Should Converts Shut Up?

Fellow convert David Mills has a good article today at CRUX.

He is commenting on the continued conversation about converts who criticize Pope Francis.

He makes a good point that it is one thing to convert to Catholicism and another thing to really see the world as Catholics see it.

He’s been a Catholic for about 15 years, and from his own experience he acknowledges two areas where he has had to grow into his Catholicism. One is the deep felt love for the Blessed Virgin as Mother. He says it is one thing to get one’s head around the Marian dogmas and accept them–even if one only accepts them on the authority of the church. It is another thing to really get the “Mary Thing”.

This has been my experience too. We have been Catholics now for 22 years and it has only been within the last few years that my love and appreciation for Mary as Mother has completed the long journey from head to heart. Of course, this journey is made by saying the rosary, and celebrating the Marian feasts with attention and devotion.

He makes another point that converts take a while to appreciate the long sweep of Catholic history. Most of us have only ever known Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict. Pope Francis has opened up another way of being pope and not all conservative converts are happy. Benedict is my pope because he’s more my personality type, but while Pope Francis is not my favorite I haven’t been thrown by him because I’ve read (among other things) Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners–a history of the papacy.

Read it in case you have ever been inclined to ultramontanism. Popes? Some have been superstars and saints. Some have been scoundrels and sinners. Many have been mediocre. Most have been good, solid, God fearing men. Popes? They come and they go.

Mills goes on to say that converts (especially if they have been wounded by the wars in their previous denominations) will be suspicious of change and worried that the Catholic Church will capitulate to the same trouble the mainline churches have fallen into.

He says converts are often troubled by the development of doctrine, and shrewdly points out that the way doctrine develops is not only through quiet, scholarly discussion and prayerful times of discernment, but through theological brawling, the fisticuffs of the faith. I agree.

There is something else, however, I think we often overlook the fact that Protestantism was  born in conflict and it continues to have conflict as part of its genetic code in a way Catholicism does not. I can’t remember any group I belonged to as a Protestant in which the preaching, ethos and atmosphere was not conflict oriented. There was always an enemy. The Catholics were the enemy. The liberals were the enemy. The neo Evangelicals were the enemy. The Muslims were the enemy. You name it–the Protestant is always protesting.

This is also a dimension to some of the convert’s criticisms of certain strands of Catholicism. They’re hard wired to have an enemy and will find one even if there isn’t one.

Overall, I like Mills’ analysis, and I agree that conservative critics, for the most part, should have the good manners to listen and learn in their new home.

Catholicism is like a big old country mansion with many rooms, galleries, stables and outhouses. We converts should take a bit more time to wander around and wonder around.

I would only add this: if development of doctrine emerges from a tug of war, then you need people on both ends of the rope.

If it is valid to say that doctrine develops through debate, then the critics of innovation should have their say. They should do so from a position of expertise and authority and should do so respectfully, but if sometimes those critics are media loudmouths, naive newbies or conservative converts, well that’s part of the hurly burly too.

If doctrine develops through theological pie fights, conservative converts have pies to throw too.

They’ll probably have bad aim, so you’d better duck!

Image Creative Commons via Bing


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