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  • We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics by Neil J. Young
  • John Groutt
We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics. By Neil J. Young. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. 412pp. $34.95.

The influence of the Religious Right on American politics over the past forty years suggests that the theological, moral, and political positions of those marching under that banner form a cohesive and [End Page 85] harmonious group. Neil Young argues that the story is much more complex and interesting.

Young replaces the earlier paradigm for examining American religions under the categories of Protestant-Catholic-Jew with a new tri-faith grouping: evangelical-Catholic-Mormon. He argues that the earlier foci for understanding American religion became less relevant in the 1950s when important divisions in Protestant religious groups decreased among denominations – and increased within denominations. While liberal Protestants and, a bit later, post Vatican II liberal Catholics, were seeking ecumenical cooperation and a progressive social agenda, the world of the Religious Right moved awkwardly to find its identity. New hesitant alliances brought together evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, and Mormons to oppose their common nemeses: a society becoming increasingly secular and politically liberal, and churches abandoning their Biblical and theological roots to join in a suspect ecumenical unity.

The author describes the shifting relationships and self examinations of major American religious groups that began in the 1950s and 1960s. For Protestants it was the rise of Ecumenism, for Catholics the Second Vatican Council, and for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the long and transformative leadership of David O. McKay. Young traces in detail how each adjusted and reacted to the far-reaching political and cultural changes that were taking place in that period. A seismic religious/cultural/political event occurred in 1973 with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Largely instigated by the Catholic bishops, conservative religious communities reacted by expanding the issues of that case into issues of religious liberty and developed or clarified many of their own doctrines to provide faith bases to support new political positions.

Young’s narrative describes individual leaders, revised theologies, shifting alliances, and doctrinal adjustments that followed Roe v. Wade. He introduces us to influential players on the American religious scene as he demonstrates convincingly that “the Religious Right was no [End Page 86] monolith” but rather “a diverse and intricate network that contained, endured and suffered internal tensions, denominational divisions, and often competing agendas” (7). To advance his thesis he examines many faith communities, important and familiar individuals, movements, religious media, and sectarian institutions. Sometimes they were allies, at other times antagonists. Most often, they were a kaleidoscope of coalitions, forming, dissolving, and reforming. Success was fleeting and inconsistent. Candidates whom they helped elect frequently disappointed them in office.

Often they agreed in their opposition to issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, secular humanism, and the Equal Rights Amendment, and support for school prayer and tax exemptions for religious schools. They could not agree on which religious community recognized and upheld the complete truth of the gospel. Often, many were working as diligently to convert one another as they were working, together or separately, against the common enemy. How they functioned in these efforts is a complex story that Young presents masterfully and supports with a wealth of source materials.

The final chapter of this history reflects on where we are and what we might expect in the future. The story has continued to unfold in a manner similar to Young’s description of the previous four decades. Conservative religious leaders become political activists and, with their followers, continue to provide an important base for the Republican Party. They work, together or apart, on issues where they have common enemies. Yet they continue to argue over who holds the fullness gospel truths.

The author’s detailed account of who was on which side of the wide array of moral controversies and the complex reasoning each used to justify a position make for challenging reading, but this is an important book for understanding the influence and factious nature of the Religious Right and...


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pp. 85-87
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