Holy war

By JEFF INGLIS  |  June 28, 2010

It is an aggressive and prescriptive interpretation of the concept of being one's brother's keeper. While some, like Towns, won't come out and say it directly, their line of argument is clear: not only are we responsible for our own salvation, but we must endeavor to save others, even from themselves. The consequences of failure are severe: true followers of each of these three faiths believe that, if one of their flock is aware of a sin, even one committed by others, and does not act to prevent it and reform the sinner, then the believer is as guilty of the sin as the person who actually committed it. And it is true that there is no better way to impose a set of restrictions across the entire population than by law.

What it looked like
This phenomenon was first seen in modern America during the '70s and '80s with the rise — and then fall — of the Moral Majority. Towns recalls the criticism directed at Falwell then for suggesting that evangelicals, Mormons, and Catholics "join together not for salvation purposes but for ethics and for family."

Driven by their shared objections to what they view as the excesses of modern culture, the churches were driven into each others' arms.

Towns cites Falwell as an example of a religious-political leader who "felt he had a mandate from God to bring this nation back" to a remembered glory. (It won't surprise you that Towns is a fan of the Tea Party movement, although he doubts its chances of success.)

The collaboration resurfaced and drew national attention in 2008, with California's gay-marriage debate, though it had begun to come together in 2006, when President George W. Bush nominated conservative judges John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

"They recognize that the Supreme Court plays a very important role in shaping political and cultural dialogue," says Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Public Research Associates, a Boston-area progressive think-tank that watches the political actions of the religious right. The Unholy Alliance solidly backed Roberts and Alito, seeing them as like-minded activists who would continue to shift government toward churchly goals, particularly on gay-rights and abortion issues.

The Alliance opposed Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and are working to block Elena Kagan's appointment, seeing them as too liberal. "If Obama gets to appoint the people he wants to appoint," Berlet says, "it will shift the political scene over the next 30 years" — and not in a way the religious right are hoping for.

When Proposition 8, which set to outlaw same-sex marriage in California, was placed on that state's ballot in 2008, the Unholy Alliance was again at the forefront. Led by the Mormon church, Catholic and evangelical leaders also donated church funds and urged followers to contribute time and money to the campaign.

In Maine last year, the same thing happened, led this time by the Roman Catholic bishop of Portland, Maine, Richard Malone, who personally testified before lawmakers in opposition to a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. When it passed, Malone spearheaded the repeal effort, issuing letters to be read from pulpits statewide, and ordering special collections during services to send their proceeds to "defend marriage." Evangelicals were prominent in the campaign, and the Mormon-linked National Organization for Marriage provided two-thirds of the funding. (Nationwide outcry against this overt political action by churches led to a backlash; see sidebar, "Paying Taxes?")

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