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"Socially Catholic" Protestants? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 11 June 2010 11:05

In our global village (see my post below on Parish Evangelization Cells), the influence doesn’t all flow one way.

In the evangelical world, there is the new phenomenon of self-identified “Socially Catholic” Protestants.    Or as blogger Terra Mork describes herself: “Theologically Protestant, Politically Conservative, Socially Catholic.”

Terra goes to great lengths to make it clear from the very beginning:  she isn’t about to swim the Tiber:

From the outside, people who see me joining Catholic social causes, studying papal encyclicals, and quoting from Pope John Paul II might assume that I am either “Protestant light”, or on my way to Catholic conversion. Both assumptions would be wrong . . .

Part of the central insight behind our Making Disciples seminar is that there a number of pre-discipleship stages or thresholds of spiritual development and that each threshold is significant and a work of God’s grace in its own right.

Not only do non-believers typically pass through these stages on the way to discipleship but believers also repeat this journey at critical points in their lives and relationship with God.  For instance, I was stunned to realize that the thresholds perfectly described my own journey into the Catholic Church – although I had no concept of them at the time.

The first and essential threshold is trust.  Trust is not personal faith – it is a positive association of some kind with the faith.  It could be having a good experience at a Catholic school or having a trusted friend who is a devout Catholic or having positive impressions of Jesus or an instinctive trust of Mary.  Trust is just the beginning place but as the old saying goes “you have to build a bridge of trust that can hold a weight of truth.”

The bridge of trust for Terra and for blogger Jill Stanek, who also calls herself a “social Catholic” has been their experience of Catholics in the pro-life movement.   As Terra put it:

In the last year, I have been richly blessed with many new friendships in the Catholic pro-life community.  Their devotion to the cause is infectious and inspiring. Through a variety of interactions, many of my false conceptions about Catholics have been corrected, while at the same time, my Protestant convictions have been reaffirmed.

A long discussion of the differences in perspective between evangelicals and Catholics follows (with some unintentional but significant mischaracterization of Catholic teaching – but hey, Catholic theology is very complex and nuanced and Terra seems to only been hanging out with Catholics for a year) but that isn’t what I want to talk about.

What I want to note is that Terra’s self-description “theologically Reformed, socially Catholic” is very post-modern in its freedom to pull different bits from different traditions and weave them together into a whole that speaks to my individual concerns.  It is typical of evangelicals who are discovering the Catholic world or of anyone exploring a new intellectual, cultural or spiritual world.

As we learn more about this new world, we compare and contrast the new world with what we already know and believe and have experienced.  As we do so, we will often re-evaluate our personal synthesis and amend it.  We all make these journeys one step at a time.  But this is especially true for post-moderns encountering the Catholic faith for the first time.

For instance, when Terra talked about “socially Catholic”, I initially assumed that she really meant the whole of the Church’s social teaching.  As I read on, I realized she is really referring only to that part of the social tradition that deals with certain life issues: abortion, birth control, theology of the body, etc.

The part of the social tradition one would be most likely to encounter in the pro-life movement, especially among political conservatives. Based just upon these blog posts, one could get the impression that Terra doesn’t know that there is considerably more to the Church’s social teaching.   She is clearly a very sharp lady and may well know there is more to Catholic social teaching but hasn't had time to explore it.  In any case, it doesn't loom large enough in her mind to be mentioned in this blogpost. (Reading both of Terra's posts on this topic is illuminating and I would encourage I D readers to do so.)

Terra’s immediate social questions were about life issues.  Dorothy Day’s immediate questions were about issues of justice for the poor.  Both questions were the doorway into another world.

But just because trust has been established and curiosity is manifesting does not mean that becoming Catholic is inevitable.  Terra insists that it is absolutely out of the question and that her soteriology (theology of salvation) is firmly Reformed.  Of course, many converts to Catholicism like myself also passed through fairly long periods of time when we also insisted that becoming Catholic was out of the question.

But the reality is that some of us go the whole way and many others only go so far on this journey and then stop or even backtrack.  What makes the difference?

Apologetics and catechesis are very useful at certain points in the journey but our tendency to assume that they are the answer to a spiritual quest - that all we have to do is give a spiritual seeker the right book or DVD and their fears and misapprehensions will melt away like ice on a summer’s day – is just not true.  Even the great intellectual converts of the past like Augustine and Newman didn't make their decision solely on that basis and it is definitely not true for the vast majority of post-moderns.

So I’ll put it to you.  How can we help seekers who are just becoming aware of the whole, vast Catholic thing, make the whole journey?  And what should we avoid?  How have you seen seekers stopped dead in their tracks or even moved to backtrack because of the responses of Catholics about them?  What do you think?


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