This may easily be one of the more “controversial” posts I ever share here. The reason being, I sincerely doubt it will make those on either side of these issues particularly delighted or excited. But I will do my best to share it with first of all truth, but no less so, love. I hope you will at least hear me out.
Let me say at the outset that I think Roe was a travesty of justice. The killing machines such as Planned Parenthood and others who turned abortion into a lucrative business as a result need to be de-funded and dismantled. My views on that are unambiguous.
Where it becomes “dicey” however is the logistics of this. Having worked for several years during the early 1980s in a very effective, Christ centered drug and alcohol outreach program by the name of New Life Outreach International (based in Richmond, Virginia), I saw first-hand how ineffectual the government and law was in changing the day-by-day environment which caused such issues in the first place. Whether illegal drugs, easy abortion, or a host of other life-controlling issues, the biggest thing we as a ministry attempted to bring to those who came in our direction was a life-changing hope based upon a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And yes, I used the word “relationship.”
To those still obsessing on Jefferson Bethke’s video about “loving Jesus but hating religion,” I think many are missing the entire point of what he rather brilliantly shared. Christianity is indeed a religion, to be sure. But it is far beyond that. If all you have religion (and this includes Catholicism by the way) but no relationship, then the gift of the Sacraments tends to mean very little, whether in this life or the next–not because they do not work or are not real, but because, somewhere along the way, the “cart begins to drive the horse.” Let me explain.
Blessed Mother Teresa was a prime example of understanding this, and even many Catholics at the time she became well-known did not agree with her approach of spending more time doing good rather than preaching doctrine. Obviously she did both, but she started, and sometimes finished, where the people she ministered to were at. And that is what we as Catholics very often miss and totally. We are “mad” that Tim Tebow is leading people in droves to Google the verse John 3:16, forgetting that he is, in reality, pointing those people towards the very same Jesus who will one day lead those same people to the Sacramental life. We can water and nourish the seed he plants if we choose to.
If he for instance went around saying “Hey get baptized, get confirmed, believe in the Eucharist,” or the like, all of which I believe are true and valid, so let me be clear on that, he would most likely lose the very audience who needs to hear, on a more primal level, that God actually loves them–and sent His Son to save them. Instead he directs them to John 3:16, and lets God plant His Word as a seed in their hearts. That after all is the starting point–and the only starting point, to all of the rest. And while arguably incomplete, he is actually preaching a primitive “Catholicism” to the masses in a way that they might never hear in church–and to people who might never actually darken the door of one otherwise. I am slow to criticize that.
Back to my main point then–what do Tebow, Bethke, and Blessed Mother T have in common here? They each start with a “personal relationship with Christ” and go from there, rather than the other way around. And we as Catholics tend to gloss right over that point. We think if we “get people into the Church” they will somehow be saved. And not much could be further from the truth. Jesus even warns against this approach, strongly reproaching the Pharisees who were going hither and yonder chasing down converts to Judaism, and then turning them into “worse sons of hell” than they were to begin with. Those are some strong words, folks. I have been through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) process 3 different times–one as a “student,” if you will, as preparation for my own Confirmation in 2006, and the other two times as a sponsor of others coming into the Church. One thing I noticed all 3 years of this otherwise very good and solid Catholic prep was a lack of emphasis on personal surrender to Christ. They taught about Him and Church doctrine but missing was the challenge to give ourselves to Him wholly. To be sure, some, hopefully many, got that message too. But it was never clearly articulated. Why? Or better, why not? We as Catholics believe in it after all. We believe that the single most important thing one can do is repent of our sins, “take up our cross,” and to follow Jesus. For someone raised in a solid Catholic family that of course begins with baptism. For many others it however does not. The very idea of becoming a “Catechumen” is to take a person who has made that surrender, clarify to them what it means to their lives, and then and only then to baptize them. That is the main connecting point between us and our Protestant brothers and sisters, and something we share in common with them. It is what makes us one family. And by the way we are.
Every Sunday at Mass we confess our sins and then recite/pray the Nicaean Creed, finally climaxing with an “altar call” where we receive Jesus personally in the Holy Eucharist/Holy Communion. How is it that we of all people miss the message of the most basic path towards salvation then, which starts and ends with repentance and faith? Someone lately pointed out to me that a person who is comatose or dies before the age of reason can be baptized and still go to heaven, without consciously repenting. While that of course is true, the norm, the very baptismal “vows” our godparents take for us as infants, points us to a time when we personalize the moment by our own acceptance of Jesus, renouncing of the devil, and turning away from sin. In short, as our evangelical family often calls it, “getting saved.” For many of us it happens at first Reconciliation or First Holy Communion, or at our Confirmation. But it does happen. And without initial conversion we cannot find the deeper conversions which eventually lead us to heaven. And, while terminology may differ, many of our Protestant Christian brothers and sisters agree with this concept totally.
We (Catholic Christians) often miss sharing this with others, though, because we do not clearly understand it ourselves. We are taught, and rightly so, that the Sacraments efficaciously bring those gifts to us–and they do. But how? Sacraments are conduits, not guarantees, towards a personal and dynamic walk with Christ. And somehow we often move right past telling those converting into the Catholic Christian Faith how to even begin doing so. If those we “convert” still do not realize that they are actual sinners, needing the grace freely given in Christ from His Cross and Resurrection, and then challenge them to turn away from all known sin, we have only as one of my priests wisely said, “bagged a Catholic.” And bags are for those who are dead.
So how does this fit with Roe v Wade, politics, and being pro-life? Lots. On my own journey back to Christ within the Church, I “stopped off” for a bit at a church in St Paul, MN pastored by Dr Greg Boyd. It is important for me to say that I did not then and do not now agree with all of his theology. But his attitude and openness was amazing to me. This evangelical “mega church” pastor of 4000 took the time to take me out for a beer (yes I said beer!) at a time when, unbeknownst to me, his congregation was falling to pieces, at least temporarily. I much later discovered that CNN had even covered and chronicled the transformation which took place when he began teaching a series called “The Cross and the Sword,” and I was there for it. In it he covers a host of issues, everything from abortion to homosexuality to political preferences, and does so with a willingness to allow all sides of each of these issues to “live and let live.” Due to this he lost at least 1000 members. If I had not become Catholic again just a few months later he would have had me, if nothing else due to the love and kindness he showed, and the utter courage from the pulpit he exercised in sharing his convictions to an at times hostile and volatile crowd. Again I was oblivious to all of this at the time. But looking back I realize God’s hand in allowing our paths to cross, even for that short period in my search for a God of both love and justice, which I thankfully eventually found in Rome. Below is the interview from CNN:
You may notice something important which he shares, almost in passing, about abortion issues. He points out studies which indicate that one of the most effective ways to eliminate abortion is to help people out of poverty. And his church does this valiantly. So by the way does Tim Tebow, as well as Jefferson Bethke’s church, Mars Hill, pastored by Mark Driscoll. We can march each year for Life and we should. But if we do nothing else, and do not give people better alternatives afterwards, what difference will it actually make if Roe v Wade is overturned? Not a hell of a lot, I am afraid.
And if all we can do as Catholic Christians is fight and dare I say nitpick over whether Jefferson Bethke is “right or wrong” in his video rap, then we have missed the main point of the Sacramental life ourselves. It is absolutely no surprise that Bethke feels “religion” has its limits, and no wonder he finds himself separating the idea of a personal walk with Christ from that same organized “religion.” What amazes me most is that many of my formerly evangelical brothers and sisters have been the very most critical of his approach when we of all people should know better. After all some of them, just like me, left the Catholic Church for a good long period of time because we did not see it there. Again, it was and is there of course, but no one told us about it. Maybe we see in him what we once understood more clearly in our Protestant years, and that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable. And just maybe it should.
- Remembering Roe v. Wade, 39 years later (aleksandreia.com)
- “Loving Jesus” – 3rd Take (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Loving Jesus, Hating “Religion” – Yet Another Take (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Take Four…Jesus and Religion (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Catholic First, Christian First (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Sharing intimacy of faith (cinhosa.wordpress.com)
- Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus Cont’d (makeafriar.com)
- You Can’t Hate Religion and Love Jesus (patheos.com)
- Roe vs Wade – Still An Issue? (justcallmepastor.wordpress.com)
- Why I Love Religion, And Jesus (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Drowning in the Tiber – A Short Detour from Rome… (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- My Story…Again (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)