Neil J. Young
We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics(New
York,NY: Oxford University Press, 2016). xiii + 412 pp. $36.95 hardcover.
How have religious conservatives in the United States related to one another in the context of shared political activism? This is the question historian Neil Young explores inWe Gather Together. Young argues that the Religious Right— far from being a monolithic movement as it is sometimes understood—is a product of ongoing, evolving, and often difficult conversations between social and theological conservatives within evangelicalism, Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS), and Catholicism. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century heyday of liberal ecumenism dominated by mainline liberal Protestants, Catholics, and Jews,thesereligiousconservativesarguedfortheirdifferingdefinitionsof unity, each emphasizing their unique standing as the one “true” church. Cultural and political events helped these groups to recognize common ground, particularly around the theme of family values. Yet, even while working together toward shared political ends, officials in each group asserted their religious distinctions and expanded evangelistic outreaches toward members of the other groups. Ultimately, despite having similar social concerns, evangelicals, Catholics, and Latter Day Saints have been unable to establish and sustain long-term conser- vative coalitions.
Young structures his argument chronologically, beginning in the 1950’s and concluding with Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. He weaves to- gether evangelical, LDS, and Catholic responses to a number of social, polit- ical, and theological themes noting their common concerns and their often disparate responses.Young begins with religious conservative resistance to ecu- menism, fearing this movement as a representing a liberalizing factor increas- ing the danger of growing secularism and socialism.The developments brought by Vatican II in the 1960’s, while viewed positively within the liberal ecumeni- cal movement, met with resistance from evangelicals and Mormons. At the same time, the supreme court’s ban on school prayer, the “God is dead” move- ment within the liberal academy, and “attacks” on the traditional monogamous, heterosexual family represented areas of shared concern. During this period, Catholic and LDS groups opposed liberalized abortion laws while evangelical groups initially resisted involvement in anti-abortion efforts, viewing this as a “Catholic” issue. Emerging political activism in the 1970’s and leading into 1980’s presidential campaign saw growing cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics in the fight against abortion.
Evangelical battles against secularism and for biblical inerrancy prompted increased social engagement leading to the establishment of the “Moral Major-
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-04001021
ity.”The 1980’s saw increased cooperation between evangelicals and fundamen- talists along with softening opposition to Catholic individuals, while at the same time retaining staunch opposition to theLDSeven while participating in the same battles against abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. Examin- ing the relationship of evangelicals with the Reagan White House, Young notes that anticipated political outcomes—particularly reinstating school prayer and banning abortion—were not achieved and the various religious conser- vative groups had divided responses to other Reagan policies. Following Pat Robertson’s failed bid for the 1988 Republican nomination, he formed the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition focused on equipping its members to be long-term political activists, identifying this group as an oppressed minor- ity in America. Robertson made efforts to develop a conservative ecumenism but evangelicals as a whole continued to view LDS as a cult. This view of LDS complicated Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2008 and again in 2012 demonstrating the continued challenges to political collaboration represented by theological distinctions.
Young demonstrates careful attention to evangelicalism, its leading figures, organizations, and key artifacts (such as the magazineChristianity Todaycited throughout the text).That he has drawn from Catholic andLDSprimary sources is clear, although the interaction with these sources is somewhat less penetrat- ing, suggesting Young’s greater familiarity with the worldview and values of evangelicalism. Indeed, it is the evangelical experience that often dominates the narrative.
As a refutation of a monolithic view of the Religious Right, Young’s argu- ment is compelling. He clearly traces the overlapping concerns of evangelicals, Catholics and LDS as well as their differing perspectives on other social and political issues. He also clearly identifies doctrinal concerns and theological traditions that hindered cooperation such as differing views of the nature of the Bible. Ultimately, it was each group’s self-identification as being “the true faith” that made coalition building and active cooperation difficult, particu- larly when each group grew as a result of converting members of the other groups.
Lacking in this narrative is a clear sense of the author’s critique vis-à-vis these events. Does Young intended this book as a wake up call so that those who self-identify as a part of the Religious Right will set aside their insistence on identifying their group as “the true religion” for the sake of achieving shared political objectives? Or is this a morality tale of how the isolationism demon- strated by fundamentalists in the 1950’s, a trait for which they were criticized by evangelicals, came ultimately to be the failing point of evangelicalism’s attempt to engage in social action as well?
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Young concludes with an analysis of Romney’s 2008 and 2012 elections, focusing on the ongoing difficulties in the evangelical perception of Mor- monism. This conclusion lacks a sense of prescience for what would follow in the very next presidential election although, no doubt, this is a subject Young has taken up in his further work. The history and social/cultural dynam- ics Young narrates in this text offer a pertinent review for those involved in social and political critique as well as those leading conversations around social engagement in the current era. The oft repeated adage come to mind: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. For those who self-identify as religious conservatives in this hyper-polemical era and for those who seek to collaborate with groups so self-identified, Young’s text is a timely reminder of where we have come from and a timely caution about the cost of division.
Susan L. Maros
Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California
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