What is an ‘evangelical Roman Catholic’?

Merry Go RoundNow this is going to be tricky. Let’s see if I can tiptoe into another post on media coverage of the Mitt Romney campaign without setting off a new tsunami of comment-board warfare about Mormonism.

That’s going to be hard, since The Washington Post‘s story on which I would like to comment ran with this headline: “Romney’s Mormonism Attracts More Scrutiny … and a Whisper Campaign.” The second half of that headline refers to a dumb move by an Iowa staffer for Sen. Sam Brownback.

Here’s the news hook, providing yet another sign that the Mormonism story is — sadly — not going to go away until Romney finds a way to satisfy the questions of many (but never all) of the evangelical leaders yanking strings connected to the GOP machine:

In an e-mail obtained by The Fix, former state representative Emma Nemecek, the southeastern Iowa field director for Brownback’s presidential campaign, asked a group of Iowa Republican leaders to help her fact-check a series of statements about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including one that says: “Theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ, and the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith.”

Clearly, if a staffer wants to fact-check statements about Mormon doctrine he or she should ask Mormon leaders in Iowa and experts in the Romney campaign. The staffer can also seek information from mainstream religious bodies — check seminaries and missions offices — that have serious, informed, hopefully respectable debates with mainstream Mormon leaders.

But what is a campaign staffer doing getting involved in that kind of issue in the first place?

However, most of this is — sadly — another trip on the same political and journalistic merry-go-round.

What caught my eye in this story by reporters Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray was the following linguistic innovation, which I sure hope is not a sign of things to come:

… Brownback has publicly taken on Romney over the abortion issue — insisting that Romney’s conversion to an anti-abortion-rights position is more political positioning than personal evolution. (Both men spoke to the National Right to Life Convention in Kansas City, Mo., late last week.)

But Romney’s faith has not been a topic of contention for Brownback — a former Methodist who has become an evangelical Roman Catholic — until now.

Say what?

What, pray tell, is an “evangelical Roman Catholic”? I assume that this is not the same thing as a Roman Catholic evangelist, a combination of words that makes sense.

And, while we are at it, shouldn’t the story have said that Brownback is a former United Methodist? Last time I checked, that was a mainline Protestant denomination that contained millions of evangelical Christians, but certainly would not, as a whole, be called “evangelical” by most outsiders.

I realize that the word “evangelical” is very hard to define, and this is a topic that comes up here at GetReligion from time to time. Click here for a helpful essay on this topic at Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, a place where you will find evangelicals who know plenty about their own history.

I also realize that Time earned jeers from the GetReligionistas and many others when the editors included Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic priest, and Rick Santorum, a Catholic layman who was in the U.S. Senate at that time, in their list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. It seemed that they were political evangelicals, whatever that means.

So here we go again. Perhaps this is an issue that will have to be settled by the committee that governs The Associated Press Stylebook. It’s bad enough that “fundamentalist” has become a meaningless word that gets tossed around by journalists who do not know what they are talking about. Now we have people writing about “evangelical Roman Catholics”?

The last thing we need is yet another journalistic merry-go-round on the religion beat. So let me ask this again: What in the world is an “evangelical Roman Catholic”?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Martha

    Since they have, as you note, reduced “fundamentalist” to meaninglessness (it seems to be used solely as shorthand for ‘redneck knuckle-dragging Neanderthal’ with overtones, depending on user, of ‘thinks nostalgically of days when women were barefoot and pregnant and coloured people knew their place and would cheerfully stone gays in the morning if they could only get the Bible written into law’), I would hazard a guess that they are now using “evangelical” to mean ‘not a liberal/intelligent sophisticate/tolerant adult spirituality like us and all right-thinking people’ but rather ‘old-fashioned enough to still think the Bible is the Word of God, the Ten Commandments apply to our public behaviour, and what that guy in Rome in the funny hat says goes’.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike

    Several years ago, I contacted a newspaper’s editor-in-chief about his use of the word “evangelical” in one of his editorials. This newspaper is a pretty well-respected regional paper, and this editor has been in journalism for several decades, but his use of “evangelical” in this context made absolutely no sense to me. Turns out that he was using the word “evangelical” purely as a synonym for “evangelistic.” If memory serves, even that didn’t make much sense, because the editorial had nothing to do about evangelism, but addressed a person speaking out publicly from a particular theological position. I don’t even think he was aware that the term “evangelical” had a meaning and history within theological circles. Or, if he did, he didn’t care. It was just a convenient term for him to use to pigeonhole the person he was writing about.

    To muddy the waters further, let’s start referring to conservative Protestants who accept the Nicene Creed as “catholic evangelicals.”

  • Chuck Hoffmann

    A Catholic who has accepted Jesus Christ and has a living relationship. Very simple if you read the bible. Nothing secret I am amazed at the stupidity of some writers.

  • nick

    If I’m not mistaken, Peter Kreeft also claims to be an ‘evangelical Catholic’, though I don’t recall him describing exactly what that means.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I am sure that if someone interviewed Kreeft and he used that term, he would gladly EXPLAIN what he meant.

    We are talking about public media, with no attempt to justify such a strange, anti-historical use of this term.


    Right. I am sure that is what the Washington Post reporters meant when they used the term. Not.

  • http://www.acton.org/blog/ Jordan

    I think in this context it means the same thing it did in the Time feature: a politically-active conservative Christian, or “political evangelical.” So Brownback is an “evangelical” Roman Catholic (conservative), not a “progressive” Roman Catholic (liberal) like John Kerry.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    That doesn’t work either. Then he would be a “conservative” Roman Catholic or a “traditional” Roman Catholic.

    The word EVANGELICAL refers to a movement WITHIN Protestantism.

  • http://www.acton.org/blog/ Jordan


    Some Protestants do in fact refer to themselves as “catholic,” as distinct from Roman. For just one historical instance, see William Perkins, A Reformed Catholic (1597). The claims of catholicity by the Reformers are an important part of their theological case (see Calvin v. Sadoleto).

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Once again, the meaning of the word “catholic” — small c — is known and journalists tend to be careful with it. That is a theological term and should not be used without explanation.

    We are talking about journalism on this blog — how and why JOURNALISTS use terms.

    We are talking about whether it is right to strip a word of its meaning, to twist and distort it.

  • http://www.acton.org/blog/ Jordan


    I agree, which is why I think it was stupid for Time to include Roman Catholics in its list, and it’s stupid to refer to Brownback as in this way. But that said, I think what I outlined above is what the term is meant to convey.

    For the mainstream media, it seems to me, “evangelical” has become a term identifying primarily a political rather than a theological or religious movement:


    Perhaps conservative Protestants deserve some of the blame for that phenomenon.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    I cannot truly say I was jeering at Time when it included Richard John Neuhaus in the list of the Top 25 evangelicals in America. On the doctrine of the Trinity, Neuhaus fits far more easily on the list than does T.D. Jakes.

    I think The Associated Press Stylebook gives as concise and accurate a definition as one could hope for as a guide to journalists:

    … [Evangelicals] emphasize the need for a definite, adult commitment or conversion to faith in Christ and the duty of all believers to persuade others to accept Christ.

    Evangelicals make up some conservative denominations and are numerous in broader denominations. Evangelicals stress both doctrinal absolutes and vigorous efforts to win others to belief.

    It’s clear that most Catholics would not choose evangelical as the most logical adjective to describe themselves, but it is not beyond the realm of my evangelical Protestant imagination, or that of some Catholics. Keith Fournier, a Roman Catholic, wrote his book Evangelical Catholics in 1990.

    Given Sen. Brownback’s churchgoing habits (Mass in the morning, Bible church with his family in the evening), I don’t find the Post‘s usage a serious problem, though it was awkward.

    What this story — and Time‘s earlier cover story — could point to is a tendency to use “evangelical” as shorthand for any Christian who is doctrinally or politically conservative.

    From my perspective, this is more a matter of imprecision than of gross error.

  • Tom

    When you mix politics and religion, don’t be surprised if the meaning of terms get mixed also. As a philosopher and logician, I can say with some authority that a universe of discourse is shaped by the norms that frame it and how those norms are interpreted behaviorally, providing the context. Meaning arises from context and changes in contextual use shape maeaning. Thus a non-technical universe of discourse is fluid. Terms like “Catholic” and Evangelical” are extremely general terms that refer to the frame. As the context that underlies meaning shifts, so do the meanings of these terms. Since the melding of religion and politics in the new millennium, the lines between them are getting blurred linguistically, as current usage shows.

  • Steven Joseph Rotolo

    “Brownback has publicly taken on Romney over the abortion issue — insisting that Romney’s conversion to an anti-abortion-rights position is more political positioning than personal evolution. ”

    HEY!!! I thought Brownback DOES NOT believe in evolution…

    Anyway, an evangelical Roman Catholic? My guess is that them two reporters who coined the phrase are illiterate simpletons without a clue as to what the difference is between an evangelical (a literal interpretation of the revealed scriptures) and a Roman Catholic (2000 years of tradition marrying reason and religion).

    But, as I do engage in the christian practice of charity, I can give them two hoseheads the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are talking subtly about Brownback’s more decidedly evangelical posturings (such as his denial of science, the brickhead) despite his conversion to Catholicism (evolution is accepted by the Catholic church as the way life evolved in this planet). In any case, Romney didn’t deny evolution during that GOP debate, so he gets bonus points for not being a moron… at least not in the science department.

  • Jerry

    This is a question to the reporters here. Would this be a sign that the reporter did not know the difference between a (generic) Methodist and a United Methodist or might an editor have struck the word united from the story for whatever reason?

    I do have to wonder how many readers would even care about that distinction, though, as opposed to his reasons for becoming an “evangelical” Catholic. So I guess I’m wondering if that comment of yours is a bit nit-picky.

    And, while we are at it, shouldn’t the story have said that Brownback is a former United Methodist?

  • http://hometown.aol.com/frgregacca/ Fr. Greg

    I don’t know that Mr. Brownback is in fact connected this phenomenon at all, but check out the following:

    The Evangelical Catholic


    Evangelical Catholicism

    Fifty years ago, there were no Pentecostal Catholics. Now there are plenty of them. There was also no stream of conservative Protestants (of several different flavors) into Eastern Orthodoxy.

    However, I agree that the term should have been explained in this context, not just used, if in fact it is applicable to Brownback, since Catholic Evangelicalism has not exactly hit the mainstream radar, as this article illustrates.

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    Confessional Lutherans (such as myself) identify with both the terms “evangelical” and “catholic.” It is not uncommon to hear Lutherans refer to themselves as “evangelical catholics.”

    Lutherans were the original “evangelicals” and have always held that the “Evangelical” faith is true to the “Catholic” tradition. That’s what our Confessions say.

    “…nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic. For it is manifest that we have guarded diligently against the introduction into our churches of any new and ungodly doctrine.” [Conclusion to the Augsburg Confession]

    I believe there are also “Evangelical Roman Catholics.” That’s precisely what Luther was before he was excommunicated by Rome. Isn’t “evangelicalism” more tolerated in the post-conciliar Roman Catholic Church?

    Perhaps Brownback identifies himself as such an “Evangelical Roman Catholic.”

    Hey, if Obama can be identified in the press as half Muslim and half Christian, who’s gonna stop Brownback from being called an “Evangelical Roman Catholic?”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Fr. Greg:

    Catholics almost always use the term “charismatic” rather than identify with the large-P movement called Pentecostalism, which has doctrinal problems for Catholicism with a large C.

    At this point, the term evangelical still refers to a movement within Protestantism. Charismatic is a nondenominational word.

    BTW, it seems that Brownback’s position on evolution is very close (as best I can tell) to that of Pope John Paul II — as he stated it, as opposed to how the press quoted him.

    The pope said it would be more accurate to say that there are “theories” — plural — or evolution and that Christians would need to reject any theory that said the changes taking place over eons of time were random or without purpose. In other words, he rejected doctrinaire Darwinism, but accepted a mechanism of gradual change over time

    Check this out: http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/1996/11/06/

    It appears that the pope was terribly misquoted, for sure in the headlines that grabbed the attention of so many.

    You may need to check out what Brownback believes and not rely so quickly on the MSM.


    Op-Ed Contributor

    What I Think About Evolution

    Published: May 31, 2007


    IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

    The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

    The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

    People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

    The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

    There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

    The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

    Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

    Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

    The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

    While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

    Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

    Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.

  • Dennis Colby

    “Roman” Catholic is at least as much of an error as “evangelical Roman Catholic.” Unless, I suppose, you’re a 16th century Anglican controversialist. Since when did they get to write the stylebooks, though?

  • Nancy

    I agree wholeheartedly with Doug LeBlanc’s opinion. I consider myself an evangelical Roman Catholic, one who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I see far too many Catholics go through the motions of practising their faith without a real one-to-one relationship with our Redeemer. Many are like the seed that fell among the thorns, (Matt 13:22) or are like those that think they are saved and should be allowed in heaven(Lk 13:23-27). Hopefully they are but I don’t want to be one of those who is turned away so I’m reading my Bible, teaching others about Jesus Christ and doing all I can as literally stated in the Bible to be saved.

  • Steven Joseph Rotolo

    Well, thank you for the edifying comments about John Paul II and his stance in evolution. Did he disbelieve in gravity too? Did he think the earth was round?

    “Gradual change over time” is a euphemism for intelligent design, and it seems that both John Paul II and Brownback believe in a guiding hand behind these “gradual changes over time,” in other words, they believe in a designer, a creator… which is totally fine as long as you recognize it for the absurdity that it is. I personally believe that there is a little green man in the center of the earth with a ray gun that keeps us from flying outwards into the void, yes that’s right, gravity is as bogus as evolution… thank you very much.

    Point is, science teaches us that there is no design. If there is no design, then both John Paul II and Brownback are denying science. The Catholic church has accepted this, regardless of whatever statements Pope John Paul II may have made during his tenure as Pope (perhaps he was confused, after all he was suffering from Parkinson’s, or maybe it was the nefarious work of Joseph Ratzinger, that former nazi who used to serve as the regent of the Vatican during John Paul II’s waning years). In either case, the position of the church is clear: evolution is real. Darwinism wins over supernature.

  • Dan

    I’ll take a stab at a definition of “evangelical Roman Catholic”: a Roman Catholic who evangelizes — although all should, many don’t.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Thank you for your clarity. It’s mean, but clear. Hopefully, you are not a journalist.

    I also had no idea that you had the right to trump two popes on the doctrine of the church. Bully for you. Literally.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh, I am sorry that I brought in a door to open the evolution wars again — through my response to a red herring about Brownback and stupid evangelicals, as opposed to smart Catholics who oppose the pope.

    I will spike other comments chasing that thread.

    Back to the “evangelical Roman Catholic” thread and what the Washington Post was or wasn’t trying to do….

  • Steven Joseph Rotolo

    My apologies, I didn’t mean to come across as an a***ole, nor did I mean to disparage any Pope, living or otherwise. But like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    My original comment was about Brownback’s hubris in publicly denying evolution during a debate, and then using the term to disparage Romney. I concluded that maybe Romney flip-flopped on one issue, but he still didn’t come across as an idiot. When I saw the post glorifying intelligent design, I went into a tangent.

  • Deacon Eric


    Actually, “Roman Catholic” is correct usage. It differentiates those of the Roman rite from those of the other 22 Catholic churches in union with the Bishop of Rome, for example, Byzantine Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Melkite Catholics, etc.

  • Eric

    I don’t understand your objection to the designation of evangelical as applied to a Roman Catholic, Mr. Mattingly. Perhaps the journalism community could agree on the proper usage being “small e” evangelical when referring to a type of Catholic and “big E” Evangelical when referring to the movement amongst our departed brethren.

    For another good definition of evangelical Roman Catholic see this website by another evangelical Roman Catholic Priest, Fr. Jay Scott Newman.

  • http://hometown.aol.com/frgregacca/ Fr. Greg

    tmatt writes:

    Catholics almost always use the term “charismatic” rather than identify with the large-P movement called Pentecostalism, which has doctrinal problems for Catholicism with a large C.

    At this point, the term evangelical still refers to a movement within Protestantism. Charismatic is a nondenominational word.

    You are correct, of course, which is why I almost put “Pentecostal” in quotes. However, if you substitute “charismatic” for “pentecostal”, the statement remains true. (And note that one of the earliest books on the subject was called Catholic Pentecostals.) The point is, over the past forty or so years, the offshoot of this movement which began within Protestantism (and with certain Protestant distinctives at its core) has found a solid home within international Roman Catholicism, involving not only large numbers of laypersons, religious, and priests, but also members of the hierarchy (the late Cardinal Suenens of Belgium being perhaps the best known example), to the point of being praised by popes.

    Whether or not generic evangelicalism, which, within Protestantism, is certainly related to pentecostalism, can have a similar trajectory within Roman Catholicism is not clear at this point, but it has clearly made a good beginning, and the situation today of “Catholic Evangelicalism” is analogous to that of “Catholic Pentecostalism” back in the late sixties and early seventies.

  • Martha

    Ah, indeed. Steven, I did have my suspicions about your position when you tossed those endearments about Senator Brownback, but now I see exactly where you’re coming from.

    Belief in a Creator is stupidity and worse. So any stick is good enough to beat this dog. Either Senator Brownback (and a good many of the rest of us) rend our garments, strew our heads with ashes (but not on Ash Wednesday!) and declare “There is no god but Darwin, and Dawkins is his prophet”, or else we may as well all jump in the sea.

    What this has to do with the discussion of the term “evangelical Roman Catholic”, I fail to see – probably due to the mind-control rays beamed from the Vatican satellite to keep us slaves to superstition mindlessly following along.

  • Martha

    The term “evolution” has been used legitimately in areas outside the discussion of natural selection in the biological sense; in this instance, he was accusing a political opponent of adopting a stance on grounds of its appeal to the public, and thus its likelihood of winning votes, rather than as a matter of change in attitude due to a maturer consideration of the matter.

    Or has there been a copyright taken out on the word, and now it must always be used only to refer to Darwinian Evolution? All other uses verboten? I missed that dictate; when was it passed?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Catholic and Pentecostal are contradictions in terms — for doctrinal reasons — and should be avoided. Charismatic is the accurate word, as a Catholic historian would confirm.

    Evangelical and Catholic are contradictions in terms — for historic and doctrinal reasons — and it would help if people didn’t use them together.

    You could say, “Brownback has spread his faith in an evangelical manner” and that might be acceptable. But the word evangelistic is better.

    The word “evolution” has now been stripped of almost all meaning in media as well. It is best to use it in the full, philosophical context used by academic policemen and agencies.

    The pope was, again, accurate when he said that it is best to speak of theories — plural — of evolution. Some fit in a Christian worldview and some do not. Atheists and agnostics are free to embrace some and have to reject others, too. Logic is logic.

    The goal is to maintain some sense of history and rationality in journalism. Agreed?

  • Brian

    The Pope today (or maybe yesterday) used the term evangelical in describing Catholics while speaking at Assisi:

    “It would not be evangelical, nor Franciscan, to be unable to unite acceptance, dialogue and respect for all with the certainty of faith which each Christian, like the saint of Assisi, is called to cultivate, proclaiming Christ as the way, truth and life of mankind, the one and only savior of the world.”

    Original Article: http://www.theindiancatholic.com/newsread.asp?nid=7876

    That sentence may have gotten tangled up in translation – it’s slightly difficult to parse. It looks like Benedict is saying that the evangelical Roman Catholic proclaims Christ as the only savior of the world while being accepting of, respectful to, and open to dialogue with others.

    Of course in this sense of the word all Catholics are called to be evangelical, so it still doesn’t clear up what the Washington Post meant by using it. I doubt the Post article was expounding the intricacies of the Catholic faith.

  • Dennis Colby

    Deacon Eric,

    Respectfully, I disagree – “Roman” was appended to Catholic by Anglicans during the 16th century split. I think the term for the rite in question is usually “Latin” rite, rather than Roman.


    The Catholic Church doesn’t officially call itself “Roman” Catholic – witness, for example, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I don’t know why “Roman” Catholic is the default style – I guess it’s the English heritage of the US.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    That’s a great catch. Note the “evangelism” or “evangelization” context (another pair of hard words to parse in a Catholic context). You will also hear the pope say that all Catholics are called to be “evangels” (as in the person who is the ‘evangel’ who spreads the gospel).

    All of those terms are linked to evangelism.

    The Washington Post is using this as a political or cultural word in an American context. We need to keep sight of that.

  • Brian

    Dennis Colby and Deacon Eric:

    Wikipedia says ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Rite ):

    Some treat the term “Roman Catholic” as synonymous with “Latin Rite”, a usage not found in official documents of the Catholic Church itself, such as the encyclicals Divini illius Magistri and Humani generis, in which “Roman Catholic Church” means the whole Catholic Church without distinction. Pope John Paul II too treated “Roman Catholic Church ” as equivalent to “Catholic Church” in his talk at the general audience of 26 June 1985.[5]

    Depending on how much you want to trust Wikipedia it appears Roman Catholic Church can be used interchangeably with Catholic Church, but shouldn’t be used to refer specifically to the Latin Church.

    I personally don’t usually append “Roman” to the Catholic Church unless its already being used in the discussion, but I have no problem with using it. It’s like how Catholics when talking to other Catholics will merely call it the Church but when talking with non-Catholics will specify the Catholic Church for clarity and also so as not to offend anyone. Nowadays there’s other churches calling themselves catholic, so its helpful to specify when you mean the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Eric G.

    As a journalist, I don’t have a problem with the term “evangelical Catholic” … in a direct quotation.

    Elsewhere, if the term is used at all (and I’m not sure why it should be), it should immediately be defined. I can think of at least four or five things the term logically and reasonably could mean.

    My guess is that the author is using the term to mean “a faithful member of the Catholic church who allies on a variety of cultural and theological issues with evangelical Protestants,” but who knows?

    And I’m curious to know if Sen. Brownback would use this label for himself.

  • Camassia

    Actually, Doug pointed out in an earlier post that Brownback attends Topeka Bible Church when he’s in Kansas. Maybe this was shorthand for his particular syncretism?

  • Tex B.

    The Jesus of the Mormon church is NOT the same as the Jesus of the Catholic church. Both the Mormons and Jehova’s Witnesses do not accept the Nicene Creed. That is, they do not believe in the Holy Trinity concept. Rather than Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit being one entity, they are treated by these religions as separate Beings.

    To them, “Jesus” is not “God”. To them Mormons, Jesus is the “Son of God” — just like the New Testament specifically says. Basically, they are an extension of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants just did not throw out as much of Catholic Doctrine/Dogma as the Jehova’s Witnesses and the Mormons.

    In my view, the Mormons have attempted to recapture some fragment of what Gnostic Christianity was like. Their dogma has a universe of “intelligences” of which God is merely the most powerful, intelligent, wise, good, etc. However, this dogma does not get expressed in their weekly Church services. If you actually went to their services, you wouldn’t be surprised at what you see or here.

    There is an excellent article on the birth of Mormonism on Wikipedia. The section on Sydney Rigdon is particularly interesting — and the section on the end of Oliver Cowdry’s life is as well. These people, along with Joseph Smith formed the religion.

  • http://valleyofdeath.blogspot.com/ George

    I am one! Though I don’t use the term, in three years of the homeless nightmare I found out that the Evaneglical Churches would help and in fact keep me alive while the Roman Catholic Parisk I had lived in for 49 years would let me die and threw me out into the Street!

    I still retain my alligiance to the Church, but understand that there are more hypocrates amongst Catholic than almost any other religion – Save for the Evil Muslims!)

    George M Weinert V
    St. Philomena Pairh 49 years (family 102 yearz)

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    The OCA was formerly the “Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America”.

    (If that bothers people, we can move from there to telling the Buddhist Churches of America that they picked the wrong thing to call themselves.)

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    To me the most interesting thing in this is not the use of the word “evangelical” per se, but where it came from. Does Brownback use the word for himself? Is it something the reported pulled out of the air/ Is it something someone else said about Brownback? I don’t think the “Roman” Catholic thing is worth getting upset about; everyone knows what it means, and that it isn’t (these days) pejorative, and that it helps keep the big-little-c thing straight. But here “evangelical” is dropped in as though the report expects everyone to know what it means, when it’s quite clear that we’re all trying to guess what it means. I haven’t a clue; for all I know it means that a Protestant reporter met him at his church, expecting something degnified and Latin, and came upon a guitars-and-Novus-Ordo American mass instead. And maybe, not knowing any better, he connected this with evangelical church style. But it’s in sharp contrast with the Anglo-Muslim story, where it is precisely clear where the terms are coming from.

  • Pen Brynisa

    The Catholic Church doesn’t officially call itself “Roman” Catholic – witness, for example, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I don’t know why “Roman” Catholic is the default style – I guess it’s the English heritage of the US.

    Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has a sign inside the front entrance stating that it is a place of “Roman Catholic” worship, so it isn’t simply an Anglo-American usage.

    Getting back to “evangelical Roman Catholics”, does it make a difference that the word evangelical is spelled with a lower-case e? Just as there are catholics and there are Catholics, does it make a difference that it says evangelical Roman Catholic and not Evangelical Roman Catholic?

  • Patrick Redmon


    I think you’re right to focus on the historic and doctrinal dimensions of ‘evangelical’. That being said, outside of folks with a sense of doctrinal history, it’s pretty clear that the term departed some time ago from such a historically and doctrinally loaded meaning. My guess is that even amongst some erstwhile evangelicals one would be hard pressed to wring out the specific sort of doctrinal and historic meaning that you’re concerned with (one incompatible with Catholicism), to speak nothing of the broader secular culture represented by the MSM. Definition follows usage, not the other way around, and, given standard use of ‘evangelical’, I’m not sure the MSM is really at fault in any significant way (although it would be nice if the MSM would step up and help make clear rather than muddy doctrinal distinctions [but that's a pipe dream at loggerheads with trends in the secular culture that drives the MSM]).

    The question to ask is what does usage of ‘evangelical’ in the MSM and in the broader secular culture indicate? Secular obsession with politics and ‘those crazy evangelicals’ points toward a politically and culturally loaded meaning. Eric G comes close with: “a faithful member of the Catholic church who allies on a variety of cultural and theological issues with evangelical Protestants.” A closer shot still would replace ‘theological’ with ‘political’.

  • John M

    You say, “at this point, the term evangelical still refers to a movement within Protestantism. Charismatic is a nondenominational word.”

    You are wrong that evangelicalism is a movement occurring only within Protestantism. It, like the charismatic movement (which had earlier been referred to as a pentecostal movement) are movements within Christianity. They are not restricted to certain protestant sects. Your vigorous and repetitive claims that evangelicalism and Catholicism are contradictory remind me of the group that argued at the Council of Jerusalem that one must be a Jew to be part of the Christian movement.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    John M:

    No, sorry, but there are whole books on the history of the term.

    Read the comments thread carefully. There are other uses for “evangel” and “evangelist,” but the word “evangelical” as a word describing a group of people is a Protestant term. It grew out of efforts to define a group over against the fundamentalists.

    Now, is the Post trying to use it in some vague adjective form? Clearly yes, but in the same sense that they would say that “evangelical voters” were at the heart of GOP power in the 2000 and 2004 races. That is, again, a reference to a specific group of people, a defined group.

    And that group is Protestant. That is a fact of history.

  • http://www.acton.org/blog/ Jordan

    A potential complicating factor to the cut-and-dried “evangelical”=Protestant equation would be the apparent agreement of some Roman Catholics to the doctrinal standard and likewise current membership in the Evangelical Theological Society.

    This raises the related question of whether or not the doctrinal statement of ETS is intended to exclude Roman Catholics or not, and if so whether it should be modified to actually do so.

    But in any case, if you have Roman Catholics who are members of the Evangelical Theological Society, that reality might at least provide some cover or explanation for the WaPo usage, although I’m sure it would be an ex post facto rationalization.

  • http://stackblog.wordpress.com John Stackhouse

    TMatt is right: There is no such thing as a Catholic evangelical. I say more about this here.

  • Chuck

    Evangelical: Of, relating to, or in accordance with the Christian gospel, especially one of the four gospel books of the New Testament (American Heritage Dictionary of the English language, Copyright 2006)

    The real question is- can someone be a strong supporter of the Gospels, live life by them and still be Roman Catholic. It is not a difficult question for me since, living in the South, I am often asked if Roman Catholics are Christians. The answer to both questions is emphatically yes and yes. As Christians we are all called to preach the Gospel by living it’s teachings daily. In fact Pope John Paul II called all people to a New Evangelization-the use of all modern means to effectively preach the Gospel and bring all people to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. I consider myself an Evangelical Catholic.

  • L

    I call myself an evangelical Catholic, and so do several of my friends. All of us were raised in evangelical Protestant backgrounds and became Catholic as adults. What we mean by the term “evangelical Catholic” is that we are Catholics who still hold to various ideals of evangelicalism — Catholics who would rather read the Scriptures than pray the Rosary; Catholics who emphasize a personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ above all else; Catholics who strive to encourage greater participation in their parishes, so that the parishes are not simply a place to attend Mass on Sunday but a true center for learning how to live a holy life; Catholics who long for a revival to transform their parishes; Catholics who love the Catholic Church but miss the dynamism and community found in evangelical churches.

    That is what we mean by the term “evangelical Catholic.” I doubt that’s what the Washington Post meant by its use of the term, but there are plenty of Catholics in the United States who use the term to refer to themselves. To be sure, we don’t hold all the beliefs of “traditional” evangelicalism (i.e., sola scriptura) but we do emphasize many of the same things — an emphasis on Scripture, on personal faith, on personal holiness, on stewardship, and on parish as community. (We are not charismatic or Pentecostal, either.)

  • Brian

    I think discerning Catholics know what the term evangelical (small e) Catholic means – someone who is faithful to Catholic teaching but lives their faith in a way that emphasizes the qualities associated with Evangelicals – when used amongst themselves. I agree that Catholic and Evangelical (capital letters) are incompatible, but not when one of them starts with a lowercase letter. Despite what John Stackhouse may try to claim, the words are beginning to be used this way and do not necessarily contradict each other.

    That being said, the general public (and probably most cultural Catholics) have no idea what Roman Catholic and evangelical mean when used together. If Brownback or another Catholic used the term I would know what he was saying. When the Washington Post or a non-Catholic says it without any explanation I don’t know what they mean by it. My guess is that the reporter heard the term used to describe Brownback and printed it without knowing what it really meant.

  • Tim

    For a helpful and scholarly attempt to get at who these people are see William Portier’s “Here Come the Evangelical Catholics” in Communio 31 (1) Spring 2004. Also see his, “In Defense of Mount St. Mary’s: They’re Evangelical Not Conservative” in Commonweal Feb 11, 2000. He raises some interesting differences between being conservative and evangelical. Of course, not all will agree with him, but he is probably the leading (and sympathetic) expert on these folks in the US today.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    I have heard this term used since I was in my early twenties, going back as far as the Reagan era. The term, evangelical, when inserted in front of your denomination, sends a message to all that you belong to your denomination but claim to have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You aren’t merely a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran or a Methodist, you are an EVANGELICAL born-again Christian who has chosen to remain in your denomination. The use of the term is a show of pietism, demonstrating that you are one better than your Roman Catholic peers.

  • http://stackblog.wordpress.com John Stackhouse

    Let me just be clear that of course faithful Roman Catholics are evangelical in the crucial sense that they believe the gospel and seek to work with Jesus to make disciples. Let me also be clear that the term “evangelical” means at least six different thingsf (as I have noted at length in various places). And let me finally make clear that words do shift in meanings, so I don’t mean to say that “evangelical” could never mean thus-and-so.

    All I contend, in the post I mention above and in my several published discussions of this question, is that when we mean “evangelical” in the sense of “evangelicalism,” and by that we mean the 18C revivals, the groups and individuals that descend from them without departing from their emphases, and the groups and individuals that since have joined up with them–and that’s what we historians mean when we’re talking about evangelicalism as a something, and thus about evangelicals and “evangelical” (as in the World Evangelical Alliance)–THEN there is no such thing as a Catholic evangelical.

    I do mean it descriptively, not prescriptively–as if evangelicals are somehow better Christians than others. That is demonstrably not so.

    And of course I’m glad that at least some evangelical emphases are maintained by other Christians–as they should be, since they’re just generic Christian concerns anyhow!


  • Rick the Texan

    Wish I had time to read every response but there are over 50.

    “Evangelical” as I understand the word (holding ordination in a denomination with the word in its title) is often identified with three qualities: a) a confidence in the Bible as God’s Word to humanity and thus authoritative in matters of faith; b) a belief in the necessity of faith in the person of Jesus Christ in order to be considered “saved”; and c) a conviction that it is the faithful church’s central task to communicate the gospel and call others to respond to God’s saving work in the person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

    If this is an accurate description, it does not seem contradictory to use the word in pairing with “Catholic”, though a) it does not characterize a good many catholic people, and b) those who do characterize both words do not speak of or express their faith in ways that are immediately recognizable to protestant evangelicals as “the same as us”.

  • Osvaldo Mandias

    the Mormonism story is — sadly — not going to go away until Romney finds a way to satisfy the questions of many (but never all) of the evangelical leaders yanking strings connected to the GOP machine

    In other words, the Mormonism story isn’t going to go away. Romney can only satisfy some (but never all) evangelical leaders if he breaks with his church, and he’s not going to do that.

  • Osvaldo Mandias

    I don’t have a precise, theological definition of evangelical. When I hear “evangelical Catholic” I think about a Catholic who has a mega-church worship style: “Father Bob”ism without the liberal theology, indeed, without a whole lot in the way of theology at all.

  • Kyralessa

    I agree wholeheartedly with Doug LeBlanc’s opinion. I consider myself an evangelical Roman Catholic, one who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I see far too many Catholics go through the motions of practising their faith without a real one-to-one relationship with our Redeemer. Many are like the seed that fell among the thorns…

    It’s interesting to me how no one ever self-identifies as a “going-through-the-motions” sort of Christian. It’s always They, not We, who Don’t Really Get What It’s All About. Any guesses which of the seven deadly sins we religious types skew towards?

  • Brian

    It’s interesting to me how no one ever self-identifies as a “going-through-the-motions” sort of Christian. It’s always They, not We, who Don’t Really Get What It’s All About. Any guesses which of the seven deadly sins we religious types skew towards?

    I agree (and so does traditional Christianity) that pride is what leads to the worst of sins. But I don’t know that what Nancy said is necessarily prideful. I mean have you ever been to a Catholic Church? I might not use the phrase “too many Catholics go through the motions without a real one-to-one relationship with our Redeemer”, but I would say it in a more traditional Catholic way like “too many Catholics go through the motions without agreeing with the magisterium and being in full communion with the Church.” Regardless of what words you use to say it, the fact remains that a large percentage of Catholics do not wholeheartedly live their faith.

    It’s not a judgement, it’s an objective observation based on the obvious standands the Catholic Church sets for its members. Maybe in other churches that observation isn’t so easy to make, but if you’re Catholic and you’re not in full communion with the Church then you’re also not in full communion with God, or your personal relationship with Jesus as some prefer to say.

  • John M

    I know numerous evangelicals who have joined the Catholic Church who think of themselves as evangelical Catholics. It is a way of emphasizing that by embracing Catholicism, they have not rejected their evangelical roots but rather accepting what Catholics consider to be the fullness of Christian faith. Despite your insistence to the contrary, there is nothing contradictory about that.

    I also know Jews who’ve accepted Christian faith who refer to themselves as Jewish Christians. Like you, who restrict in your mind the evangelical movement to Protestantism and therefore consider evangelical Catholic to be a contradiction in terms, there a many Jews who consider Jewish Christian to be a contradiction in terms.

    Just because many Jews can not see how being a Jew and a Christian can be compatible or because you can not see how being an evangelical and Catholic can be compatible, does not mean either is not compatible. I provided the analogy of Jewish Christians because I presume you can see how the term is not contradictory despite the claims of many, just as you are claiming that term evangelical Catholic is contradictory.

    I think you would be better off trying to find out what it is about Catholicism that has drawn certain evangelicals to become Catholics and to now view themselves as evangelical Catholics than to keep trying to insist that they can not possibly be what they say they are. I presume you already have a respect for the values of evangelicalism which these Catholics still embrace, now within Catholicism.

  • John M

    From an interview with Sen. Brownback:

    Sen. Brownback: I felt a deep calling to make that move and spent roughly four years really studying, reading, thinking about it–praying about it before deciding to join. I was very happy in the Evangelical church I was in. I had no problems with the Evangelical church at all. It’s just I felt a deep spiritual calling to do it and have been delighted to join the Catholic Church. The readings that I’ve done since then by Catholic writers–I’ve really enjoyed the depth and the beauty of the expression. It’s been very helpful to my faith journey.

    IgnatiusInsight.com: Which writers, would you say?

    Sen. Brownback: Right now I’m reading a book by a former archbishop of Mexico City, (Luis) Martinez, and the book is When Jesus Sleeps. It’s a beautiful set of thoughts about when we feel as if God’s not there. That’s one that I’m currently reading. It’s the second book I’ve read by this author. I read another one, True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, another very thoughtful and beautiful set of thoughts and comments.

    IgnatiusInsight.com: When you decided to join the Catholic Church, did the rest of your family join?

    Sen. Brownback: They did not. And they have not. So, what we do as a family is, I will get up–usually early on Sunday mornings–sometimes not, but typically I’ve been getting up, going to Mass, and then we will go all together to the Evangelical church that I had been attending and the family continues to attend.

    So I get a great Sunday morning. I get the Eucharist and the beauty of the set of Catholic thoughts and then the praise and worship and preaching of an Evangelical church. Great combination. It’s a great mixture of the feeding and I really enjoy it.