Q&A with Steve Dawson (Part 2)

Q&A with Steve Dawson (Part 2) August 15, 2012

Welcome to part two of my Q&A with Steve Dawson of the St. Paul Street Evangelization project.  You can read part one here.

What are some of the most common questions/responses you get?

It’s really not the norm that we’re getting people with really tough questions. We get apologetic questions, such as “Why do you worship Mary,” or all these real Protestant issues. More often, if people are presenting a challenge to us, it’s about a moral issue, or some sort of scandal.

People bring up the priest scandal, for example. We have a good response for that. … I’ll go and discuss this with them, and they can understand it, usually, if they’re reasonable. Ninety percent of the time they’ll sit there and they’ll nod their heads, and say “OK, thank you.”

When I do talk to a Protestant about, you know, “Why do you pray to the saints?” and I give the stock response to that, sometimes they understand, and sometimes they just reject it, out of hand. What we always are able to do is make them understand that we don’t just believe these things because the Church tells us to. There’s good, reasonable explanations for them.

Most of the time we talk to Protestants, we’re not converting them on the spot. We’re giving them reasonable explanations of what we believe, and we’re just planting seeds. They walk away understanding what we’re saying a little bit better. We give them literature so that they can follow up, and I’ll usually give them my phone number, so that they can call me with their questions after they look at the literature and the other resources that I give them.

Many times I talk to Catholics who have fallen away from the faith, but they don’t understand that they have. I’d say one of the greatest successes that we have is bringing Catholics back in, making them understand that they need to go to Mass, they need to have a relationship with God, a better relationship with God.

Every person’s a little bit different. The conversations that we’re having out there are not usually very deep. They’re just kind of on the surface, we’re just talking to people about God, about His Church. Most people don’t have huge objections. They just don’t understand. They’re living in the culture. I don’t know how to better put that.

One of the things we’re going to start doing — actually, this weekend we’re going to start — is writing down the different questions that we’re getting, after the person leaves, so that we can come up with a list and then we can actually have those available so that we can look at them and know them well enough, and the answers to the questions we’re getting off them, and learn more about them.

“What is Catholic truth?” is probably the most common question because our signs say “Catholic Truth” on them. … Each person’s a little different. We’re not seeing the same questions over and over again.

I’d say that we have only a couple of conversations a day where somebody has a specific question that they have come over to ask us.

 

What are some of the most challenging questions?

I’d say the most challenging is when an active homosexual comes up and asks us why we are “trying to restrict their rights.” When these people do not have a foundational understanding of God and the moral law … well, we have pamphlets and literature on it, but … it’s hard to explain. That’s the hardest for me, and they do come up.

One of the things that happens when an active homosexual comes up and talks to us is, well, general. We’ll try to explain, we’ll try to get to the root of it, go back and try to talk about Jesus and God and work our way to that if they have time. But if they are not willing to listen to all that, we’ll just tell them what the Church’s teaching is on that and why we believe it, and that the Church doesn’t hate them.

We try to have the discussion but sometimes they just refuse to have the discussion.

We’re not called to hate. We’re called to love you. But at the same time God loves you so much that he doesn’t want to leave you where you’re at. He wants to bring you to a higher morality, because it’s better for you.

At the end of the conversation, they’re always surprised that we don’t hate them. From what the media tells them, they believe that Christians hate, that they’re big haters, that they hate homosexuals. I let them know: I have friends who are homosexual, I don’t hate homosexuals. I just try to explain the Church’s teaching on it.

It’s hard because they believe that we hate them, you know what I mean? And they are seeing the teaching of the Church as being something that’s hateful and they don’t understand it and it doesn’t make sense. It really isn’t. There is that whole Theology of the Body. I mean, the pamphlets that we have start to get into it, but to really get into the teaching of the Church you have to get pretty deep. It’s hard to explain the teaching of the Church in two minutes, which is all we have, sometimes.

I don’t know what makes it so hard. I mean, I do it, and when I’m talking each conversation about it is a little bit different. I don’t have a set answer for that situation. Personally, that’s the hardest one, I think.

 

Do you and your team share personal doubts and struggles or do you focus on giving visitors pointers to Church teaching?

I do use personal experience with people. I think it’s one of the most effective things that I do, which is give my personal testimony, which involved struggles, my journey, my [practical] atheism to the beginning of my conversion, and the search, and my coming into faith.

I don’t go into current personal doubts, because they’re not very prevalent, and I don’t think they’re important to the conversation. Most Catholics, even the saints, had personal doubts and struggles that they have to work through, that they have to grow through. I would be surely happy to address that if it was coming up in conversation, if somebody was having a personal doubt or struggle, I would definitely go to my personal experience and discuss that. Because we’re meeting every person where they’re at, we have to connect with them. It’s absolutely of vital importance to share personal experiences. I think that’s more effective than just spewing doctrine, 100 percent.

My personal belief: If you’re just going to go out there and just dictate the Church’s teachings on something, I’m telling you you’re not going to be effective. You need to be personable, you need to relate your personal experiences.

 

Does your team drill on body language and rhetoric as well as content?

Right now, we’re not drilling. The team we have is pretty good. I can see some drilling in the future, [but] it is, kind of, trial by fire. The more you’re out there, the better you get.

What we’re doing on the national level is we’re giving the local groups the resources to be able to do training for apologetics. We plan on making videos on evangelization, conversation tips. We’re open to doing any of that sort of thing. I would like to do a video on body language, on what makes a good conversation, and have those available for the local groups.

At the same time we’re following the 40 Days for Life model. We’re going to provide the resources, but since each local group has different needs, it’ll be up to them to implement the best strategies, the best program, for their local group.

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