When pundit Kirsten Powers published an op-ed in USA Today arguing that the recent effort in Kansas to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, is an update of Jim Crow -- the Christian Right Twitterverse went wild.
While each such episode commands a lot of attention, it is part of a larger story of a deep and probably lasting social and political change in the U.S. -- one that one way or another will shape the public lives of everyone reading these words. This may seem like a bold thing to say; something that has not been validated by the punditocracy, but give it time.
Last year in The Public Eye, I discussed the growing and deepening alliance between the Protestant evangelical Christian Right as we have historically known it and the American Roman Catholic Bishops. In that essay I acknowledged that while there has always been a certain Catholic presence in the uneasy religiopolitical movement we call the Christian Right, it was not until The Manhattan Declaration of 2009, that more than a handful of Catholic prelates would ever stand shoulder to political shoulder with the leaders of evangelicalism and the likes of Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. But for this, at least 50 Catholic bishops, archbishops and cardinals signed-up, including Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York. It was, I think, a transformational moment in the history of the U.S. and indeed, in the history of Christianity. But like many major shifts, it is not likely to be widely understood until it is so well established that most of us think things were always that way.
But Tony Perkins himself took to Twitter in response to Powers, to remind us of the importance of the Declaration as a source of conservative Christian resistance to the advance of LGTBQ equality and reproductive justice.Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance:
The document is a statement of shared principles and a common approach to politics and public policy for the foreseeable future. It focuses on three interrelated values: “sanctity of life,” “traditional marriage,” and “religious freedom.” Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” it calls for “resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.”Crossposted from Talk to Action
Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and prominent Roman Catholic neoconservative, originated the Declaration. George is also the founder and guiding light of a number of related institutions, including the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, the American Principles Project, and American Principles in Action. He recruited the late evangelical leader Charles Colson and Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George as co-authors, and he later helped recruit the document’s original 150 signatories (most of whom were men), subtly in the style of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Some are among the best-known Christian Right leaders in the United States. These include top Catholic prelates and evangelical leaders, notably Archbishop (now Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Signatories also include more politically oriented figures such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage; and Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom. There are also half a dozen leaders of the low-profile New Apostolic Reformation, including Revs. Harry Jackson, Joseph Mattera, and Samuel Rodriguez, each of whom is an “apostle” overseeing a large network of Neocharismatic churches. Primarily via the website devoted to the Declaration, more than 540,000 people have joined the original signers, generating a massive email list that may prove useful to the Christian Right.
For all the Declarationists’ ecumenical diversity, the document’s significance is perhaps best epitomized by Albert Mohler, who, a decade earlier, had declared his abhorrence of Roman Catholicism on Larry King Live. In 2009, Mohler explained his rationale for signing the Declaration, though he does not usually sign manifestos, and he noted that this exception should not be taken as a sign that his views on Roman Catholic doctrine had changed. But, he wrote, “we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes.”
The concluding paragraph of the Declaration’s first section is explicit in saying that its purpose is to unify and mobilize the Christian Right: “We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.”
The Christian Right sees the times as dire indeed. The Manhattan Declaration’s integrated approach to abortion, marriage, and religious liberty is designed to unite key leaders of major factions around common arguments and to function as a catalyst for political renewal.
Indeed, the Declaration’s three-part formula emerged as a central feature of the movement in the 2012 election season. It was taken up by the Roman Catholic bishops, as well as the major political organizations of the traditional, evangelically oriented Christian Right. The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, used it in his convention acceptance speech. And it promises to be the way that the Christian Right frames its common platform for the foreseeable future.