Jindal, a self-described “evangelical Catholic,” epitomizes the political and religious coalition of evangelical Protestants and Catholics in Louisiana.
“Evangelical Catholicism,” if we are to use Jindal’s phrase, is a peculiarly American creation. It’s a version of Catholicism with roots in the anti-communist movement of the post-World War II era, when prominent Catholics like Bishop Fulton Sheen adopted a style of pro-America rhetoric that matched Protestant revivalists like Billy Graham. This partnership was codified in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, as Jerry Falwell launched his “Moral Majority” and quickly discovered that Catholics comprised roughly a third of the political action group’s membership.
Prominent politicians have continued to embrace this brand of Catholicism, including lifelong Catholic Rick Santorum and Catholic converts Jindal, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich and Sam Brownback. Then there are non-Catholic politicians like Mike Huckabee — a former Baptist minister and governor of Arkansas — who reacted to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate with the announcement, “Thanks to President Obama, we are all Catholics now.”
It’s hard to imagine Pope Francis ever attending “The Response.” Unlike the organizers of the prayer rally, the pope doesn’t endorse American exceptionalism, creationism, biblical literalism or the rapture. He also doesn’t encourage AFA-style animosity toward LGBT people. Asked about his position on homosexuality, the pope responded, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge? They shouldn’t be marginalized.” Compare this to Jindal’s defense of the AFA’s support for “The Response,” an organization with a leader that believes “being an active homosexual should disqualify you from public office.”
But more telling, American Catholics don’t share the same history as evangelical Protestants. A church of immigrants, Catholics in the 19th and early 20th centuries were the targets of religious persecution and xenophobia at the hands of a Protestant establishment. Back then, many believed the nation was in crisis because of the perceived menace of the Catholic Church to American values.