Damon Linker's book, The Theocons: Secular America Under Seige should be required reading for all moderate, Mainstream Baptists. It helped me understand some of the reasons for the recent convergence between Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist thought.
I nearly didn't buy the book. The title put me off. I'm not a "secular American," I am a "religious American" and a Baptist minister. The book did not appear to be addressed to me. If fact, however, the book is essential reading for all who value the Baptist legacy of religious liberty and separation of church and state. Everyone who values pluralistic democracy is "under seige."
Linker is the former editor of the very influential "theoconservative" flagship journal, First Things. He came to realize that the ideology being promulgated by that magazine "was having a significant negative influence on the country" and decided that he had to do what he could to counteract that influence.
What he did was to write the definitive expose of the efforts of Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel and others involved with the Institute for Religion and Democracy who are working "to make America Catholic." (p. 67) The chief impediment to their efforts was the promise Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave to Baptist ministers in Houston in 1960. Kennedy said,
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference. . . . I believe in an America . . . where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials. . . . I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed by him on the nation nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
Linker documents four decades of work that has reframed Catholic thought and theology for the consumption of conservative Protestants and evangelicals and made them allies in their political struggle to "Catholicize" the United States. Their influence on the fundamentalists who took over the Southern Baptist Convention, on other conservative evangelicals and moderate Protestants, and even on moderate Baptists has been profound.
Here's a quote:
At a series of discreet meetings beginning in September 1992, Neuhaus, Weigel, Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles, and four other Catholics worked on drafting a statement of common cause with (Chuck) Colson and seven other conservative Protestants, including representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, and the World Evangelical Fellowship. . . .
Although much of the statement sought to find common ground on theological and doctrinal matters, the document's longest section -- titled "We Contend Together" -- set out an ambitious political agenda using concepts, terms, arguments, and rhetoric unmistakably derived from the writings of Neuhaus, Weigel, Novak and Pope John Paul II.