Changing American Evangelical Attitudes towards Roman Catholics: 1960–2000 -- By: Don Sweeting

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 05:4 (Winter 2001)
Article: Changing American Evangelical Attitudes towards Roman Catholics: 1960–2000
Author: Don Sweeting


Changing American Evangelical Attitudes
towards Roman Catholics: 1960–2000

Don Sweeting

Don Sweeting is Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church, in Englewood, Colorado. He has also served as the founding pastor of the Chain of Lakes Community Bible Church in Antioch, Illinois. Dr. Sweeting was educated at Moody Bible Institute, Lawrence University, Oxford University (M.A.), and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Ph.D.) where he wrote his dissertation on the relationship between evangelicals and Roman Catholics.

Introduction

In 1960, Presidential campaign historian Theodore H. White observed that “the largest and most important division in American society was that between Protestants and Catholics.”1 As a vital part of American Protestant life, evangelicalism reflected the strains of this conflict.2 Anti- Catholicism, according to church historian George Marsden, “was simply an unquestioned part of the fundamentalist-evangelicalism of the day.”3

This posture of outright public hostility was evidenced in many ways. It could be seen in the opposition of many evangelical leaders to the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy in 1960. It could be read in the missions textbooks used at seminaries such as Fuller, which saw Catholicism, along with communism and modernism, as one of the three massive world forces threatening Christianity.4 It could be heard in the founding documents and speeches of the National Association of Evangelicals.5 And it could be sensed in the opposition to appointing American ambassadors to the Vatican. Yet nearly forty years later, due to various cultural, political and theological shifts, there has been a significant change in the way many evangelicals perceive Roman Catholics.6

As early as 1985, Joseph Bayly, writing in Eternity magazine noticed that things were changing. Writing on what the evangelical leaders of his generation were passing on to a new generation of leaders, and summing up forty years of evangelicalism since 1945, Bayly said, “We inherited a Berlin Wall between evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics; we bequeath a spirit of love and rapprochement on the basis of the Bible rather than fear and hatred.”7

By the mid 1990s, it was clear that attitudes were changing. On a local level, evangelicals and Catholics were meeting to d...

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