I Grew Up Evangelical. Converting to Catholicism Got Me Disowned.

I Grew Up Evangelical. Converting to Catholicism Got Me Disowned. September 28, 2020

I am tired of all the conservatives I’ve seen running around in the past week claiming that liberals are anti-Catholic because they object to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. So tiredFor one thing, one of the most recent liberal appointments to the Supreme Court, Sonio Sotomayor, was Catholic—and so is Democrats’ current presidential nominee! But for another thing, the most anti-Catholic group in the U.S. is actually evangelicals. 

I have personal experience like this. I grew up in an evangelical home and church community. In college, I was exposed to new ideas and new questions for the first time. The standard evangelical interpretations of the Bible started to fall apart. It felt clear to me that the Bible was a far more human book than evangelicals tend to let on, and that a “literal” or “inerrant” approach was flawed. Like many, many evangelicals of my generation, I turned to a liturgical faith that hewed a more nuanced and historical understanding of the Bible. In my case, that meant Catholicism.

I became a member of the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil Mass in the late oughts. Everything was perfect, save for one thing: my family. My evangelical parents were incredibly, incredibly angry. You see, they didn’t believe that Catholics are Christians. And they told me as much. The last summer I lived at home, my mother found my rosary and the picture of Mary I had hung in my closet and ordered me to take my “shrine” down. I had to hide my Catholic catechism.

You may want to reread that: I had to hide my Catholic catechism.

And it’s not just my parents. I went to a secular college, but the powers that be put every girl who mentioned religion or the Bible or youth group in her about-me information on the same floor. We were a very religious floor, subject only to one divide. Half the girls went to Campus Crusade for Christ meetings; the other half went to the local Catholic Newman Center. And nary the twain did meet. I once watched an evangelical guy who was active in Campus Crusade for Christ reduce a Catholic girl in our dorm to tears by insisting, repeatedly, that she was not Christian. He simply would not stop.

Many evangelicals—if not most—grow up being taught that the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon described in Revelation. We learn that true Christianity had all but disappeared before the Protestant Reformation, and that Catholicism is an empty, false faith. We learn that Catholics are idolaters who worship saints, and who think their works can get them to heaven. People who think their works will get them to heaven go to hell automatically. Or so evangelicals believe, at least.

When I was a child, I read a book in which the main character was so frightened when her father announced that he was going to send her to a boarding school at a convent that she became ill and nearly died. The book was set in the mid-1800s, when anti-Catholicism was rife, and it played into every single trope. My parents bought the book from—you guessed it—an evangelical catalogue. In case you’re curious, the girl’s father has a change of heart when he sees her on her almost deathbed. Later in the book, our heroine—Elsie Dinsmore—converts Catholics away from their idolatry.

The evangelical megachurch I grew up in routinely sent missionaries to Catholic countries in an effort to convert Catholics to evangelicalism, because Catholics, remember, are not Christians. One of my good friends growing up lived next door to her cousins, whom I was told multiple times were not Christians. Because they were Catholics. And thus, of course, they were benighted, unsaved, unrepentant sinners. Evangelicals really do believe this.

I knew my parents would not be ok with my conversion. I knew they did not believe that Catholics were Christian. I did it anyway. Becoming Catholic against my parents’ wishes was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My parents tried to send me to an evangelical Christian worldview camp the last summer I was at home, to set me straight and change my mind. I refused to go. My parents said that I was rejecting Jesus, and turning to idol worship. It is hard to explain just how painful it is to be rejected by your parents at 20 or 21. You could not pay me to return to that time. It was horrific.

In the end, I hid the date of my confirmation from my parents. I didn’t want them to know. It hurt too much. It didn’t matter, really, because I had had my sister get my baptismal records out of my parents’ house, so they knew. (Catholics count Protestant baptisms as valid and don’t re-baptize converts who are already baptized, but I had to have a record of it.)

That Easter Vigil Mass was utterly beautiful. I was thrilled to be joining a church with a sense of history, meaning, and beauty that I felt was missing from my evangelical upbringing. I loved being part of a church that saw the Bible as a book that could and did hold contradictions, a book that it was written by human authors with human perspectives—albeit divinely touched. I loved being part of a church that valued the poor, rather than treating poverty as a personal failing.

I later drifted away from the Catholic Church, in part because I lost hold of my belief in the divine, and in part because I increasingly found myself unable to square an all-male priesthood (and Catholic positions on birth control and abortion) with my outspoken feminism. I still love going into Catholic churches even today, though. Sometimes I do it while out on walks, and stand in quiet solitude before the statues of Mary, of Joseph, and of various saints. I breathe in the scent of candles and emerge myself in the rich warmth of mystery, of meaning, of history, for just a moment.

I see beauty. My parents see idols.

And yet, according to the conservatives working so hard to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court a month before a presidential elections, I, and not my evangelical parents, am the one who is anti-Catholic.

I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life as I have heard in the last week. If conservatives want to take on anti-Catholicism, they should look within, at the many, many, many evangelicals in their midst. Evangelicals like my parents, whose anti-Catholicism is so strong that they are more than willing to reject and all-but-disown their children if they convert.

The idea that liberals dislike Amy Coney Barrett because she is Catholic is an utterly outrageous lie. The current seat of anti-Catholicism in the U.S. can be found not among liberals, but among evangelicals.

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