Sunday, March 22, 2009

Evangelicals and Catholics Together ... in Laconia

So I was talking to a friend of mine after mass, today, and I asked her whether the Catholic community in the Lakes Region was providing much support to the local pregnancy care center, and she told me that significant cooperation was still hampered to some extent by theological differences.

Booo! Theological differences, booo! Why can't we just get along while we build the kingdom of God? All this rarefied theological blather is just getting in the way of all the great work we could be doing, says the Pragmatic American Full of His Own Self-Righteousness in His All-Holy Pragmatism.

This is roughly equivalent to a general who says, "Who cares which direction the guns are pointing! Just pull the d*** trigger!" Stupid, stupid, stupid pragmatic American: that's what I say.

But just because theological differences do, indeed, make a difference doesn't mean we have to just give up on the whole project. Back in the late eighties or early nineties, Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus started working on Evangelicals and Catholics Together: some sort of togetherness statement that emphasized all that we have in common. Excellent.

The problem with such a document is that it's a great statement of position, but unless our faith produces some works, then it's dead (at least so says the Bible), and so a statement of common faith ought to produce some common works. Is it?

But I was thinking, it's kind of nice for Colson and Neuhaus to do all that for us, but the fact of the matter is that their statement is not binding, and it was a labor of love produced by two friends, so it ought to be used as a model. What we need are for local Evangelicals and Catholics to get together and outline their theological and doctrinal commonalities and use this process to help them in common works: common works that flow from common faith.

So I see in my dreams pastors and laity from the various churches getting together so that they know each other and coming up with some shared statements of faith that are oriented towards what common works they can do, common works that will be a flowering of their common faith. But these statements of faith will be used for real work and will therefore be real statements of faith, not just rehashings of old arguments and so on and so forth.

And I have officially used the phrase "common works ... common faith" way too much. Feel free to make fun of me.




Seamus said...

Do you think that common works could enable comfort to take precedence over truth? I think a lot more could be done to make the world a better place if Evangelicals and Catholics could unite, but I'm afraid of our actions enabling their separation from Rome.

Jared said...

It would be fantastic to have that kind of discourse, as it doesn’t appear that we can have true ecumenical activities without the boundaries having been clearly laid out. Otherwise there'll be comments here and activities there that point to something those of the other denomination will either have no clue about or feel threatened by and suddenly everyone feels that the libertarian “whatever” arguments about religion are really the most sensible things around. In any standoff, when people are genuinely unsure of which course of action is the right one, the one with the most cultural weight tends to win out. Everyone’s already had their brains pummeled with nicey-get-alongy ideas till their punch drunk on false notions of peace and everyone with any blasted conviction gets left out.

It’s the only way to work together since it establishes at the beginning where everyone stands. Of course, while I appreciate Seamus’ concern that it might be enabling separatist positions I am also not quite convinced that this is a good reason in and of itself, even if it is partly true. Especially if we are making sure that false-assertions about Catholicism and Protestantism are not going unchallenged. Indeed, such an ecumenical situation may be one of the only places where such matters can be truly dealt with.

Oddly, the thing I found most difficult to grasp about the Colson/Neuhaus effort was Colson’s comments after Neuhaus passed on. He seemed blissfully ignorant of the weight of Catholic theological claims, or the reasons for Neuhaus' conversion.

The real problem of course is to get people together to actually deal with some of these issues. I’m pretty sure that when the Presbyterian church teams up for an outreach with the Baptist church down the road they already see it as a grand display of ecumenism. Add various local non-denom Evangelical groups to the mix and it’s hailed as an outright ecumenical orgy. Bringing the Catholic parishes into the mix is a bit more messy. They’re harder to understand since the basis for their thinking is different from the thinking of another denomination, even though that other denomination may have less in common issue to issue with you. I think that’s the background anyway.

But these things must be discussed and debated on real turf. Both P’s and C’s need to understand each other’s arguments as well as understand how crazy some of the things they say sound to the other. Being fairly familiar with each side I often find myself cringing at the things people say, whether P or C, and how much misunderstanding such things promote.

I’m encouraged that movement can be made in these areas. There seem to be more and more people cropping up who can speak both languages. My small attempts at establishing some worthwhile dialogue between the two groups generally haven’t met with much success so far, but that way has been barred for so long that it’s going to take a bit more work to get through.

I’m very open to any ideas as to how that can be accomplished.