David FrenchOn January 23, 2011, I stood, overwhelmed, in front of almost 2,000 pro-life students. I was overwhelmed by their energy, by their commitment to defending the defenseless, and by their gracious and Godly spirit. For years I've traveled the country, speaking to thousands of evangelical students, and find myself—even in front of "activist" organizations—virtually pleading for a sliver of courage or a trace of commitment in support of life or marriage. In response, I get encouragement, good words, and all too often nothing else.

But on January 23, it was different. Instead of inspiring, I was inspired. Rather than exhorting others to greater levels of engagement, I was admonished for my own compromises. The contrast between that day and most of my days—the difference between that audience and most of my audiences—could not have been more profound. And this audience was largely Catholic, and the Catholic Church for almost forty years has been the beating heart of the American pro-life movement.

On November 4, 2008, defenders of traditional marriage won perhaps their greatest—and to the secular liberal establishment, most shocking—victory in the almost decade-long struggle against the redefinition of marriage. Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment establishing marriage as the union of one man and one woman, won a clear majority in California. Although outspent and vilified by the mainstream media, religious Californians opened their checkbooks, donated their time, and endured the scorn of the secular elite to overturn California's judicially-imposed same-sex marriage regime. And where did a wildly disproportionate number of dollars and volunteers come from? The LDS church.

As devout Catholics and faithful Mormons step forward boldly, evangelical Protestants appear in cultural disarray. The most popular of the new generation of evangelical pastors—Rick Warren and Joel Osteen—stay out of the cultural fray. Evangelical youth may have orthodox opinions on marriage or life, but they're increasingly reluctant to voice those opinions, lest they appear "divisive" or "intolerant." In fact, at times it appears as if much of the evangelical world has retreated into a defensive crouch, eager to promote its universally-loved work for the poor while abjectly apologizing for the cultural battles of years past.

Why are Catholics and Mormons increasingly bold when so many evangelicals are increasingly timid? Why are Catholics so often leading on life and Mormons so often leading on marriage? The answer, I think, is theological and cultural, two words that expose profound weaknesses in American evangelicalism.

First, theology. One cannot spend five minutes with thoughtful Catholics without understanding how the defense of life is a fundamental and integral part of the DNA of the church. Since the defense of life is theologically-grounded, it is functionally and practically independent of any secular ideology. Nuns who one day attend a sit-in for immigrant rights may the next day do sidewalk counseling outside of Planned Parenthood. Bishops, "progressive" or conservative, defend life in Catholic hospitals. Catholics who study church doctrine, who immerse themselves in the teachings of the church, understand that to defend life is to imitate Christ. Life is not just an "issue," for a Catholic; it is at the core of the Gospel.