Nevertheless, Mr. McCain “has sort of taken over the party of the religious conservatives,” Mr. Hudson said.
Mr. Hudson, a former Bush political adviser on Catholic outreach, resigned in 2004 after a Catholic newspaper reported on his 1994 sexual contact with an 18-year-old college student, which led to his departure from a tenured position at Fordham University in New York.
Mr. Dionne criticized the religious right’s focus on abortion and gay rights at the expense of Christian teaching on war, peace and social justice. Many conservative Christians now want to expand this agenda, he said.
In interviews, Mr. Hudson and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said the historic Catholic commitment to service has expanded the religious right’s agenda to include issues such as poverty and prison reform.
“Typical movements go in on a narrow issue, but then once they get in, they broaden out,” Mr. Brownback said.
The religious right started with two issues, abortion and gay rights, he said.
Mr. Hudson and Mr. Brownback pointed to the Rev. Richard D. Warren, author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” as the prototype for a new leader of the religious right. A believer in the religious right’s views on abortion and gay marriage, Mr. Warren is fighting the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 22.5 million people carry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Among politicians, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who competed for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, represents this new breed of conservative Christians with his traditional views on abortion and gay marriage and his commitment to social justice issues, said Mr. Dionne, a columnist and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank.
But not everyone agrees about the religious right’s commitment to a broader agenda.
“I think a lot of that talk is overblown,” said Robert Boston, assistant director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.