Timothy Dalrymple and I had a conversation about the differences between Catholics and Evangelical Christians and their methods of movement. Timothy, who has boundless energy and manages over at the Evangelical Portal, said, “let’s broaden the conversation with a symposium!”
“…a symposium on the future of social conservatism and the extent to which religious groups, and the tensions and synergies between them, are shaping that future. The rise of a younger, more pro-life generation is changing the complexion of the abortion issue, while legislation is moving against gay-marriage even as judicial and cultural trends are moving toward it. How will these things pan out? How should Catholics and Evangelicals, as well as other Protestants, Orthodox, Mormons, and people of other faiths besides, respond to these developments? How do our stances on these issues give expression (if they do) to the gospel and to Christ’s call to care for ‘the least of these’? And how can we work together where we agree, and better understand one another where we differ?”
And so today we launch For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism, where each day we’ll be adding several voices — some of them may surprise you — to the mix, and we’ll be going strong for about two weeks.
We lift off with Mark Shea, who draws on his Evangelical-to-Catholic journey to bring some welcome perspective on fundamental differences in perception that exist between to two:
My email box is full of puzzled frustration at the mystery of my political views and lots of advice from people who tell me “Stick to theology” as though the two have absolutely no connection in my mind. In turn, I find the mystification of my readers even more mysterious. Here’s the key to the riddle: I’m a Catholic. So, in my mind, politics (like everything else in the universe) is intimately connected to theology or, more precisely, to God.
I think that politics is the art of the possible. I regard political parties as large, clumsy mechanisms that Catholics should attempt to use in order to try to enact as much Catholic social teaching as possible. Sort of like trying to knit with tire irons.
J.E. Dyer writes on social conservatism and the quality of mercy:
It is not justice, but mercy, that saves the unborn. God prizes mercy over justice, but we don’t. Left to our own devices, we couch everything in terms of justice—vindication for us, punishment for others—and ignore or despise the concept of mercy. Much of the West’s intellectual effort for the last century has been devoted to making a high moral art of this. We have even begun to call mercy “justice,” as when a guilty felon with a troubled background is given a lighter sentence or set free. This creates a great vulnerability for us: not so much by corrupting the concept of justice as by effectively dismissing “mercy” as a quality in social intercourse. None of us can get along without mercy as well as we tend to think we can. But we have largely organized ourselves to drive it out of the human equation.
The American assumption is weak, though, from a philosophical and cultural perspective, and wrong from a Christian theological perspective. The weakness lies in the fact that this logic about marriage is divorced from a philosophical or theological anthropology, rooting itself more in a model of law known as social contract. A social contract is basically an agreement among people about how they as a society will act. According to an American version of this theory, law is good if it reflects the will of the majority. And since the majority of people are coming to embrace the economic partnership model, the law ought to reflect that model. Over time, that model will likely have to include all sorts of legal partnerships as public opinion continues to change.
How’s that for a start?
UPDATE: And how is NRO’s Jim Geraghty, to continue?
If evangelicals have more on their minds than social conservatism in recent years, it in part reflects that almost everyone has had more on their minds than social conservatism in recent years . . . it’s rather interesting that “social conservatism” has come to be defined as almost a synonym for “abortion and gay marriage.” Social conservatism was once associated with a much wider range of issues: the content and messages on our television, movies, popular music; what kind of values are being taught to our children at school; hostility to expressions of religious faith in public life; general civility and decorum in public spaces; the social cost of legalized gambling, drug use and associated criminal activity, and more. Perhaps evangelicals are less committed to social conservatism, or perhaps their sense of priorities for a better, more conservative society is changing.