Reagan Allied Pro-Life Catholics and Protestants

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael McGough, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 14, 2004):

...Reagan was raised in his mother's Protestant faith rather than in the Catholicism of his father. What, one wonders, would his mother have thought about a funeral for her son at which an Irish tenor sang "Ave Maria" as well as "Amazing Grace"?

Of course, it would be too much to credit Ronald Reagan with a convergence in forms of worship that began even before the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. As the church historian Owen Chadwick points out in "The Christian Church in the Cold War," after World War II both Protestants and Catholics "altered their way of worship, radically and almost simultaneously, and the result was to make Protestants feel more at home in Catholic worship and Catholics feel more at home in Protestant worship."

Reagan may or may not have won the Cold War, but he had nothing to do with the innovation of the folk Mass or the willingness of Protestant ministers (including the pastor who presided at Reagan's sunset burial) to wear vestments once disdained by Reformers as the "rags of popery."

But Reagan was connected to one interesting (and to liberal Catholics ominous) offshoot of the ecumenical movement: an alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. The original point of connection was the anti-abortion movement, which Reagan championed. When pro-life Catholics found common cause with pro-life evangelical Protestants in the 1970s and 1980s, they didn't ask: "What are we doing here among these psalm singers?" They knew what they were doing -- closing ranks against the "culture of death."

In 1994 this arguably tactical alliance produced a manifesto titled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium." The authors and original endorsers included psalm singers and papists alike. On the evangelical side were the Rev. Pat Robertson, Charles Colson and Dr. Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ; Catholic signers included George Weigel and two future cardinals, Bishop Francis George and the Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles.

For the signatories, this aggregation was necessitated not just by a common faith in basic Christian beliefs but also by a need to oppose "relativism, anti-intellectualism and nihilism" and the erosion of the "privileged and foundational" role of religion in America's legal order.

If that language sounds familiar, it is because it could come from the speeches of George W. Bush, an Episcopalian-turned-evangelical- Methodist who, of course, delivered the climactic eulogy at Reagan's funeral. ...

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