Potential Catholic Converts: My “Hands Off” Approach

Potential Catholic Converts: My “Hands Off” Approach April 30, 2018

It seems that I am sometimes unjustly associated with others who do not share my ecumenical approach to possible conversions from 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’s as far 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 that illustrate the approach I take on these things. 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’s 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, for example, when someone converts to Orthodoxy, 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.

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 too-frequent rock-bottom ethical and intellectual level of online discourse.

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(originally 7-1-06)

Photo credit: Japanese road sign; photograph by Monaneko (4-6-10) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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