Saturday, July 01, 2006

Potential Converts One Way or Another: My "Hands Off" Approach

By Dave Armstrong (7-1-06)

It seems that I am sometimes unjustly associated with others who do not share my ecumenical approach to possible conversions to non-Catholic brands of Christianity. It is a rather well-known fact, after all (for anyone who has followed my work to any appreciable degree) that I never pester people about their possible or actual conversions, or use the situation of a person struggling through issues to "go in for the kill," so to speak. That is as opposite from my method and approach to both people and apologetics as can be imagined.

For example, a former moderator of a large Catholic discussion board (apparently respected as an eminently fair-minded sort by most folks on that board), used to be a Lutheran when I first encountered him online in 1996. I was already an amateur Catholic apologist by then, having had several articles published and a completed book (now published). How did I treat him, as a Lutheran? Well, let's see what he himself wrote (unsolicited) on the same board:

When I was in a similar position - i.e., when a lot of people thought the microwave had been going for long enough and I was about to pope any second - a lot of Catholic e-pologists annoyed me to no end, badgering me about when I was going to take the plunge, etc., which only made my ornery nature want to stay away. Dave Armstrong was the Catholic who showed the most respect for my position. He asked questions, but he never badgered.

[this person wishes to be anonymous]
Or how about Bret Bellamy, whom I met when he was an Anglican, in 1998? He converted to Catholicism, too, a few years ago, but was that because I "badgered" or "pestered" him? Nope (I didn't really try to actively, aggressively convert him at all). He has stated:

I can testify to [Dave's] friendship with non-Catholic Christians personally; we built a good friendship when I was Anglican. He has always treated me with respect, never was he arrogant, triumphalistic or anything like that . . . I can testify to anyone or in any court that you have a lot of respect for non-Catholic Christians! You showed great friendship and charity towards non-Catholic Christians on your old list serve . . .
These are but two examples which illustrate the approach that I take on these things (many many more could be produced). I don't interfere or cynically speculate about people's faith journeys. That is between them and God. I've been a convert myself, so I know what that is like. One doesn't need folks coming in and acting like they have all the answers; judging souls and motives alike. I don't try to force God's hand or presume or denigrate the motives of potential converts.

Of course, as a Catholic apologist, I hope they end up in the Catholic Church, and I will argue for that position, if they want or ask me to provide reasons for my adherence to it (as I do, generally-speaking), but that is far different from presumptuously, arrogantly offering unsolicited advice and running people down who take different positions. I regularly rejoice when someone converts to Orthodoxy, for example, and tell them that I am very happy that they have embraced "apostolic Christianity." I don't use those times as opportunities to insult them and rail against their choice.

We see this glaring fault (if not outright sin) presently on Catholic conservative columnist Rod Dreher's blog. He has said that he is considering conversion to Orthodoxy. In one thread where he talked innocently and non-controversially about attending an Orthodox social gathering, the following atrociously uncharitable comments from Catholics were found:

Based on the overall focus of that as well as the constant maliciousness you heap on any Catholic, it is safe to say you are a Orthodox Christian. All that is left is to post pictures of you partaking of the eucharist at St. Seraphim's to show how much you have turned your back on your faith.

I am not trying to keep you in the Catholic Church, you have already left. Just trying to do damage control!

Rod, your self-centeredness knows no bounds. I for one am barely interested in
"keeping you in the Catholic Church". I don't know you, and anyway I'm not sure you were really in the Church in the first place. I'm just pointing out where in your thinking about the Church you go astray - not that you care.

He is not interested in staying in the church. He made up his mind years ago. It is no different than those fundamentalists who always used to accuse us of worshiping the Virgin Mary. You could show them articles and logically prove to them that notion is BS, but they still will not listen. This is also because "Catholic bashing" is in vogue here in Dallas and in Louisiana.

It's fun to point out the emperor has no clothes - especially when pointing it out to the "emperor" himself (well, the emperor and his courtiers). Don't let the resultant squawking rattle you. We are on the side of truth, justice and the American way!
Moreover, I have taken dissenting positions on actual conversions to Catholicism where many Catholics (including other apologists) were trying to use them to embarrass Protestants who were related to the converts, such as when anti-Catholic apologist James White's sister Patty became a Catholic, and many people were trying to stick that in James' face to embarrass and belittle him. I spoke out against that, and felt that it was no one's business to publicly talk about the pain that that family went through (and is going through), as a result of religious differences. That is a tragedy and matter for prayer, not public harumphing and juvenile nya nya nya nya nyaaaaaa nya's.

I took the same approach about the public trumpeting of the fact of another well-known anti-Catholic apologist's wife being a Catholic (which I had known way back in 1996: he having told me himself on a discussion list we were both part of, back when we actually got along!). It's nobody's business, and has no place in legitimate apologetics.

All this is a matter of public record, and it has been my consistent stance always, going back to my Protestant days, too (the early 80s). I respect all Christian traditions, while continuing to disagree on points, as we all do, if we take any position at all. I am both ecumenical and apologetical, and the former precludes idiotic attitudes or speculations about possible conversions, such as we see far too often on the Internet, as part of the often rock-bottom ethical and intellectual level of online discourse (real or imagined).

1 comment:

thepalmhq said...

I agree with you completely, Dave. One of the freeing things about being a Catholic is that there is no longer this constant pressure to "close the deal", to get to the super-sacrament, the Sinner's Prayer. All we have to do, by God's grace, is help move the ball up the field.

I am as happy as anybody to see someone convert and by God's grace I've been instrumental in a number of conversions/reversions. But I've found that they will indeed convert without me pushing them around. Indeed, I'm so ham-handed that I'm sure they'll do so a lot faster without me trying to prod them into doing so.