In the NYT obit of Richard John Neuhaus, Laurie Goodstein wrote:
With Charles Colson, the former Watergate felon who became a born-again leader of American evangelicals, Father Neuhaus convened a group that in 1994 produced “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” It was a widely distributed manifesto that initially came under fire by critics, who accused the two men of diluting theological differences for political expediency. But the document was ultimately credited with helping to cement the alliance, which has reshaped American politics.
Picking up on that, U.S. News‘ Dan Gilgoff, characterizing the alliance as Catholic “brains” and “evangelical brawn,” wrote:
Yes, the Catholic-evangelical alliance that Neuhaus helped broker has created a mighty political force. It has been one of the seminal political developments of the past 30 years. Let’s just not forget that that marriage has some tensions that are also worth watching. After all, the split between evangelicals, who voted for John McCain by 3 to 1, and Catholics, who broke for Barack Obama after supporting Bush in 2004, is one reason Obama is the president-elect.
Whereupon Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman suggested that Neuhaus’ passing is an emblem of the the alliance’s own passing, as evidenced by the drift of Catholics (back) to the Democrats this past election.
Before this meme solidifies into an article of faith, let’s try to be clear about what the putative alliance really amounted to. Yes, Neuhaus and Colson had their project; and yes, some Catholic ways of thinking about social issues trickled down into evangelical brains. That’s to say, evangelical biblicism has, for some evangelical activists, been enhanced with some Catholic natural law argumentation and a more intellectually coherent vision of the moral universe. One thinks particularly of George W. Bush’s use of the expression “culture of life” in the 2000 election, and the prominence of that expression in the effort to prevent the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube in 2005. (For an article on the subject, see here.) But alliance?
On the ground, the most than can be said is that the religious détente between Catholics and evangelicals has continued to strengthen–thanks mostly to the fact that conservative leaders in both camps take the same positions on abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, etc. But you don’t see bishops and leading evangelical clerics issuing joint statements or otherwise palling around together. As I’ve argued previously, the self-promoting claim that Deal Hudson and Karl Rove engineered an effective evangelical-style political mobilization for Bush among conservative Catholics in 2004 is bogus. At the end of the day, Neuhaus helped further some intellectual interchange among Catholic and evangelical elites, and thereby maybe contributed to lowering the already low level of antagonism between their two communities by a degree or two. The rest is hype.