In all the recent discussions about the Church drawing converts under the stewardship of Pope Francis (a proposition of dubious merit), it is argued that Pope Francis’s pastoral style is one particularly suited to bring in people who have long been disenchanted with the Church. The underlying assumption seems to be that those whom the Church should be catering to are liberal Protestants, fallen away Catholics, and non-religious people of various stripes. At least this is the impression that I get from reading comments and articles defending the Pope’s, err, temperate pastoral approach.
Yet are these the only groups of non-Catholics that we should be trying to encourage to come into our fold? Not everyone who is a non-Catholic is reflexively suspicious of the Church and her dogmatic teachings. In fact there are many like Chris Johnson at the Midwest Conservative Journal – a Protestant who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that Don has named him Defender of the Faith – who are better exemplars of the faith than many actual Catholics. In other words, there are many (for lack of a better word) conservative Protestants who are every bit as much in need of evangelization, if only to just nudge them gently over the line towards full conversion. Yet where is our missionary outreach to them?
In fact, these very people are being turned away from conversion. While the likes of Johnson have long been disgusted by the leadership of the Anglican communion, what are they seeing from Rome and elsewhere that is drawing them closer to our side of the Tiber? Why bother going through the pains of throwing off one’s childhood religion, spending hours in RCIA, and accepting the full teaching authority of the Church when they will get the same wishy-washy sermons, the same watered down doctrine, and the same reluctance to combat the culture head on? At least Episcopalians still have a pretty liturgy, so might as well just cling to that.
Three out of every four people are not Catholics, and of the remainder who knows how many take their faith seriously. There are all sorts of individuals who need to be brought the Good News of Christ. There isn’t one “right” way to reach them, yet more and more we seem to be favoring a model of evangelization that runs counter to our purposes. Soft pedaling our core teachings and relaxing the rules might get some people’s attention to start with, but it is not enough to truly convert their hearts. Meanwhile those that might be most inclined to walking through that door are more likely to pause as they witness a pale imitation of what they hope to leave behind.
At the risk of bringing politics into this, it is not altogether unlike the attempt to turn the Republican party into the Democrat party light in some mistaken attempt to draw more votes. But why would voters go for the low calorie version when the real thing is so much more decadent and filling? Similarly, a Protestant-light version of Catholicism will win few converts but turn away those on the threshold of coming home.