Feb 13, 2013

American evangelicals ♥ Pope Benedict XVI

One of the really fascinating stories of American evangelicalism in the 20th century is how evangelical attitudes towards Catholicism completely changed. In 1926, one of America's leading fundamentalist pastors, J. Frank Norris, attacked Catholicism and warned American evangelicals not to trust them, with sermons and articles with titles like "The Conspiracy of Rum and Romanism to Rule this Government."

Such attitudes persisted even into the 1960s. But things have changed since then. As Religion News Service notes, American evangelical leaders have responded to Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation by praising the man, and saying how much they will miss him.

Daniel Burke writes:
Just a generation or two ago, such lavish praise might have been unthinkable. During the early 1960s, evangelist Billy Graham — sometimes dubbed the Protestant pope — took heat for inviting Catholics to join his revivals. But after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), denominational barriers fell and ecumenism prospered.  
Meanwhile, evangelicals developed an appreciation for Catholic culture, and Catholics found ready evangelical allies in the battles against secularism, abortion and gay rights.  
'One of the challenges of evangelical Protestantism as it became a political force was to find a vocabulary to talk about the role of Christian faith in a diverse, pluralistic society like the United States,' said R.R. Reno, executive editor of First Things, an interreligious journal. 'By and large, they turned to Catholicism.'
The other major factor in this cultural shift -- besides Roe v. Wade, which at first was considered just a Catholic issue that evangelicals shouldn't particularly care about -- was the Cold War, and the Catholic Church's opposition to communism.

The American religious historian Barry Hankins has written about the change in the "marketplace of ideas" that brought evangelicals and Catholics together.

Of course, there are still those out there like William Tapley, who talks about the papacy in terms of the antichrist and assorted end times prophecies. That's just an extreme fringe, though. The days of Norris-style warnings about Catholicism has passed.