Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangeli: By Deal W. Hudson, 384 pgs. By Chrispepus

Aug 31, 2008

Most observers of the Christian Right focus on Protestant evangelicals. Evangelical support is crucial to Republican electoral success, but elements in both the Roman Catholic Church and the GOP have worked to bring Catholics into the Republican fold. One of the key players in that effort is Deal W. Hudson, a Catholic who served as an adviser to George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee from 1999-2004. GOP outreach to Catholics has achieved some success. According to CNN exit polls, Bush won 52% of the Catholic vote in 2004, up from 47% four years earlier
In Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, Hudson describes Catholic participation in conservative activism and urges his co-religionists to ally with right-wing evangelicals. The bulk of the book is devoted to attacks on progressives and secularists. Riddled with contradictions and double standards, Onward Christian Soldiers provides an unsparing look into the ideology of the Religious Right.
Hudson takes aim at separation of church and state and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1947 endorsement of that principle in Everson v. Board of Education. He ominously notes that the author of the court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black, was “a former member in the ‘20s of the Robert E. Lee Klan No. 1 cell of the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama.” The reader is meant to associate the KKK with separation of church and state, even though the hate group has consistently opposed that constitutional doctrine.
Hudson’s attempt to link secularism with racism looks even more absurd when he discusses the origins of the Christian Right. He traces the birth of the movement to outrage over new regulations passed by the Internal Revenue Service in the 1960s and ‘70s. At issue was the IRS’s decision to cancel tax exemptions for southern religious schools that discriminated against black students. Hudson denies that opponents of the regulations were simply motivated by racism: “The government was presenting a real threat to Christian education,” he writes. However, the author slips up later, admitting that the fight was about “the integration of Christian schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the IRS, but private religious schools remain a bulwark against integration in many southern communities. In electoral terms, the exemption issue played a key role in rallying white southerners to Ronald Reagan’s candidacy in 1980.
Along with federal officials who oppose tax breaks for segregation, other villains in Hudson’s book include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The author criticizes the Conference for treating economic exploitation as a fundamental evil and a threat to life, instead of focusing on abortion, homosexuality, and stem-cell research. In terms of economics, Hudson regards the GOP’s tax cuts as the best help for the poor, ignoring data that show increases in poverty, debt, and homelessness on Bush’s watch.
Despite the economic figures, Hudson puts great stock in the president’s “compassionate conservatism.” Referring to a meeting with Bush held before the 2000 election, Hudson remarks that it was “clear to me that Bush was inclined to commit federal funds to address the compassion concerns he had discussed at length.” Perhaps he should have spoken to Bush about that after the election. In addition to a plethora of cuts in programs that benefit the poor and disabled, Bush’s budgets have under-funded the president’s own programs—the “faith-based” anti-poverty grants and “No Child Left Behind” education initiative—by tens of billions. Hudson’s faith in George W. Bush surpasses all understanding.
Morality is a recurring theme of the book, and the author misses few opportunities to give voice to hypocrisy and bigotry. He praises Reverend James Robison, who achieved prominence in the late 1970s by charging that gays, in Hudson’s words, “recruited children for sexual acts.” Hudson states that Robison’s stance reflected “a Christian perspective.” He also lauds Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Florida, which gave rise to the Moral Majority and went under the slogan of “Save Our Children.” It is therefore striking that one of Hudson’s heroes in the war against immorality is Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who spent years covering up for a number of child-molesting Boston priests.
Another example of the gap between the author’s moralist rhetoric and the actions of right-wing Christians is the scandal that caused Hudson to resign his position as adviser to Bush. He quit in 2004, following a published report about an incident that had occurred ten years earlier, when he was a professor at FordhamUniversity. Hudson offers a terse account of the event, saying that he “had a sexual encounter with a female undergraduate.”
That isn’t the full story. The student, Cara Poppas, discussed the episode in a 2004 interview with the National Catholic Reporter. Poppas said that back in 1994, when she was enrolled in Hudson’s class, she confided to him her feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. A few days later, the professor took the student to a bar, although she was, at eighteen, under legal drinking age. According to Poppas, she became intoxicated and Hudson brought her back to his office, where a sexual encounter took place. “I was completely in Dr. Hudson’s hands,” she stated, noting that she was “unable to stand up.” Shortly after the incident, the student filed sexual harassment charges against the professor, who resigned his position at Fordham.
Writing about that episode in Onward Christian Soldiers, Hudson’s main emotion appears to be self-pity. He describes the public scandal resulting from his actions as a “horrific experience” in which he was “personally attacked” by political opponents. However, he now feels comfortable enough about his past to accuse secularists of creating a “morass of immorality in education.”
After launching numerous tirades, Hudson strikes a more positive note when he writes about alliances between Catholic conservatives and evangelical Protestants. He believes that the two groups are already drawing closer. “It’s a virtual reuniting of Christendom,” he proclaims. Hudson’s warm feelings toward right-wing Protestants aren’t entirely reciprocated. On February 27, Catholics received a sharp reminder of their place in the Religious Right when Senator John McCain met with Reverend John Hagee and accepted his endorsement for president. A leading evangelical activist, Hagee has referred to the Catholic Church as the “Antichrist system” and as the “Great Whore” described in the Bible. In scripture, the Great Whore is ultimately “consumed by fire”—a clear indication of the degree of tolerance Catholics can expect if people like Hagee ever achieve full control in America.
Back in 2000, McCain criticized candidate Bush for making a speech at BobJonesUniversity, an evangelical institution, because the school’s leaders were anti-Catholic. Apparently, McCain has now learned who’s really in charge of the Christian Right. Since Hudson disregards so many other facts, he might at least take note of that one. –Chris Pepus (Threshold Editions)

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