BETWIXT AND BETWEEN: THE POLITICAL ORIENTATIONS OF ROMAN CATHOLIC NEO-PENTECOSTALS

  • Stephen J. Hunt

Abstract

This paper has argued that over some four decades the Catholic charismatics have been pulled in different directions regarding their political views and allegiances and that this is a result of contrasting dynamics and competing loyalties which renders conclusions as to their political orientations difficult to reach. To some degree such dynamics and competing loyalties result from the relationship of the charismatics in the Roman Church and the juxtaposition of the Church within USA politico-religious culture. In the early days of the Charismatic Renewal movement in the Roman Catholic Church the ‘spirit-filled’ Catholics appeared to show an indifference to secular political issues. Concern with spiritually renewing the Church, ecumenism and deep involvement with a variety of ecstatic Christianity drove this apolitical stance. If anything, as the academic works showed, the Catholic charismatics seemed in some respects more liberal than their non-charismatic counterparts in the Church. To some extent this reflected their middle-class and more educated demographic features. More broadly they adopted mainstream cultural changes while remaining largely politically inactive. As they grew closer to their Protestant brethren in the Renewal movement Catholic neo-Pentecostals tended to express more conservative views that were then part of the embryonic New Christian Right - the broad Charismatic movement becoming more overtly politicised in the 1980s. Somewhat later the Catholics were being pulled towards the traditional core Catholicism at a time the Renewal movement found itself well beyond its peak and influence in the mainstream denominations including the Roman Church. The Catholic charismatics were ‘returning to the fold’. During this period too the New Christian Right increased its attempt to marshal a broad coalition of conservative minded Protestants and Catholics. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s this proved to be largely ineffectual. The 2004 American Presidential election saw the initiation of the second office of George Bush. It seems clear that without the support of the New Christian Right - fundamentalist, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, charismatics - the victory would not have been secured. Based on research in South Carolina, however, suggests that the CR continues to be inwardly split and quarrels with other wings of the Republican Stephen J. Hunt: BETWIXT AND BETWEEN: THE POLITICAL ORIENTATIONS OF ROMAN CATHOLIC NEO-PENTECOSTALS • (pp. 27-51) THE CONTEMPORARY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND POLITICS 49 Party, particularly business interests are evident.59 It is also apparent that into the twenty-first century there has proved to be an uneasy alliance in the New Christian Right, threatening to split along lines already observable in the 1970s and 1980s. For one thing the some of the political and social, if not moral teachings of the Catholic Church are at variant with such organizations as the Christian Coalition. The re-invention of the New Christian Right has not fully incorporated conservative Catholics nor Catholic charismatics. A further dynamic is that lay Catholics, charismatics or otherwise, have increasingly adopted a ‘pick and choose’ Catholicism in which there is a tendency to exercise personal views over a range of political issues irrespective of the formal teachings of the Church. To conclude, we might take a broader sweep in our understanding of the role of Catholicism in USA politics, in which the Catholic charismatics are merely one constituency. Recent scholarly work has pointed to the often under-estimated political influence of Roman Catholics in the USA. Genovese et al.60 show how today, as well as historically, Catholics and the Catholic Church has played a remarkably complex and diverse role in US politics. Dismissing notions of a cohesive ‘Catholic vote,’ Genovese et al. show how Catholics, Catholic institutions, and Catholic ideas permeate nearly every facet of contemporary American politics. Swelling with the influx of Latino, Asian, and African immigrants, and with former waves of European ethnics now fully assimilated in education and wealth, Catholics have never enjoyed such an influence in American political life. However, this Catholic political identity and engagement defy categorization, being evident in both left-wing and right-wing causes. It is fragmented and complex identity, a complexity to which the charismatics within the ranks of the Catholic Church continue to contribute.

Keywords: Catholic, Charismatic, Morals, Christian Right

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Published
2017-01-13
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