If we are, doesn’t David’s point hold? Do we really think so little of our own religion that we do not wish to share it with others? Do we really think so little of our truth claims that we do not wish to correct others and bring them to the fullness of the Christian faith? Sure we don’t want to convert anyone forcefully and we do not wish to impose anything on anyone, but are we so careless for their souls that we do not wish to convert Protestants?
The second problem with the priest who tells a Protestant clergyman to stay put and evangelize in his own denomination is that he is encouraging the man to be dishonest. Is he telling the guy to be some kind of secret Catholic? Is he supposed to stay all dressed up as an Anglican or a Methodist or a Lutheran or Pentecostal preacher and say all the Protestant things while in his heart of hearts he believes the Catholic faith? Is he supposed to secretly and carefully integrate more Catholic stuff into his church? “This week my dear brothers and sisters we’re going to light a candle!” Would that sort of behavior be true to either his Catholicism or his Protestantism? Is he being honest and open and a good pastor to his Protestant congregation?
The third problem is indifferentism. Is we don’t’ want to convert Protestants are we not saying that the truth is relative? Dialogue is all well and good, but what is the point of it? If the point is that we wish to convince Protestants that they are missing the fullness of the faith and that they should embrace it, then we are using dialogue as a means of evangelization and conversion. Is that honest? If we are simply trying to understand one another more and listen to one another more, that’s all well and good, but what is the end goal? Is the end goal a convergence? If so, then eventually that leads to conversion to the Catholic faith (or vice versa)
The final point is that where I am sitting the tactic of telling Evangelicals that we don’t want to convert them would be totally counter productive. I live and work in the Bible Belt. Catholics are only about 4% of the population. Most everybody goes to church and most everybody is an Evangelical of one stripe or another. If I said I did not want to convert them, first of all they would not respect such a view. They’d take the position of my friend David and say, “Well shucks, if you don’t think anymore of your religion than that I ain’t innarested.” The next thing is that I may say until I’m blue in the face that I don’t want to convert them, but they won’t believe me, and they would be right for the reasons stated above. The Baptists around here can’t understand how you can follow a religion and NOT want to convert everyone. Next thing is that while I may not want to convert them, they sure as heck want to convert me and not only me, but my kids, my family, my parishioners and all other Catholics. Furthermore, they’re doing a good job of it as far as I can tell. Catholics are tootling off to the Evangelical churches that are quite happy not only to convert them, but to tell them they were never Christians, that the Catholic Church is the Great Whore of Babylon and that they need to be re baptized.
Not only are they converting lots of Catholic here, but it’s the same across South and Central America. They send missionaries to Catholic countries with the express intention of starting churches and converting Catholics.
So yes, let’s be all marshmallowy about the faith if we must, and let’s be just as nice as can be, but let’s also remember that some dishes are best served with a sweet and sour sauce.
What I mean is that with the kindness, tolerance, acceptance, dialogue, listening and understanding we can also do with some swordplay with the wordplay. Iron sharpens iron and it doesn’t hurt to duel as well as dialogue.
All in a jaunty and cheerful manner of course. Remember Reepicheep the Valiant and Cyrano de Bergerace. They joust with a jest. They fence with a sense of humor. They don their broad brimmed hat, engage in battle and all the time, like the playful Chesterton, they wield the sword of truth with the sweep of love and courtesy.
PS: This idea is the theme of my book The Romance of Religion. Make it your summer read. You’ll be encouraged!