evangelical Catholic

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

So is 'evangelical Catholic' a religious term or a political term? The honest answer: yes

After all the the press attention dedicated to Donald Trump's wooing of evangelicals, it's time to get down to what really matters in American politics -- the never-ending battle over Catholics who regularly or semi-regularly visit church pews.

Yes, it helps Democrats if evangelical Protestants are not terribly excited about the GOP nominee and, thus, are more likely to vote with clenched teeth or even to stay home. This time around, Trump has strong supporters among the Religious Right old guard, but he also has strong, strong critics among solid, conservative Christian leaders (as opposed to the small, but press-friendly, world of progressive evangelicals).

But the big game is among Catholic voters. While lapsed and cultural Catholics are solidly in the Democratic Party camp, along with those in the elite "progressive Catholic" camp, the real question is what happens among millions of ordinary Sunday-morning Catholics and the much smaller number of traditional Catholics who are even more dedicated, in terms of participation in daily Mass, Confession and the church's full sacramental life. This is where the true "swing voters" are found. Does Trump have a prayer with those voters? We will see.

What does this have to do with the "evangelical Catholic" tag that has been claimed by Gov. Mike Pence, who got the VP nod from Trump? Hang on, because that connection came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast conversation with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

The term "evangelical Catholic" is highly controversial, for obvious reasons. In the media, this tends to be a negative term, applied either to people who were raised Catholic (see Pence) and are now evangelicals, or to Catholics who stress the church's ancient, orthodox teachings on moral and social issues on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sex outside of marriage. Thus, these "evangelical Catholics" tend to be more popular with modern evangelicals than with the elite Catholics who often gather with journalists for cocktail parties on or near the Georgetown University campus.

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Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

Please ask this basic question: Does Mike Pence sit in an evangelical pew or a Catholic pew?

So the "evangelical Catholic" thing is making a comeback, with Donald Trump's decision to make Gov. Mike Pence his running mate in the White House race.

Before we dig into the roots of this a bit, let me note that the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" feature in the middle of the current discussion ("What it means that Mike Pence called himself an ‘evangelical Catholic’ ") is clearly labeled as "analysis." Thus, veteran reporter Michelle Boorstein has more room to maneuver.

Normally, your GetReligionistas steer away from writing about analysis features, unless we point readers to them as "think pieces" linked to discussions on the Godbeat. In this case, I think it's important to discuss the "evangelical Catholic" term again, because it may surface again in campaign coverage of Pence.

The key, of course, is that "evangelical Catholic" is primarily a political term. However, Boorstein starts her analysis with an attempt to pin down this man's actual religious history, in terms of his faith experiences. Here is a sample of that:

One of the more publicly shared accounts of Pence’s transition from a Catholic youth minister who wanted to be a priest to an evangelical megachurch member came in 1994. That’s when he told the Indianapolis Business Journal about an intense period of religious searching that he underwent in college. “I made a commitment to Christ,” Pence said, speaking of the late 1970s. “I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.”

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