Effective Evangelization Ought to Persuade, not Provoke

A few weeks ago Deacon Greg posted this video, and people are still visiting it and many of them are sending it on to me, believing I must not have seen it, and wondering what I think about the “tolerance double standard” it reveals.

Well, here’s my response to that, over at First Things:

There is no denying that the notion of “tolerance” has become somewhat fluid in the United States over the last decade, or that double standards apply to its application. Just last week, the Boston Globe scolded Vice-President Joe Biden for offering politically expedient racially tinged remarks that—had they been uttered by a Republican veep—would have provided high drama, headlines, and speculation about his ability to hold his office, for weeks on end. “[When] conservative speakers get overly exuberant and cross a rhetorical line, they are presumed racist or culturally insensitive, rather than refreshingly free-spirited,” wrote the editors. “One standard should apply.”

As I write this, Missouri Republican Todd Akin is preparing to withdraw from his senate race against the sitting Democrat Claire McCaskill, after having made an ill-advised assertion about pregnancies resulting from “legitimate rape.” Recalling how Hollywood has recently finessed the statutory-rape proclivities of film director Roman Polanski, (“it wasn’t rape rape” said Whoopi Goldberg”) one watches the shifting sands of “tolerance” whirl once again, as they cover and suffocate the fellow for a boneheaded and inarticulate distinction that we may, with good reason, assume would be found less-objectionable were it uttered by lips first purified with a Democratic Party cinder.

Nevertheless, though one may find a thousand instances of genuine “intolerant” hypocrisy and dozens of double-standards in the headlines of a day, though the very word “tolerance” be overused and misapplied unto meaninglessness, it is difficult to feel sympathy for Father O’Reilly; his actions toward the gay activists were intentionally provocative, which rendered his mumbles about “tolerance” insupportable.

You can read why I think so, here

St. Paul Street Evangelization

Leah Libresco’s interview with one street evangelist Part I and Part II

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • vox borealis

    I read your longer piece at First Things, and I am not sure I agree entirely. Let’s consider the hypothetical scenario you posed: a gay activist “invading” a Catholic prayer circle praying (say) in defence of traditional marriage in front of a statehouse. You are correct, I think, that the such an action by the activist would be provocative, especially depending on what the activist did or said (is s/he silent or shouting at the prayers, is s/he holding a provocative or offensive sign, etc).

    BUT…what is more important is how the members of the prayer circle respond. Do THEY begin to shout at the activist, do they say offensive things, etc? Or do they attempt to carry on with their own demonstration peaceably.

    To go back to the example of Fr. O’Reilly: even if we grant that his tagging along with the gay rights activists and praying the rosary was a provocative act, does that in itself warrant the response he received? Isn’t this verging into blame the victim territory (“she shouldn’t have worn that short skirt…”)?

    Are you implicitly suggesting that our democracy cannot withstand protestors and counter-protestors in close proximity, that under no circumstances can adults promoting competing messages stand next to each other and be expected to act in a civil manner?

    Anyway, that’s my reaction to this particular episode. I’ll have to ponder further the main thrust of your piece, which is more of a WWJD question. Frankly, I’m sure how Christ would react to a gay rights demonstration. There are one or two episodes in scriptures that suggest He might have confronted them in a fairly provocative manner.

  • Chris-2-4

    Vox has a good point above. The priests actions may not be PRUDENT, and they are certainly not the pinnacle of evangelization and we should not follow this example on a grand scale. But the incident is important because it is demonstrative of the true nature of this conflict. Consider the Chick-Fil-A cashier who was berated and handled it with class. Here, the priest may be provocative in a sense but he was not beligerent, and yet he is met immediately with shouts of intolerance.

    I agree we need to be loving and not confrontational, but we also need to demonstrate what we are actually up against. I think that it is helpful to show that confronted with anger, the Christian can show love, but confronted with prayer the other side can oftentimes not contain their anger.

  • dry valleys

    I am reminded of the events in Russia in this context.


    Not really something I’d have done myself but the salient point is they should not be in prison and shoul not have been put on trial at all.

  • bill bannon

    I once walked in on five very rough black men splitting up heroin on a table in Newark’s roughest area ( I was taking the leader’s daughters to Mass every Sunday but I was supposed never to actually see the family business). But that crowd today at First Things on this topic is way rougher than those five were…not morally but emotionally. The five at the table in Newark let me slide with surprising cool.