Defending the First Right and First Freedom: A Call for Collaboration
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
In1997 I left the American Center for Law and Justice and assumed the Presidency of a Catholic Citizens group with offices on Capitol Hill. I viewed this move as one more “assignment” in a missionary life. We often think of missionaries as going to other nations, and they do. However, the work within our own Nation also requires missionaries, men and women informed by their Christian faith who are committed to building a more just society. After all, the current “culture of death” will only be transformed when those who are Christians build a new culture of life to replace it.
During that time I also became a lobbyist for life, committed to bringing an end to the horror of legal abortion. It is always and everywhere wrong to take innocent human life. Children in the womb are particularly defenseless, having no voice but ours. For decades I have tried in my own little way to take the social teaching of the Catholic Church and offer it as a resource for building a culture of life, family, freedom and solidarity. This beautiful teaching is not just for Catholics, other Christians or even other people of faith but intended for all men and women.
At the time, I was naïve when it came to the workings of the political culture, particularly within what was called the “religious right” movement and the “activist” culture that had developed within the beltway of Washington D.C. I did not even identify with the term “religious right”, though I would be labeled by some as a leader of that movement.
I was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts in a Catholic, French, Irish, Democratic home. It was years later, after I took my public place alongside of millions of others who heard the cry of the ones whom Mother Teresa rightly called the “poorest of the poor”, children in the womb, that I was first called a “conservative.” It was by those who favored keeping abortion fully legal through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason. They did not like me then and they do not now. My goal on this matter is simple, the end of legal abortion and their conversion to the truth.
The "religious right" movement back then was mostly an evangelical Protestant phenomenon. Though it tried to include both Catholic and Orthodox Christians most never joined; and even those who worked with the movement on pro-life and pro-family issues, like me, did not fit in with the culture or some of the then emerging models or rhetoric of the movement.
I was an early pioneer in the efforts to bring Catholics and Evangelicals together. In 1990, I wrote my first book “Evangelical Catholics: A Call for Co-operation to Penetrate the Darkness with the Light of the Gospel”. The call for Christians to work together for social and cultural change was a controversial notion back then. Chuck Colson, one of the great men of integrity in the evangelical Protestant community, wrote the forward to that book, at considerable risk to his standing in some Protestant circles. I will always be grateful to him for doing that. Although out of print for years, that book is still the subject of reflection and, depending upon ones’ perspective, controversy or appreciation. However, the idea of forming such an alliance is not only acceptable now; it has become one of the most potent forces changing the culture.
One of the negative effects of that movement is the very term, "religious right". It is now routinely used to marginalize and denigrate well intended Christians who engage in any form of political activism that does not fit a socially "liberal" agenda. It has become a verbal weapon, wielded against faithful, orthodox Christians who, compelled by their faith and their sincere understanding of their baptismal obligations to be faithful citizens- seek to influence the social order.
Some of the leaders identified with the movement back then were first politically "conservative" and wrapped Christian language around their polemics and their politics. Unfortunately some also attempted to put biblical “proof texts” on their own pet political ideas. They failed to develop a hierarchy of values. Some of their followers did not know which political positions were actually "Christian" (a position compelled by the Christian faith -like the right to life) and which ones were discretionary or fell within the large area of political concerns that should be left to the exercise of prudential judgment.
Whether any of this was intentional, I cannot say. It may have been due to a lack of a cohesive social teaching in the particular Christian tradition or training of some of the individuals involved. However, the sad effect was that some of the rhetoric of the movement back then made it sound as though all conservative ideas were somehow "Christian". This left little room for the exercise of ...
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