Associated Press

Headline: .................... Catholics-Evangelicals

Mar 29, 1994

By DAVID BRIGGS AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- For centuries, Roman Catholics and evangelicals considered each other anathema.

In the last generation, drawn together by common causes such as abortion and school choice, they joined hands in the political realm, but many still regarded each other with distrust.

On Tuesday, a group of evangelical leaders including Pat Robertson and Charles Colson and conservative [Roman] Catholics asked their fellow believers to cross a theological frontier and accept each other as Christians.

Addressing a major source of tension between Catholics and evangelicals in the United States, Eastern Europe and South America, the coalition specifically called for an end to aggressive proselytizing of each other's flocks.

The consultation was started in 1992 by Colson, the Watergate figure who founded the international Prison Fellowship ministry, and the Rev. Richard Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic priest and director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York. The document, which does not represent an official stance of any denomination, was drafted during the next two years by a group of evangelical and Catholic scholars.

On the [Roman] Catholic side, endorsers include Archbishop Francis Stafford of Denver, Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and theologians such as Neuhaus and Michael Novak, recent winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Other evangelical endorsers include the heads of the Home Mission Board and Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

In the last generation, it has become common for evangelicals and Catholics to work together on issues such as abortion, pornography, vouchers for religious education and voluntary school prayer.

But evangelical leaders often placated their most conservative members with the assurance that the alliance was only for practical ends. What's different about the joint statement is that it recognizes the groups' common faith.

The statement does not gloss over theological differences between the two groups, such as whether the Bible should be interpreted on its own, as many evangelicals believe, or whether church tradition and leaders also play an interpretive role.

But the statement declares that evangelicals and [Roman] Catholics share a central belief in the resurrection and divinity of Christ.

In particular, the declaration says

What has brought the two communities to this point, some of the signers said, are the experiences of worshiping together in the charismatic movement and working together in political causes such as the anti-abortion movement.

Evangelicals can no longer consider Catholics as ogres or anti-Christs, said Mark Noll, a historian at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Robertson, a religious broadcaster, said the perceived moral crisis facing the nation makes closer cooperation necessary.

Some of the signers contend the statement is symbolic of a major shift of the [Roman] Catholic Church away from mainline liberal Protestantism and toward conservative Protestantism.