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by John Turner

I know rather little about Father Richard John Neuhaus, who died last week. He was, however, a seminal figure in the recent evolution of politically conservative Catholicism and an even more seminal figure in the forging of ecumenical ties between religious conservatives of various ecclesiastical stripes. Along with Charles Colson, Neuhaus was a prime mover behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which called for an end to proselytization between the two groups (the latter position angered a large number of evangelicals and created a backlash against some evangelical ECT signers) and created a framework for mutual public engagement. Neuhaus also gained prominence through founding of First Things, an ecumenically religious conservative periodical.

While writing a review of Jon Shields's forthcoming The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, I came across Neuhaus's review of the same. It must be one of the very last things he wrote, as the First Things website identifies it as a January 2009 publication.

Can any of our readers help assess his significance in modern American religion, the Christian Right, etc.?

5 comments:

Art at: January 16, 2009 at 3:06 AM said...

Thank you for the notice on Father Neuhaus' passing. I'll leave your question for others, since I can't add anything that you haven't already mentioned. Speaking of deaths in the First Things circle, though, I did notice that Cardinal Avery Dulles died in early december. He always struck me as being something of an anti-Jesuit, Jesuit. That is, while Jesuits have become known for shunning the Vatican (i.e., Charles Curran), he was the pope's American defender--hence, his being made a cardinal in 2001, the only American theologian to have earned this title.

Luke Harlow at: January 16, 2009 at 6:54 AM said...

Time Magazine's well-known 2005 list of America's 25 most influential evangelicals included Neuhaus. At the time, I recall this assertion drawing some skepticism due to Neuhaus's Catholicism, but I think his influence is difficult to overstate (at least in certain evangelical circles; Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom's Is the Reformation Over discusses at length the evangelical backlash to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiatives):

http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101050207/photoessay/19.html

John G. Turner at: January 16, 2009 at 7:28 AM said...

Thanks for the comments. Yes, I think the evangelical backlash to ECT was quite intense and took many of the evangelical signers by surprise. I think some evangelicals had signed ECT because of a desire to work on shared objectives in the public sphere and were taken aback by the theological objections (especially the mutual promise not to evangelize, which would have a bigger impact on evangelicals than Catholics). The critics were quite influential: D. James Kennedy, R.C. Sproul, and Tim LaHaye. Some of the signatories, including Bill Bright, signed a second statement meant to mollify such concerns, which affirmed the importance of global evangelism and salvation by faith alone, etc.

Mike Pasquier at: January 16, 2009 at 8:01 AM said...

I try to skim _First Things_ every month, and I'm sometimes left wondering to what extent Neuhaus and his neo-con-cath cohort directly influences grassroots Catholic support for U.S. involvement in war, the pro-life movement, and that scariest of enemies "moral relativism." Are bishops and priests reading it? Women religious? Laypeople? My guess is that most aren't. What, then, is the trickle-down effect? How do, for instance, Cardinal Dulles's thoughts on "The Orthodox Imperative" (http://www.firstthings.com/
article.php3?id_article=
5329&var_recherche=relativism) impact conversations in Catholic high school religion classes about the threat of "moral relativism" to the foundation and fabric of American society? I don't understand the connection, but my experience is that contributors to _First Things_, most of whom are very well educated and eloquent, and anti-abortion activists saying the rosary outside clinics are at least speaking the same language. Too bad there isn't a Richard John Neuhaus Jr. to go along with a William F. Buckley Jr. Celibacy...

John G. Turner at: January 16, 2009 at 8:29 AM said...

I am a recent convert to Buckley, Jr., having read Supreme Courtship. Hilarious! I can't wait to get my hands on his other books.

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