and sisters in Christ” and referring to salvation as being understood either as being born again or bestowed through the sacraments proved too much for people like Jerry Moser, a Louisiana mission pastor who in 1995 publicly confronted Southern Baptist signer Larry Lewis, accusing the then-Home Mission Board president of heresy at an associational meeting.
Moser, whose congregation was comprised mainly of former Catholics, argued that the Roman Catholic view that salvation comes through good works amounted to a different “gospel” from the salvation by grace through faith embraced by evangelicals. Recognizing Catholics as fellow Christians, therefore, undermined evangelism, he contended.
Land and Lewis later reluctantly removed their names from the document, citing “continuing misperception” that they were speaking for their respective agencies in signing on as individuals. They didn’t apologize, however, for taking part in “efforts which consolidate the influence of evangelicals and Catholics in addressing critical moral issues.”
Sociologist Nancy Ammerman predicted at the time that the document would more likely face criticism from “traditional southern Southern Baptists,” while “politicized conservatives” were more likely to support it.
Another observer, seminary professor James Chancellor, commented on a non-proselytizing pledge, which he said “demonstrates the dominance of the social agenda over against the evangelism agenda.”
Contacted Friday by e-mail, Moser, who continues to oppose “ecumenism” in Baptist life through a Web site called the RADEN Report (Rome And Daughters Ecumenical News), agreed that some of the signers were motivated primarily by theology and others by politics.
Land, Moser said, “is not a theological ecumenist but rather an opportunist who is willing to use selective compromise and other political tactics to accomplish his goals.”
While slowed by health and finances, Moser has continued to win battles including ending a Roman Catholic/Southern Baptist dialogue in 2001 and passage of a resolution on “Southern Baptists and Ecumenism” in 1996.
Moser described himself as “a biblical conservative” but one who is “in no one’s pocket.”
“I support conservative principles, but I disagree with some of the tactics that are sometimes employed,” he said. “And, as a biblical conservative, I believe it is my responsibility to confront my fellow conservatives regarding areas where I see inconsistencies or discrepancies.”
Moser said he is harder on those in his own “camp,” because, “that is the biblical mandate.”
“To purposely cover up wrong by one’s own allies is to show favoritism, and this is a compromise of biblical instruction,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.