Fear of a Liberal Pontiff

Conservative Protestants react to Pope Francis.


Writing in Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins and Hunter Schwarz describe evangelicals' uncomfortable reactions to some recent statements by the pope:

I give you a Jack Chick panel, and you ask for alt-text too? WILL NOTHING SATISFY YOU?
Jack T. Chick

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….

From the start of their unlikely alliance, Catholics and evangelicals have always made for strange bedfellows. Before the 1970s, American protestants and Roman Catholics had been locked in a religious rivalry that sometimes expressed itself in nuanced theological debates and just as often devolved into pulpit-pounding sermons rife with fire and brimstone. Considerable swaths of each faith were convinced the other side was going to hell.

It wasn't until the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- and the sexual revolution that presaged it -- that the two religions were united in an awkward but enduring marriage of convenience. For the better part of 40 years, evangelicals and Catholics stood side by side battling the encroachment of secularism, the collapse of traditional sexual ethics, and the general rot of American culture. When Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority, he insisted that Catholics be among the leadership. And the coalition only became more focused and influential after the Soviet Union collapsed, when politically minded priests in the U.S. who had spent much of their energy railing against the evils of communism shifted their homilies to pro-life commentary.

That man needs to read his Bible.
Jack T. Chick

The piece is filled with quotes from Protestants upset with the pope's path. (My favorite: "That man needs to read his Bible.") One topic it doesn't explore is the quieter seething coming from some conservative Catholics. At this point in American history, the division between socially liberal and socially conservative Christians is arguably much more intense than the division between Catholics and Protestants. If Francis continues to be perceived as one of the liberals, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out within as well as outside the American Catholic community.

Elsewhere in Reason: I discussed the right-wing Catholic/Protestant alliance in "The Accidental Modernist," and I noted some ways the liberals influenced the conservatives in "Beyond Pleasantville."