Speaking of ecumenism

A reader writes:

I really appreciated your post on the difference between true and false ecumenism. I was raised evangelical, and, despite leaving my church a few years ago, I still know my stuff pretty well (my dad is a pastor), but I’ve been drawn to the Catholic Church recently (don’t get too excited, I’m no where near converting yet) by a dear (Catholic) friend of mine who practices “true ecumenism” in the way you describe.

I understand that it is different when dealing with individuals as opposed to other religious organizations, but still, a little compassion and charity goes a very long way. Those of your commentators who are so intent on teaching the gospel should remember that that can be done using methods other than argumentation. My friend has never assured me that we really believe the same thing (although I do get a good-natured “you’re a Catholic and you just don’t know it yet” every once in a while), but neither has she shoved our differences in my face. She seems to realize that it’s not her job to teach and convert me to Catholicism, but to be the best example of Catholicism that she can be and answer questions when I’m ready to ask them, but that it’s up to God to show me the Truth. If she were the only Catholic I knew, I probably would’ve converted ages ago. However, I’ve encounted so many others who have told me “The natural tendency of Protestantism is Hitler,” who’ve wanted to pick a fight over interpretations of Scripture, etc, as if they could prove the Catholic Church to me, as if they could MAKE me see that I am wrong (this is not, of course, to say this is a phenomenon unique to Catholics). As scornful as some of your commentators appear to be of “dialoguing,” in my experience it is far more productive than an attempt to teach by combative argument. The minute someone starts trying to “prove” something to me, rather than explain it, I pretty much shut down. And if they start calling my dad a Nazi, well, then it gets pretty ugly.

Along those lines, I don’t see any problem with affirming common ground (hey, for example, all us Christians apparently believe that Jesus was God’s son!) without tacking on a lecture about our differences, as long as nothing is implied to be believed in common beyond what really is (the difference between real unity – which does exist – and a false unity). But now I’m probably straying too much into specifics, and I’m definitely not qualified to talk about specific Catholic teaching on ecumenism.

Anyway, sorry to take up your time. I just wanted to back you up on ecumenism, but I was too afraid of your comments to do it there – after all, I was raised as a “prottie,” so my support would probably do you more harm that good :) I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for your kind words. Don’t worry. I spent several years as a “prottie” myself and enjoy the company. I think Catholics would be well-advised to read Thomas Howard (particularly his Evangelical is Not Enough) to see that irenic ecumenism, deep appreciation of the treasures in Protestant saints, and straightforward proclamations of Catholic teaching are not somehow mutually incompatible.

As to the hilarious “Protestantism leads to Hitler” invocations of Godwin’s Law, the old proverb about glass houses is in order. Where do such Catholic polemicists suppose Hitler went to church as a kid?


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