|Evangelist Billy Graham and Pope Saint John Paul II|
You know, I've had a re-awakening in the last couple weeks, and it's all thanks to some friends of Pope Francis. Bear with me, this isn't what you might think.
On July 13, 2017 a papal adviser, Father Antonio Spadaro published an article with Presbyterian Pastor Marcelo Figueroa, in the Vatican-vetted magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, entitled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism." The article was painful to read. It's also been excoriated by some American Catholic bishops (click here for an example). Had it just been another liberal article in another liberal magazine I wouldn't have cared. I certainly wouldn't waste my time writing about it on my blog. I've got much better things to do. However, this particular article was Vatican-vetted by the Curia Secretary of State. It's not an official Vatican publication, but it does receive the blessing of the Vatican, and I suppose, that's why it hurts. I personally don't know what Pope Francis thinks, and I assume he is more open-minded than this, but I now know what at least one of his advisers thinks.
In the article, Spadaro and Figueroa refer to social cooperation between American Evangelicals and Catholics as an "ecumenism of hate" along with a litany of calumny describing such cooperation as "strange ecumenism" that is "attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations." I don't even know where to begin with such nonsense.
Not only am I a devout Roman Catholic, but I was reconciled to the Catholic Church from both Evangelicalism and Anglicanism. My entire family (mother, father, sisters, cousins, in-laws, etc.) remain Evangelical. Before becoming Anglican, and eventually Catholic, I studied for the ministry in an Evangelical association, and substituted on Sunday mornings for the pastor while he was away. Today I am not only an Internet apologist for the Catholic Church, but I'm also a catechist for my local parish. So I am uniquely qualified to speak on the connection between today's Evangelicals and faithful Catholics in America. All I can say is that not only are Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa incredibly ignorant of this social ecumenism between Evangelicals and Catholics in America, but they also seem to be laughably ignorant of American politics in general.
Let me tell you how it really is...
Yes, a lot of faithful Catholics and Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, but let's be clear about something. The overwhelming vast majority of us didn't vote FOR Donald Trump. Rather we voted AGAINST Hillary Clinton. It just so happened that Donald Trump was the only viable alternative to a Hillary presidency. Yours Truly actually voted for Bernie Sanders (a self-described Socialist) in the Missouri Democratic Primary, not because Yours Truly wanted Bernie Sanders as president, but rather because Yours Truly was willing to do just about anything to stop a Hillary presidency. Yours Truly then turned around and voted for Donald Trump in the general election for the exact same reason. I didn't vote for Sanders and Trump because I particularly believed in either one of those candidates. Rather the prospect of a Hillary presidency was so frightening that I was willing to vote for Sanders and Trump (two polar opposite candidates) in the hope of stopping her. To use an American football colloquialism, something I'm sure neither Spardaro nor Figueroa will understand (namely because they don't seem to understand anything else about America), it was nothing short of a "Hail Mary Pass," and by that I mean pun intended, because I did pray a whole lot of "Hail Marys" in the process.
I'm sure a similar story can be told of most American Catholics who likewise voted for Trump in the general election. For that matter, the same can be said of most Evangelicals, who's favoured candidates in the primary were clearly: Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee -- not Donald Trump. However, none of them could best the incendiary campaign of Donald Trump, and the reason why he won is because that incendiary method was directed primarily toward Hillary Clinton, which tapped into the absolute fear and loathing most Christian Americans had toward her all along. His occasional comments about illegal aliens and Muslim radicals paled on comparison to his fiery comments about her. His scorched-earth campaign style left every stop with a smouldering reminder of why so many Americans distrust and dislike the former First Lady and Senator from New York. That's why he beat his Evangelical rivals in the primary, and that's why he won the Republican nomination for president. In the end, that's why he won the general election and the presidency.
Let me make this crystal clear for anyone at the Vatican who might be reading this. Speaking as an American Catholic, down here in the trenches of the political battles unfolding in America, the one and only reason why Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election is because of Hillary Clinton. She is the reason why he is the president today. She is the reason why faithful Catholics and Evangelicals turned out en mass to vote for Donald Trump and the Republicans last November. She is the reason why the Republicans are now the majority in the U.S. Congressional House and Senate, as well as the majority of the state legislatures and governors mansions around the nation. She, and she alone, is the one singular reason why things turned out the way they did. She was the candidate with a pro-abortion advocacy record unparalleled in American history. She was the candidate with her disdain for Evangelicals and faithful Catholics. She was the candidate with her "deep seated... religious beliefs... have to be changed" comment (see here) that scared the hell out of faithful Christians all across America. She was the candidate with her "it takes a village to raise a child" background. She was the candidate with her history of corruption and cronyism. She was the candidate with her shady connections and questionable ties, not to mention her sleazy husband. She was the candidate with her pro-globalism agenda. She was the candidate with threats to isolate Russia, in Ukraine and Syria, pushing the superpowers ever closer to another World War. She was the candidate with her history of arming terrorists in Syria, selling uranium to Russia, and abandoning an American embassy under terrorist attack, all while she was Secretary of State. She was the candidate with her support of Obamacare that has bankrupted millions. She is the reason why the mainstream news media is afraid to say it, and she is the reason why the Democratic Party will never admit it. It was her. It was all her all along. And it was only her. She's the reason why Donald Trump won the election. She and no other. That is what's really going on down here on the ground in America, and that's what some in the Vatican seem to have no understanding of. I find it absolutely frightening that such men have the ear of the Vicar of Christ. It's terrifying actually. I can only hope and pray he pays little attention to them.
So now that I've vented a bit, let me move on to the social cooperation between Catholics and Evangelicals in America.
It helps to understand the religious makeup of America first. The United States is still a very Protestant country with a Secular government. The reason why America's government is Secular is because there are so many different Protestant denominations in the United States, and America's Founding Fathers wanted to avoid a repeat of the oppressive confessional state that existed in England for centuries following the Protestant Reformation. This Secularism was originally welcomed by American Catholics, many of whose parents and grandparents fled to the colonies from the Penal Laws in England. Granted, American Secularism has taken on a more militant nature in recent decades, which is problematic to be sure, but only a tiny minority of faithful Catholics in America want to turn the country into a confessional state defined by the Catholic Church, and even those few concede that toleration should always exist for Protestants and other religious groups, at both the political and legal level. In other words, even those most extreme Catholic Integralists, infinitesimally small as they are, acknowledge that legal and political toleration of various religious beliefs is generally a good thing, and would prefer to "return the favour" toward Protestants in America who have done the same for Catholics over the last two centuries. For some strange reason, Spadaro and Figueroa seem to think these Catholic Integarlists are much larger than they really are, and they mistake the political and social alliance between regular faithful Catholics and Evangelicals as some kind of sinister conspiracy to overthrow the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and replace it with a Christian Fundamentalist theocracy.
Another thing Spadaro and Figueroa fail to understand is that in recent decades a growing rift has developed between American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, almost to the point where we could begin to talk about them as two separate religious entities. While there is a general crossover between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists when it comes to religious doctrine, which is staunchly Protestant of course, the difference is in emphasis and attitude. Evangelicals tend to focus on the core beliefs of the gospel (evangelium) showing more tolerance and flexibility on peripheral doctrines. While as Fundamentalists (shrinking in number now) tend to hold core gospel beliefs and peripheral doctrines on equal footing. As a result, Evangelicals express a much stronger willingness to work with Catholics, cooperate with us, and tolerate our difference in belief. While Fundamentalists do not. The move away from anti-Catholicism is measurable in Evangelical circles, especially in the Bible Belt of the United States (the Traditional South or "Dixie") wherein Evangelicals are more likely to confess ignorance of Catholic beliefs rather than vehement opposition to them. As a former Evangelical pastor in training (during the 1990s) I can testify that the trend was already in motion back then. We, in Evangelical church leadership, found ourselves having to frequently remind our congregations of our opposition to Catholic teaching, though we confessed admiration of Catholic devotion and discipline, all the while acknowledging that they very well may be Christian. That was in the 1990s. A lot has changed in the two decades since. These days Evangelicals are far more likely to acknowledge Catholics as fellow Christians, all the while admitting ignorance about Catholic teaching and practices.
Much of this current relationship came about in the 1980s and 90s, on the front lines of the American proverbial "culture wars," particularly in the trenches of the Pro-Life Movement. Faithful Catholics and Evangelicals found themselves under fire together from hostile forces on the Secular and Pagan Left in America. (Yes, there is a "Pagan" Left in America. Just ask any Wiccan or New Ager.) We faithful Catholics watched the Left belittle and malign the very people we stood side-by-side with (Evangelicals) on the street corners of America during Pro-Life demonstrations. We all suffered the insults and profanities together by passing traffic. We all endured the egg throwing and garbage tossing by the same motorists passing by. Even our little children, who stood there with us, were subject to the same, asking "Mommy, why do they hate us so much?" Ours was an alliance forged in the crucible of soft persecution by the American Left, and we built strong relationships through it. Today, it can be said that many faithful Catholics in America feel a stronger kindred with local Evangelicals than we do with cafeteria Catholics in New York, Washington DC, Europe and yes, even the Vatican. Why? I think the Spadaro/Figueroa article speaks for itself on that. Too many of our fellow Catholics are too clueless, or too snobbish, to understand what it's like to have raw eggs, garbage and profanities thrown at you and your small children, while you stand side-by-side with Evangelicals having the same things thrown at them, in our public proclamation of the Gospel of Life.
It was during this time that a group of prominent Evangelicals and Catholics produced a statement pledging our support for one another in the midst of this cultural upheaval. The document itself was a major source of division between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, accelerating the rift between them, but it forged a deeper relationship with Catholics and Evangelicals on the front-lines of the battle with the Secular and Pagan Left. The name of the document is Evangelicals and Catholics Together: the Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. It's a document that every Catholic and Evangelical should read and share with others.
That relationship didn't stop there. In the Bible Belt of America, where Catholic parishes are small, and Evangelical churches are large, there came a sharing of resources and abundance. Many Evangelical church leaders reached out to Catholic families, not in attempted proselytism or anti-Catholicism, but rather neighbourly affection. They offered their meeting rooms and property grounds for Catholic events pertaining to social renewal. In some rare cases, as need arose, they even offered their church buildings for Catholic mass when Catholics had no building of their own. They also offered their youth-group activities and field trips to Catholic children, who were local friends with the children of Evangelical members. At the same time, Catholic schools began taking in Evangelical children. Homeschooling networks, strong with Evangelicals in the Bible Belt, began accepting Catholic children for membership, and Evangelical adults began referring to their Catholic neighbours as their "Catholic brethren in the Christian faith." Yes, of course there was the occasional friction between Catholic and Evangelical theology. That's the sort of thing that happens when people of different faiths get together. Friction, when handled properly, can lead to greater understanding and mutual respect. In the Bible Belt, just about every faithful Catholic is a mini-apologist for the Catholic Church. We have to be, and as a result, Evangelicals tend to be much more respectful now than in ages past. This relationship between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals in America is real and solid. It's built on common persecution from our common adversaries, and it's grown in a spirit of both curiosity and respect. This supposed "ecumenism of hate" that Spadaro and Figueroa speak of simply does not exist. Faithful Catholics and Evangelicals in America are allies because we have to be, and we're better off because of it. Perhaps some of our Catholic brethren in other parts of the world will eventually understand someday, when they too find themselves side-by-side with a few Protestants while being attacked by a society that hates them both. I suppose in Europe, that day may not be too far off now. Lord knows, Catholics and Evangelicals in heavily Islamic countries tend to be very tight with each other. Is this also an "ecumenism of hate?" I don't think so.
I have lived in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri for a quarter of a century now. This is deep within the Bible Belt of the United States. Over that span of time I have watched, with my own eyes, the breakup of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. I have also watched the softening of Evangelicals toward Catholics, while Fundamentalists harden and shrink into irrelevancy. Catholics in this area have reciprocated Evangelical hospitality rather quickly, and the relationship that now exists is fairly strong. Nothing would please the political Left more than a rupture between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals now, but I've got news for them. That's not going to happen. We remember the raw eggs, garbage and profanity the American political Left threw at us and our children. We stood side-by-side with Evangelical parents as we tried to shelter our babies from this stuff, while simultaneously proclaiming the Gospel of Life. Now our children have grown up with their children. Some of their children have become Catholics, and some of ours have become Evangelicals. (The latter may not be ideal for us, but it is reality. Our blood has mixed with theirs and vice versa.) Our children sometimes attend Evangelical events, and their children sometimes attend Catholic events. Faithful Catholics and Evangelicals work together in the workplace, sometimes against management that is openly hostile toward traditional Christianity. In the same public schools, Catholic children are told to put away their rosaries, and Evangelical children are told to hide their Bibles. Neither are allowed to proclaim their faith too loudly. Both whisper their faith to one another, and both silently share their prayers with each other. That kind of relationship won't be broken by a nasty article vetted by the Vatican Secretary of State, any more than the constant Leftist attempts to get us to turn against each other. If I only had a dollar for every time a political Leftist tried to tell me that Evangelicals secretly hate me. I'm sure they say the same to Evangelicals about Catholics. Of course they want to drive a wedge between us. Our cosy relationship presents a political threat to them and their agenda. I think they're starting to figure that out now. I bet they're thinking maybe they shouldn't have thrown so many eggs at us in their youth. Maybe they should have thrown their garbage into trash cans, rather than at our children. Maybe their profanities and middle fingers should have been more restrained in those days. Ah! Regrets. C'est la vie.
Today, the alliance between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals is strong, and I say thank God for that! What would we do without Evangelicals to take the place of cafeteria Catholics who are too clueless, or too snobbish, to help us in our social struggles? Thank God for Evangelicals who loan their chapels to Catholics in need of a place to say mass. Thank God for Evangelicals who invite Catholic children to youth functions without intent to proselytise them. Thank God for Evangelicals who fearlessly stand side-by-side with Catholics on street corners during Pro-Life demonstrations, willing to suffer all the same abuse we do for the sake of the Gospel. Thank God for Evangelicals who have witnessed to lapsed Catholics and brought them back to some faith in Christ after they've abandoned it for atheism and hedonism. Thank God for Evangelicals who consider Catholics their Christian brethren, even when they confess ignorance about our beliefs and practices. Thank God for Evangelicals who stood with us in the last presidential election against that horrible woman (Hillary Clinton) who would have surely used her executive powers to hurt the freedoms and liberties of all religious people. Thank God for Evangelicals, because without them, political Leftists and cafeteria Catholics would have already turned America into another Venezuela or Argentina. Thank God for Evangelicals who aren't afraid to loudly proclaim their faith, and put a Christian stamp on almost everything they touch. As a Catholic in the Bible Belt, I am grateful for their cultural events, entertainment and amusement parks, which are friendly to the Gospel message. Thank God for Evangelicals who make movies with a good moral message. Thank God for Evangelicals, for simply being Christians we faithful Catholics can ally with. I suppose, as a former Evangelical, I would be biased in saying that Evangelicals make the best Catholics when they reconcile with the Catholic Church, but after years of watching RCIA classes, that has been my observation.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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