SWIMMING THE CUMBERLAND

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 | Uncategorized

Rod Dreher directs the Editorial attention to this Joe Carter posting at First Things.  Carter notes a study by Notre Dame economist Daniel Hungerman (available here) of the effect of the sexual abuse scandals on the Roman Catholic Church.  Remember that smack run by the Episcopal left about how all those disaffected Catholics would flood into Episcopal churches? Ain’t happening:

This paper considers substituting one charitable activity for another in the context of religious practice. I examine the impact of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal on both Catholic and non-Catholic religiosity. I find that the scandal led to a 2-million-member fall in the Catholic population that was compensated by an increase in non-Catholic participation and by an increase in non-affiliation. Back-of the- envelope calculations suggest the scandal generated over 3 billion dollars in donations to non-Catholic faiths. Those substituting out of Catholicism frequently chose highly dissimilar alternatives; for example, Baptist churches gained significantly from the scandal while the Episcopal Church did not. These results challenge several theories of religious participation and suggest that regulatory policies or other shocks specific to one religious group could have important spillover effects on other religious groups.

More ex-Roman Catholics becoming Baptists than becoming Episcopalians?  I guess it might be tempting for some Catholics to write these particular converts off as poorly-catechized and leave it at that.  But I think that this situation is or can be a whole lot more complicated than a bunch of people who don’t know their faith well enough.

Quite the opposite.

Full disclosure: I guess it’s no secret that I incline toward the Baptist side of things.  Billy Graham taught me the Christian faith (which took him less than an hour as opposed to the years I spent in Episcopal Sunday schools wherein I learned nothing).  I was baptized an Anglican because that’s the church my mother attended when I was born.

Fuller disclosure: I’ve always found high-church Anglican liturgy to be a distraction.  The liturgies at my old place which spiritually benefited me the most were the low-church ones.  The Word of the living God with a minimum of ceremony.

Sir, I would see Jesus, to paraphrase the Gospel of John.

But that’s just me.  No one is as honest as they think they are so I’ll never question the motives or the spiritual formation of anyone who is called to swim the Tiber.  And those who have made that swim or are currently making it would be wise to refrain from judging anyone swimming in the opposite direction, away from those seven hills.

Because as I said before, these situations are complicated.  Commenting at First Things, Terry Mattingly asks:

On your second point: Is it safe to say that the post-Vatican II Church is functionally Universalist? Might that play a role? This would apply to most Mainline Prots as well. Yes, also far too many Orthodox parishes.

To which Sherry Weddell, who, Dreher observes, “was a Baptist who became a Catholic, and founded the St. Catherine of Siena Institute to help lay Catholics understand their faith and to create discipleship programs in their parishes,” responds:

I’d estimate that 95 – 98% of all the Catholics – including pastoral leaders – that I’ve ever worked with are functional universalists. Meaning that concerns regarding the personal salvation of anyone never cross their mind or affect their pastoral decisions and priorities. Roughly the same number are de facto Pelagians.

A Roman Catholic who becomes a Southern Baptist may be poorly catechized.  Or he may be catechized well enough to know that if there’s no difference between the message he receives in his Catholic parish and the one proclaimed in the Episcopal church down the street, he’s wasting his time.

But the sacraments, Chris!  What about valid sacraments?!  What about them?  The sacraments benefit you because you know why you go to church on Sundays.  But what about your children?

Of what good are the sacraments to them if they’re being taught the Christian faith by functional universalists?  If you have no other options, would it not be better for both you and your kids to get into a church situation where at least you know that the foundation will be gotten right and your kids can make their own decisions later on?

Because if the foundation is bad, the house doesn’t stand a chance.

40 Comments to SWIMMING THE CUMBERLAND

Sean D
November 26, 2011

Being an Eastern Catholic who was raised in RC parochial scool and parishes, the universalist and pelagian accusations are dead on. These viewpoints aren’t actively taught, usually, rather they are just implicit in the fact that most homilies are just warm and fuzzy BS. For someone who believes in valid sacraments staying with the Church is a must, because parents can give children a good foundation by teaching them the Faith at home to supplement the mush they get on Sundays. Eventually the children will be able to benefit from the sacramental life; but if you can’t wait switch over to an EC parish now since they commune and confirm children as infants.

Timothy Fountain
November 26, 2011

I’m still at home with Article 19 (of the 39):

“The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.”

There’s no “true, perfect” organization or tradition – the real church comes into view when faithful disciples get together to hear the Gospel, share Holy Communion as set forth in the Gospel, and baptize others into Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel.

When we exalt our other junk (aesthetics, “being a good Catholic,” politics, good works, compulsory altar calls, etc.) over that, we wind up operating from our flesh instead of in the Spirit.

Katherine
November 26, 2011

I think you may be right about this, Chris. The “universalist” tag doesn’t apply to the Catholic commenting group here, but out in the big world there are lots and lots, maybe a majority, for whom their Catholicism is a family identity but who have no idea what it’s really about. If their eyes are suddenly opened to the message, and at the same time they see some horrible institutional mismanagement, they might very well go where they perceive that the people actually believe.

I worry about them when they discover there are lots of lukewarm Baptists, though.

Katherine
November 26, 2011

For myself, though, the Sacraments and the connection to the Tradition are necessary, much as I respect believing Baptists, Presbyterians, etc.

Arnold
November 26, 2011

It was my impression that the membership numbers of the Southern Baptists had stagnated in recent years or even slightly fallen. If so many Catholics swam the Cumberland, why didn’t the overall Baptist numbers rise all that much if at all? Maybe the Baptists had an outflow at the same time they were gaining some Catholics? In the South, there is also the phenomenon of Baptists becoming Catholic after being exposed to the Church for the first time with the influx of Catholics into the region. P.S. I find Article 19 cited above as more than a little arrogant. The newly founded Anglicans criticized the ancient sees of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria as defective. Whatever their faults, those churches have survived for nearly 2,000 years. Can anyone claim the Anglicans will make it past their 500th birthday?

Dave P.
November 26, 2011

Having grown up in the 70′s and 80′s in Catholic schools in one of the most dysfunctional dioceses in the USA (Milwaukee), I’ll put it bluntly: most American Catholics don’t know their faith. In fact, the dissenters who have taken over Catholic religious education make sure the opposite is taught. Using the “Spirit of Vatican II” as their excuse, they contend that Catholics don’t believe in original sin, or Purgatory, or transubstantiation, or a myriad of other things which are still actually in the Catechism. When you bring up authentic doctrine, you are told that’s “just your opinion”. This extends all the way to the Pope: “That’s just his opinion.” As a result, you get Catholics who are ignorant of their church actually believes, and conditioned to be kept that way, no matter how many Catholic Answers pamphlets, books by Ignatius Press, or Scott Hahn talks you throw at them.

(Mind you, I’m not denigrating any of those three resources. They all do excellent work. But in my work as a religious educator and in conversations with fellow Catholics, I’m inclined to believe that invincible ignorance is a very real thing.)

Fuinseoig
November 26, 2011

Arnold, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group/church in the United States, but it’s not the sole group.

From Wikipedia, it says that there are 31 Baptist groups or conventions in the United States, and some are more liberal/mainline than others. The ex-Catholics may not have all gone to the Southern Baptists but to independent Baptist churches or the American Baptists.

And yeah, probably better Baptist than Episcopalian, if going Baptist does mean a renewal of faith. At least, if the figures are correct, it means that it’s not just a protest and people flouncing out because their sensibilities are offended (like this GetReligion post about a report on girl altar servers, where one over-sensitive mother had a fit of the vapours and is leaving her local church because they won’t train girl altar servers anymore), but rather a discovery of real meaning about Christ and our salvation.

Better hot or cold than lukewarm.

Katherine
November 26, 2011

I think you’re right, Fuinseoig, and when I say “Baptist” I’m thinking about not only the organized Baptist groups but the multitudes of independent evangelical congregations.

Fuinseoig
November 26, 2011

From Pope Benedict’s speech today to the US bishops on their ad limina visit, where he was addressing the bishops of the eight dioceses of New York State (courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia and emphasis mine):

“At the same time, the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that “quiet attrition” from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.”

Danby
November 26, 2011

Two things I have noticed about Baptists I have known;

They take their faith seriously. They *believe* it.

They are ashamed of neither Christ nor the Gospel. They do not avoid bringing up a religious discussion for fear of embarrassing someone.

Were I to come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church was not the one, holy catholic and apostolic church (which I won’t), I could become a Baptist. I could not readily join TEO, PC-USA or LCMS. The other mainlines around here have gone even loopier than TEO, so they’re not even in the picture.

Paula Gehringer
November 26, 2011

I must ask how do Protestants get their dissenters to leave? We Catholics get saddled with ours and everyone here has seen the damage they have done to the Church and to the souls entrusted to Her care.

Kelso
November 26, 2011

For what it’s worth, this High-Church 1928 BCP retired soldier started out as a Southern Baptist (That’s all we had in my small town – except for the Methodists – they were the upper-crust.)

By the time I was 10 I had decided enough was enough. I deduced the Baptist theology at my church was: “We are desperately afraid that somewhere, someone is having fun.”

Not to even mention the horrid hymns and even worse singing.

From 10 to 15 or so I attended no church. Then reading led me to “The Church of Beauty”. As there was nothing beautiful in my life, I feel instantly under her spell.

I was as faithful as could be until we turned away from the historic church by ordaining women and turning Holy Roller with the 1979 BCP.

I’ve only been to “church” sporadically since then, and it’s always hideous.

It’s a lonely life without the church I loved.

Dave P.
November 26, 2011

Quick correction:

“…ignorant of what their church actually believes…”

Arnold
November 26, 2011

Fuinseoig: I assumed that the Southern Baptists were the group being discussed. Since the Cumberland River is down south, that was my assumption. The more liberal American Baptists have stagnated or fallen in membership for some time now and are more or less, much like the mainline Protestant churches in that respect. Maybe the broader evangelical community was meant but the Joe Carter article speaks of Baptists. Interestingly, Marcus Grodi’s Coming Home Network lists Baptists, I believe, as the second largest group, after Episcopalians and Anglicans, among Protestant clergy converting to Rome with the help of his group. I would have expected Lutherans to be in that category but they are in third place.

Katherine
November 26, 2011

Kelso, is there no 1928 PB parish anywhere near you?

Timothy Fountain
November 26, 2011

Arnold: I think the right reading of Article 19 is that all churches err – the Anglican Reformers took what they perceived to be valuable expressions of the true church from all of those historic traditions as well as the Continental Reformers. Just as the Article says that all churches have erred, the emergence of Anglicanism is a tribute to how much all have carried the true Gospel as well.

Anglicanism explains itself as just one branch of the divided church in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of the late 19th century.

But most simply, notice that Article 19 nowhere claims that “being Anglican” makes one part of the true church. So the Article’s not arrogant at all – it simply refutes the “one true church by pedigree” claim with which any tradition (including Anglicanism)can try to fake the Gospel.

Tim
November 26, 2011

Sorry, I’m not buying it. Ms Weddell, a Baptist convert seems pretty sure of herself as she labels 95% of Catholics as functional universalists and de facto Pelagians. Seems Catholics don’t care enough about “personal salvation”. This strikes me as the projection of a Baptist cultural imperative onto the Catholic Church. I’m also a convert, but from the Lutheran tradition. I frankly got tired of people selectively reading the Bible.
We may be universalists and de facto Pelagians in our diocese, but we’re pretty good about raising millions for Catholic Charities and all that working for the common good stuff. I’ve encountered many more Catholics who take their salvation seriously than I ever did as a Lutheran. And besides, I never got any serious advice in the Lutheran church about my soul except to” have faith, pray, and love Jesus”. I finally found out how to do that stuff under the instruction of the Catholic Church.
Ms Weddell heard the same Gospel I did last Sunday on the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King from Matthew where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. His criteria sounded, well, Pelagian.

Fuinseoig
November 27, 2011

I’m easily distracted, but the post title about “Swimming the Cumberland” keeps making me think of that tune, Cumberland Gap.

LaVallette
November 27, 2011

It is a fact of life unfortunately that many so called “teachers” of of Catholicsm of whatever guise (includuing even Bishops infortunately) suffer from the sin of Lucifer himself: i.e. the sin of Pride: I know better than even the Magisterium and the 2000 year consistent teaching of the Church what Catholicsm is or should be. I am as smart as the next man or woman so no one has the right to tell me what to do or think. Even Christ Himself was a victim of his times and mores, and therefore could not possibly have forseen the social progress that humanity would make and the moral issues that would arise therefrom. Individual conscience is the supreme arbiter. That they undermine there own position as “teachers” in the process evades them!!!

The greatest enemy of the Church has always come from within.

The Little Myrmidon
November 27, 2011

One thing about the Baptists, they really believe in the Bible. Many of them have actually read it.

Dismas
November 27, 2011

As for the original trajectory, R.C.’s become Baptists because of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church … one can’t but wonder what happens when the local Baptist or Baptistic mega church has the same problem? I’ve said repeatedly that the media focuses almost exclusively on the Catholic Church in America. What will happen if the white light of media scrutiny ever turns on the non-Catholic churches? Beyond the Evangelicals … Dreher and Mattingly’s Orthodox Churches are a sordid mess, yet few outside of the Orthodox jurisdictions are even aware there is a problem with clergy sexual abuse. For that matter I’ve been wondering about the Catholics that have actually become Episcopalian because of clergy sexual abuse. What do they think about our gal Kate? Deja vu all over again. Does the fact that the bishop enabler is 1. a woman 2. married and three 3. eco-feminist make it a-l-l better? Maybe for the bloggers that frequent wherever the far-left mingle and are +KJS’s acolytes. But I just wonder about the regular folks.

Do THEY feel betrayed?

Donald R. McClarey
November 27, 2011

Stacy Trasancos has an interesting post on her conversion from Baptist to Catholic:

http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/protestant-converts/baptist/item/73-baptist-convert-stacy-trasancos

Anna A
November 27, 2011

I went from being Southern Baptist to Catholic about 11-12 years ago. Two of my biggest frustrations with the Catholic Church is lack of continuing education for teenagers past confirmation and adults and lack of evangelization. It did not help that even a speaker from our diocese talked more about lifestyle rather than telling the world.

In thinking about the claim that many Catholics are universalists when it comes to salvation, I suspect that many don’t think about it at all. I saw Baptists draw a small circle with the idea that only those on the inside were going to heaven and those outside were damned. I don’t see similar circle with the Catholics I know. I do know that I rejected the Baptist idea a long time before I could formulate the differences.

All in all, I’d rather just trust a loving Father who is merciful and just.

Katherine
November 27, 2011

Read an article in the local paper today about the new translation of the Mass which went into use today. I was wryly amused by the writer’s, and several quoted Catholics’, attitude about “changing traditional language,” that is, the translation they’ve been using for thirty years or so.

MargaretC
November 27, 2011

Hi, Christopher — I wanted to wait for a couple of days to comment on this. It seems to me than ANY religious group in the United States is going to have to struggle with Pelagianism and Universalism, since those two heresies are especially attractive to Americans.

Americans firmly believe in the sovereignty of the individual. Any individual can be anything she/he wants to be, all individual opinions have merit, and all individual choices must be respected.

Likewise, we believe that everyone is equal. We want everyone to vote, we want everyone to go to college, and we want everyone to go to heaven.

Therefore, any religion that takes as its starting point that we are all sinners in need of a Saviour has an uphill fight on its hands.

MargaretC
November 27, 2011

Oh, full disclosure: I was raised a Baptist, and I still love them. They taught me to love Scripture and, when I finally went over the Tiber, I didn’t have to submit to conditional baptism.

Anne B.
November 27, 2011

Katherine said: “…several quoted Catholics’, attitude about “changing traditional language,” that is, the translation they’ve been using for thirty years or so.”

Wish I’d seen that. I was at Mass this morning and the “new” translation sounded an awful lot like the “old” translation, that is, the one we were using in 1964 and which came straight out of the Latin.

BTW our pastor (who says Mass in English, Spanish, and Polish if necessary) tells me that the non-English translations have never diverged so far from the original as the English has – so the “new” version just puts us back on the same page with everybody else.

And Dismas said:“… R.C.’s become Baptists because of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church … one can’t but wonder what happens when the local Baptist or Baptistic mega church has the same problem?”

I’m wondering that myself. Where does Dreher (for example) go next? Back to whatever church he was raised in? Or does he just opt for the Church of Me, Myself and I?

Katherine
November 27, 2011

Anne B., the news article (in Raleigh, NC) said exactly that — the English Mass will now be the same in any English-speaking church worldwide, and most of the other countries had not gone as far astray as the US church did. A positive trend, I believe. I also think in some respects (only some!) your service will now sound more like the one I hear every Sunday with the 1928 Prayer Book. A priest here told the paper part of the idea was to make the service more reverent.

I wonder how long it will be before the ’79 and more free-form Anglican groups find they are now out of step liturgically? I don’t expect many TEC parishes to ask this question, since most of them are far gone into the new religion.

Kelso
November 27, 2011

Katherine: Alas there is no 1928 BCP parish anywhere around me. I listen to MP and EP at Cradle of Prayer, which is a great blessing.

Christopher Johnson
November 27, 2011

At the end of the day, I guess that Roman Catholics who become Baptists have the foundation in mind. That you only get to heaven because of what Christ did for you on the Cross and that nothing else matters. And if you don’t hear that in the church you attend, it is vitally important to attend a church where you do hear that. Because if you don’t, you’re wasting your time.

TMLutas
November 27, 2011

Thank you for this article. It’s given me a bit of an epiphany. I’m thinking “khan academy” for teaching Catholicism.

FW Ken
November 27, 2011

My Baptist step-brother and I were laughing one day because he knows ex-Catholics who “got saved” and became Baptists, while I know ex-Baptists who “found the fullness of faith” in the Catholic Church.

Life’s like that: where you are determines what you see and the trick is to not confuse what you see with the full reality. The converse of this, touched on in some of the posts above, is that Baptists aren’t without their pew potatoes and universalists. My beloved Baptist grandmother was thrilled when a cousin returned to attending church. It bothered her not at all that the “church” was Mormon. And I’ve noted before perhaps that my Baptist, Pentecostal, and evangelical are all on second or third marriages, while the seculars and cafeteria Catholics have stuck it out 30-40 years now. The point is to not idealize any one community with respect to its members, who are all sinners – Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Orthodox, Anglican, and independent snake-handling Church of the Falling Fire. Truth is always proclaimed by sinners: it is to Truth – the Lord Jesus – we must look.

FW Ken
November 27, 2011

part 2

All that said, a couple of points:

First, I respect Sherry Weddell, but I question here her definition of a “functional universalist”. I readily admit that the Catholic Church certainly has a share of real universalists, pelagians, and outright heathens. But it’s also true that sacramental churches – Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, the Anglo-catholic end of Anglicanism, and (as I understand it) some Lutherans – don’t put the emphasis on inner religious experience that the Baptists (and other evangelicals) do. A saintly Baptist lady I knew used to say “it’s that experience that counts”. I loved and respected her and profoundly disagree, as I disagree with a young Baptist woman who said “All that matters is that you say ‘Jesus save me’.”

What matters is the Grace of God by which we are saved from sin and sin’s consequences (the final consequence being eternal damnation). For sacramentalists, it’s not about feelings and experiences, but the Word of God, Who said: this is my Body… whoever eats of this flesh will live forever. Who by His Word, makes water to cleanse, oil to heal and ordain, and healing to flow through human hands. The graces we receive are wholly earned. What merits we gain in cooperating with Grace come from the sufficiency of merit earned by Christ on the Cross, and return to Him as we unite our own Crosses to His. In case anyone doesn’t notice, this is putting closer to Calvinism than to the Baptist Church of my childhood, which stressed the necessity of human action in getting saved. I stress human action as a response to the Holy Spirit in our lives. While profound conversion experiences are a staple of Catholic piety (St. Francis and St. Ignatius Loyola come to mind), it’s understood that experiences like that are the frosting on the cake, not the cake.

FW Ken
November 27, 2011

Part 3

Second, if I understand all that social science stuff, 2 million people left the Catholic Church over the sex scandals since 2002. Lots of folks, but that’s actually about 3% of the Catholic population, over 9 years. That’s not a huge percentage, and bears looking at in more historical detail.

If you look at Boston, the epicenter of the 2002 scandal, you see that the Boston Catholics were 53.2%of the population in 2002 and dropped to 46.4% in 2006, the last year reported. But looking back, you can see that in 1980, they were 34.8%. So my question is whether this is a really big issue, or just a new way of obsessing over the Catholic Church’s purportedly special problem with sex.

http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/diocese/dbost.html

FW Ken
November 27, 2011

The graces we receive are wholly earned.

Unearned, of course

dave
November 28, 2011

Kelso -
I found a wonderful ACNA parish. We’re ’79, but have both rite 1 and rite 2 services. And there are a number of ’28 ACNA churches around. But the biggest blessing is that we stand for Christ and don’t have to cross our fingers when we say the creed.
All Christians need community. Don’t deprive yourself of that blessing. I encourage you to look for a community which believes the word and lives their faith and join it… No matter what book they use.

Dale Price
November 28, 2011

Yes, there remains considerable turbulence after one crosses the Tiber (“Welcome aboard–now start bailing). And I’d be the last person to deny the genuine Christian sanctity of a good Baptist.

I guess I try to keep my focus on Christ and use the plentiful materials provided by the Church to help keep that focus, for my eternal good and that of my family. That includes including the Bible, the sacraments, catechisms, and not least, the witness of the white-robed army of martyrs and saints throughout the centuries.

Ron
November 28, 2011

The best evidence of functional universalism in the Catholic Church is the typical Catholic funeral. The four last things are gone and what amounts to instant canonization has taken their place. The most egregious evidence of this I’ve seen is the funeral of Ted Kennedy, which was celebrated by a cardinal. If you have the stomach, look it up on youtube. If a cardinal has so little respect for the teaching of his own church, why should the average lay person?

MargaretC
November 28, 2011

Ron: I agree with you about the Catholic funerals. The Kennedy funeral was a scandal, but not unusual. The idea that we have to claim that the deceased is “in a better place” in order to make the mourners feel good is part of America’s mindless universalism.

I’m seriously considering putting a clause in my will that will give my parish a generous bequest solely on the following conditions: at my funeral mass, the priest will wear black vestments; there will be no music except Gregorian chant; the Dies Irae will be sung. Only when my executor is satisfied that all conditions have been met will they get the cash.

FW Ken
November 28, 2011

Cardinal O’Malley did not celebrate Ted Kennedy’s funeral, although he was present.

However, the scandal is not possible universalism in the man’s funeral (we do not, after all, know what God’s grace might have wrought at the end), but in the years and years when Kennedy protected the murder of unborn children and his pastors failed in their basic duties to him, unborn children, the Church and our whole culture.

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