Roman Catholics And Evangelicals Move Apart In Their Political Priorities Having been adversaries and then allies, Catholics and evangelicals once again have differing political agendas.
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Roman Catholics And Evangelicals Move Apart In Their Political Priorities

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Roman Catholics And Evangelicals Move Apart In Their Political Priorities

Roman Catholics And Evangelicals Move Apart In Their Political Priorities

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, Evangelical and Catholic communities in America have had a mixed relationship politically. After years of Catholics largely voting for Democrats and white evangelicals for Republicans, opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage united these voters at the ballot box. But the presidency of Donald Trump seems to be exposing divisions between these groups, as NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: A prominent Catholic bishop and a key evangelical minister each made an important appearance this month. First, the archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, gave the commencement address at the Catholic University of America, the official university of the U.S. Catholic Church. His message to the graduates - their country is losing its way.

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JOSE GOMEZ: You are entering an American society that is more anxious and more bitterly divided than I have ever seen in my lifetime.

GJELTEN: Two days later, Pastor Robert Jeffress, from the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, prayed at the dedication of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. His message - God is returning America to greatness.

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ROBERT JEFFRESS: We want to thank you for the tremendous leadership of our great president, Donald J. Trump.

GJELTEN: Jeffress serves on the president's informal evangelical advisory group. During his campaign, Trump also had Catholic advisers. But since taking office, he has consulted far more often with the evangelicals. Not entirely surprising, these Christian groups, the largest in the country, have different political agendas at the moment. Catholic leaders famously tangled with the Obama administration over the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. But the political environment has changed in the Trump era. Molly Worthen is a historian of American religion at the University of North Carolina.

MOLLY WORTHEN: The advent of Donald Trump has brought to the surface and exacerbated all kinds of tensions and disagreements among different kinds of Christians who, to the casual observer, once appeared to be in agreement.

GJELTEN: For the Catholic Church, the welfare of immigrants has risen as a priority concern. In his commencement address, Archbishop Gomez spoke of the need to tell a new story about America - highlighting how it is alive in her saints.

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GOMEZ: Mystics and missionaries, martyrs and immigrants, refugees and exiles - they came from everywhere to share their gifts and make this country what she was meant to be.

GJELTEN: Though he's generally seen as a conservative voice on social issues, Gomez did not once mention abortion. Perhaps he was following the lead of Pope Francis who last month said the situation of migrants is no less important, in his words, than the defense of the unborn. For evangelicals, abortion remains as urgent a concern as ever. And President Trump's conservative judicial appointments are keeping white evangelicals in his corner. Pastor Johnnie Moore told a Washington audience recently that he and other evangelicals are in regular contact with Trump.

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JOHNNIE MOORE: And what has happened is, again and again and again, we've found that there's the strange politician that generally has kept his promises to our community, you know, which is an unusual characteristic for a politician.

GJELTEN: Trump's repeated criticism of immigrants however has hurt him with Catholic leaders for whom social justice has long been a core concern. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a Supreme Court brief opposing Trump's travel ban, calling it repugnant to the Catholic faith. And no Catholic leader endorsed Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel fearing the impact on a peace process. Actually it's not just Trump spurring dissent. Historian Molly Worthen says distinct Catholic political priorities have also been highlighted by Pope Francis.

WORTHEN: He's become sort of the anti-Trump. He's become this rallying figure for traumatized liberals who are looking for some kind of figure of existential world historical significance who can counteract what they see as the ugliness of the current administration.

GJELTEN: Another story of America divided, this time between two faith traditions whose concerns often overlap. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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