July 31, 2013

Field Notes – Day 3: Defending the Catholic Church

For the last five years I have been teaching a seminar series called Biblical Foundations for Government.  One of the main topics I cover is the relationship between the Church and the State.  There are four basic views that I cover, but the most extensive view happens to be the Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The CST is a very solid and well thought through view on the mission of the Church vis-à-vis the mission of the State.  Sadly, here in Mali, as in most places outside the US, I need to establish a qualifier whenever I mention anything Catholic.  The qualifier goes something like this: “Many of the principles laid out in the CST are sound principles that any Christian can affirm, but because it comes from the Catholic Church some of you will reject it outright.  Please listen and consider what this teaching can offer to your understanding of the role and relationship of Church to the State in the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, the most ardent antagonists are those who have grown up in the Catholic Church and have witnessed, often first hand, the corruption and sinful activities of some priests.  I remember my first missionary trip to Puerto Maldonado, Peru.  Everyone in town knew that several of the priests were having sex with their maids because they would get pregnant and give birth to mixed race children.  Some people even considered the children of priests to carry special blessings from God.  In addition to the philandering priests, many of the self-identified Catholics of Puerto Maldonado seemed to only participate in church events that included a party so they could indulge in general drunkenness and revelry. So it is not hard to imagine people who grow up in this type of environment might have some issues with the Catholic Church. 

As a non-Catholic who has spent a lot of time in the culture war trenches with devout Catholics, I have grown in my willingness to defend them.  One of the things I appreciate most about many in the Catholic Church in the US is their willingness to take a strong position on issues I find to be incredibly important to human flourishing.  In January, I participated in the annual March for Life in Washington DC.  The event, largely ignored by the media, has upwards of 400,000 participants.  I was surprised and perhaps saddened to learn that 75% of the participants are Catholic.  Later in the spring, the IRD helped sponsor the March for Marriage.  While it was a much smaller crowd, again it was 75% Catholic.  Finally, the thoughtful and passionate stand for religious liberty, especially in the case of the HHS mandate has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation for the Churches stance on human sexuality. 

Also, as I have argued for Life, Family, and Religious Liberty in the public square, I have appreciated the strong foundations offered by the Catholic Church’s teaching on these issues.  Early in my research on the HHS mandate concerning birth control I stumbled on the Humanae Vitae, which was a document written by Pope Paul VI as the sexual revolution was just beginning. The document prophetically warned of the implications of artificial birth control becoming normative. 

“Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

While there have been some notable social benefit the artificial birth control, it seems that people are just now coming to realize that there are consequences too. My own views on the whole issue of human sexuality have become increasingly aligned with that of the Catholic Church.     

Don’t misunderstand my defense as affirmation of every doctrine the Catholic Church for I am still firmly Protestant.  The simple fact is that there are numerous critical issues that still separate the Protestant Church and Catholic Church.  But as both the Protestant and Catholic Churches are pressed by an increasingly hostile culture, will we find ourselves more united than we have been in 500 years? I hope so.   

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2 Responses to Field Notes – Day 3: Defending the Catholic Church

  1. Marjorie Jeffrey says:

    Thanks for the defense, Luke! We Papists appreciate it. 🙂

  2. Daniel says:

    I am a United Methodist pastor, so I obviously have some doctrinal differences with the RCC (primarily regarding the universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome and the Marian dogmas promulgated by Vatican 1); yet on the really fundamental things such as the faith affirmed in the Nicene Creed, the doctrine of Justification by faith in Christ affirmed in the JDDJ, the vision of Christian principles in action that is held up by Catholic moral theology – on all these I am quite happy to see a consensus among orthodox believers across denominational lines that can serve as the foundation for a more unified witness in the future. Now if only we Protestants can stop thinking of anything that is Catholic as ‘alien’ – for we too are part of the One Holy Catholic Church (or so we affirm each Sunday)

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