With Pope Benedict coming to visit the United States next week relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants will likely be the subject of media scrutiny. The pope's itinerary includes a visit to the White House with President Bush, a Protestant, who was re-elected with 51 percent of the Catholic vote in 2004, despite running against a Catholic.
Although certain doctrinal differences remain in place, conservative Catholics and Evangelical Christians have been drawing closer together in recent years, according to a new book that explores the growing influence of Christian voters.
Deal Hudson, the executive director of the Morley Institute for Church and Culture in Washington D.C., describes some of the key factors responsible for the convergence between conservative minded American Catholics and Protestants in his just released book.
Age old grievances have gradually receded to the point where Christians from various denominations have joined together to resist secular assaults on shared values, Hudson argues in "Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States."
A highly sophisticated, media savvy subculture of religious conservatives has taken hold in America, Hudson explains in his book. He credits Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family for their special contributions in this area. While Evangelicals have been leading the way in terms of media penetration, Catholic outlets are beginning to make important inroads, Husdon observes in his book.
"Catholic radio's 150-plus stations can hardly compare with the more than 2,000 Evangelical stations, but in the area of television, conservative Catholics have produced a powerhouse comparable to a Dobson or a Robertson: The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and its shortwave radio broadcast, Eternal Word Radio Network."
Until recently, conservative Catholics have had more difficulty becoming organized on behalf of cultural and political causes because the major institutions have been dominated by the left, Hudson said in an interview. The United States Conference on Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C. and the United States Catholic conference, both off-shots of Vatican II, have been plugged into the Democratic party, almost from their inception, he explained.
"But we are in the last generation of left-leaning bishops," Hudson said. "Within the next decade will see a shift over to Pope John Paul II's appointments. This does not mean the bishops will suddenly be in line with the Republicans, it just means they will no longer serve as an interface for the Democrats."
Hudson now writes and blogs at InsideCatholic.com, the web presence for what was formerly Crisis Magazine.
Most recently, he wrote a piece offering advice to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on how he could successfully attract Catholic votes.