political parties and interest groups. Once mobilized, however, the Church was presented a new task of exerting influence on the vote choices of its followers. The authoritarianism that served it well during the Middle Ages was no longer viable by the twentieth century. If the Church could not compel its followers by sanction, it would have to rely on the persuasiveness of its message. Affecting the hearts and minds of its people through moral persuasion required new approaches, many of which continue to be challenged by those who long for a return to a more "disciplined" Church.
While the Church no longer possesses the more direct influence on the state that it had during the Middle Ages, it has assumed a role as social critic and teacher of social morality. In seeking to teach social morality, American bishops hope to maintain a moral influence on political attitudes and beliefs. In this way religious leaders seek a part in the shaping of political culture. It is in this area that the religious influence on politics may have its greatest impact. But if the task of the modern church is to move the hearts and minds of its people, new strategies for bridging religion and political culture may be necessary. It is to an examination of this connection that we now turn.