Evangelical-Catholic alliance shows fissures in the era of Trump and Francis

Roman Catholics and evangelicals have shared social and political priorities over the past three decades “but now find their agendas diverging in the era of President Trump and Pope Francis,” according to a National Public Radio report by Tom Gjelten (May 25). In recent decades their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and common interest in faith-based schools brought them into a close alliance after a century of polemics and distrust. But this coalition is feeling new pressures largely because of their varied responses to the Trump administration’s policies and programs. While Donald Trump had Catholic advisers during his campaign, since taking office he has leaned more on his evangelical base and consulted its leaders, such as Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, far more than Catholic leaders. For the Catholic Church, the welfare of immigrants has become a key concern, while at least the evangelical rank-and-file have been more supportive of immigration control (although surveys suggest many Catholics show similar concerns about immigration).

In addition, no Catholic leader endorsed Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel, fearing the impact on a peace process. Gjelten also reports that “there is some evidence that evangelicals may be replacing Catholics as the base of the anti-abortion movement. Since 2010, the states passing new abortion restrictions generally have had smaller Catholic populations. None of the eight most heavily Catholic states in the country have enacted such laws.” Trump is not the only figure that is leading to new tensions in the alliance between evangelicals and Catholics. University of North Carolina historian Molly Worthen says that distinct Catholic political priorities have also been highlighted by Pope Francis. “He’s become sort of the anti-Trump…He’s become this rallying figure for traumatized liberals who are looking for some kind of figure of existential world historical significance who can counteract what they see as the ugliness of the current administration.” [It should be noted that conservative Catholics have been the main players in the alliance with evangelicals and that these Catholics are also critical of the papacy of Francis, suggesting that these partnerships may endure, if less so on the national level].

(National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/2018/05/25/613457429/roman-catholics-and-evangelicals-move-apart-in-their-political-priorities)