Evangelization Barriers: a call for messy authentic Christianity

New Evangelization

The Pope has called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization, where we win back those fallen away Catholics. Cradle Catholics are not equipped for this type of evangelization and most parishes are not equipped either. The reason has to do with the walls we built around us, and our reluctance to leave our fortified parishes to embrace the other. Bishop Barron, in Getting out of the Sacristy  writes about how parish life needs to be revitalized to focus on missional oriented activities rather than existing parish structures. Gone are the days where we can expect people to show up. Rather than do the messy work of reaching the lost, we would rather protect our own through fostering divisive labels.

The Parable of The Lost sheep: How to Evangelize

Luke 15:1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and this parable gives us an important lesson on evangelization. In this parable, the shepherd is concerned about his lost sheep so he leaves the 99 sheep, which symbolizes the righteous Pharisees and goes to the lost sheep, the sinner. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think that when we use labels to describe one another, we put us in the righteous Pharisee camp.

Three labels commonly used

When I think about the Catholic church I think three labels come to mind, Traditional Catholic, Charismatic Catholic, liberal Catholic. Let us break each one down.

Traditional Catholic

The traditional Catholic prefers pre-Vatican II style worship and attends Latin Mass exclusively. At best these persons care deeply for the liturgy and reverence that it deserves. I think a desire to preserve the traditions of the Catholic church is a well-intentioned noble goal and a worthwhile pursuit. The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I went the incense, the chanting, and the beauty of more traditional churches. I think my desire comes from wanting liturgical excellence. The danger comes when we fence ourselves in and we say that the Mass is not valid and licit unless it conforms to pre-Vatican II standards. This is dangerous because the beautiful traditions of the church become a fence that prevents a person from going out into the world. Rather than engaging with other equally beautiful and valid traditions, traditional Catholics would rather label it as wrong. Also, Tradition Catholics dangerously over emphasize right practice over right belief.

Charismatic Catholics

Charismatic Catholics are completely the opposite. They emphasize obedience to the Holy Spirit and right relationship. They desire to foster an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I would say that charismatic masses have an exuberant quality to them. They emphasize scripture reading and praying for one another. Praise and worship and community are the focus. At best Charismatics help revitalize the parish by placing the focus back where it belongs, which is Jesus. They can help unlock scripture and foster community. The danger becomes when private revelation contradicts church authority. Private revelation should never take the place of church obligations. Likewise, there is the danger of emotionalism in which a person is constantly seeking the mountaintop experiences. Thus Mass becomes mundane. Because of these dangers, it is very easy for one to make the charismatic community the sole bases of their spirituality.

Liberal Catholics

The last category is liberals. These Catholics care about social justice, so much so that the oftentimes pick and choose to ignore certain teachings in favor of inclusivity. The benefit is that it reminds the church to be compassionate and merciful. The danger is that ignoring church teachings gives way to complacency, where people are not compelled to live according to the truth.

Conclusion

The reality is that the parish needs people who go beyond the labels.  The church needs to be traditionally minded to help safeguard the parish from liturgical abuses and to help safeguard the traditions of the church. The parish needs to be Charismatic because the parish needs to be reminded that God is still working, is still performing miracles, and is still speaking outside the sacraments. The parish needs to be liberal because the church needs to balance mercy with justice and to always show compassion. Furthermore, we need to have all three types as our spirituality. Rather we should break down the labels and be authentically Catholic. To do that though requires us to be uncomfortable and messy. When we accept and love each other, we can embrace and love those who have walked away.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

Dear readers, I apologize for not posting last week; life became crazy.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

So I was talking to my mom the other day regarding my recent blog post about the dancing snakes. She says that even if she buys that Jesus gave the disciples authority to define the church doctrine; this authority became corrupt after popes began to behave immorally. My mom like so many other fallen away Catholics, question the doctrine of church infallibility. It is here that I would like to make an analogy.

School analogy: Why behavior does not affect the truth

Let’s say that you have a math teacher. He teaches you the basic principles of math correctly, but you find out later that he behaved immorally such as molesting children. You wouldn’t deny that he taught you true math principles because you can verify independently the truth of these principles and you can see that society has historically held the truth of these principles. Similarly, the church can teach historically held truths about faith and morals regardless of the outward behavior.

Some would argue that this analogy breaks down because unlike math principles, faith and morals directly relate to how one should behave. Let’s tweak the analogy a bit. Let’s say that your math teacher is not a horribly immoral person, but instead can’t add numbers without a calculator.  Once again, you wouldn’t question the principles your math teacher taught; although, you may question the efficiency of the math teacher. In other words, the ability to teach does not affect the subject taught by the teacher; the subject remains true. Papel infallibility works the same way. It states that when it comes to faith and morals the Pope can teach no wrong. I would like to explore the biblical bases for this and explore how infallibility works practically.

Biblical Bases For Infallibility

Let’s start with the obvious, Mark 16:17-19.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Scripture Interpretation of Mark 16:17-19

We’ve talked about this scripture before, but I want to emphasize the verse, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The ‘it’ in this quote refers to the church. Now I don’t know about you, but I believe when God promises something, He keeps his word. So why would God through Jesus promise to protect his church only to allow it to be corrupted? It’s also important to note that Jesus establishes his church on a rock aka something visible. He changes Simon’s name to Peter, which in Greek means rock. In the old testament, name changes are important. For example, Abram is changed to Abraham to signify a change in God’s covenant relationship with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with Peter.

Mathew 18:18, How the Church Handles Conflict

When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, it is not only a moment of repentance for Peter after his denial but also strengthening the covenantal bond established in Matthew 16:17-19. This promise of authority is repeated in Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16. Mathew 18:18 Jesus states,

 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

It’s important to note the context of this passage. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to handle conflict. He says that people should tell the church and listen to the church. If they don’t listen to the authority of the church they will be cut off like Gentiles and tax collectors. In verse 18 he gives context for this authority by reestablishing his promise to bind eternally what the Apostles bind on earth. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says that whoever rejects the authority of the Apostles rejects Jesus himself.

Acts 15:  A Model for the Church

The bible even provides an example of how this works. In Acts 15 we have the first recorded dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were arguing with certain teachers about whether the Gentiles should follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Because there was a dispute, they went up to Jerusalem to seek the opinion of the apostles. Note that they didn’t hold an individual Bible study or search the scriptures for their own interpretation nor did they establish their own church, rather they came together and formed a council and allowed Peter and James to have the final say.

It’s also important to note that Peter was not always faithful to his own teaching. In Gal 2:11-16 Paul describes how he need to correct Peter, who was not eating with the Gentiles. This goes to show that even the first pope was not immune to hypocrisy and yet Paul stills states in 1st Tim 3:15 that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. A hypocritical action does not negate a person’s authority to teach the truth. So if Acts 15 is the model, the question remains does the church retain this model or is the pope’s infallibility unrestricted?

The Magisterium: modern day Acts 15

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition

There are three tiers of church infallibility that makes up the Magisterium. The first is Sacred scripture and sacred tradition. These are not two separate teaching but rather a single teaching under two modes. It encompasses everything the apostle’s taught either by word of mouth or by writing. This makes sense when one considers sacred scripture to be a product of tradition. An example would be establishing the canon of scripture. Even the most staunch supporters of sola scripture have to admit that the bible does not establish its own canon, rather one must rely on outside theological experts. In fact, the Catholic church established the New Testament canon in 325AD during the council of Nicaea. No proclamation can contradict sacred scripture or tradition.

Extraordinary Magisterium

The second tier of infallibility is the extraordinary Magisterium. This consists of solemn definitions by the pope or ecumenical council ratified by the pope. The most recent example would be the council of Trent, which sought to clarify Catholic teachings in light of the Protestant Reformation. This tier seeks to clarify consistently held doctrine and elevated it to dogma. For a review of the difference between Dogma and doctrine see this.

Universal Magisterium

The last tier of infallibility is the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This includes the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. By ordinary and universal, it means that the decision must be in agreement in time and space. In other words, you must have the agreement of all bishops and this agreement must be consistent with all the bishops throughout history. This makes it extremely hard to create brand new doctrine from a papal pronouncement or Bishop’s statement.

When assessing the Magisterium, it is important to remember that this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it with regards to faith and morals.

 

The Church as the Pillar of Truth

So to answer the question, Can the church teach faith and morals wrongly? The answer would be no because to say yes would make Jesus a liar. To say yes would mean that Jesus’ promise to protect the church from the gates of hell remains unfulfilled. To say yes, would mean that that the Magisterium has taught something that was not handed down to it. Just like math principles are handed down and taught historically, the church has been entrusted with teaching faith and morals. This began with Peter and the Council of Jerusalem and continues with the Council of Trent. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy did not stop Paul from declaring the church as a pillar of truth, we shouldn’t let people’s hypocrisy keep us from believing the truth of the Church.

Why does God care

Birth Control: a Defense of the Church’s teachings

Most opposition to church infallibility comes from an unwillingness to accept the papal pronouncements. Many Catholics struggled to accept The Encyclical Humanae Vitae mainly the teachings against birth control. We must remember that church authority extends to moral proclamations consistent with scripture and tradition. Scripture teaches and tradition concurs that marriage is a union of ‘one flesh.’ Humanae vitae merely issued moral guidance on what it means to be ‘one flesh’ and concluded that artificial contraceptives hinder a couple’s ability to become ‘one flesh.’ To conclude that the pope reached this judgment in error is to show a lack of faith in the promise Jesus gave to the church, which was to protect it from error.

Objection: no Authority Over Private Life

One objection might be that the church has no authority over private life. After all, God only cares about whether I am a good person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives. Yes, God wants us to love others, but He also wants to obey his will. God for better or worse entrusted his apostles to carry out his will and build his church. This means that the church can extend on the word of God. Scripture was not created in a vacuum but was fostered and preserved by the traditions of the church. If we trust the church to define the canon of scripture, then we also have to trust that God is continuously guiding the church when it defines other moral truths.

Imagine for a moment that we are walking a dog. The dog sees a car and wants to chase it. However, the dog is constrained by a leash. We as rational being know that the leash is for the dog’s own good and wellbeing. However, to the dog, it keeps it from being free. In a similar way, the church’s moral judgments act as a leash. We, like the dog, may not understand why we are being constrained, but out of obedience and love for our master, we learn to obey.

Abortion: in the court of public opinion

This week my twitter feed was full of optimism surrounding the prospect that the court would finally repeal Roe v. Wade. The news of Supreme Court  Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring brought on this optimism. Even though I welcome the illegality of abortion, my legal knowledge, and general cynicism keep me from sharing in the optimism of my fellow Catholic followers. Rather I believe my fellow Christians and I must do a better job of changing the court of public opinion rather than being content with changing the legal landscape. To understand why one must look at 1. the historical landscape before Roe v. Wade, 2. Legal precedent up to the present, and 3. the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Abortion before Roe v. Wade

The legality of Abortion ebbed and flowed. In the early period of American history, when legal jurisprudence was governed by common law, abortion procedures were legal up to the point of “quicking.1 In the mid-1800 Massachusetts became the first state to introduce legislation making it illegal to get an abortion. 1 By 1960s 44 states had followed suit although some would make an exception if the mother’s life was endangered. 1 In 1967 Colorado became the first state to amend their abortion laws to allow an exception in case of rape, incest, life endangerment, woman’s health or the baby had a severe defect. 1 In 1972, one year before Roe case, 17 states had introduced legislation making abortion legal in some capacity. 1

There are two different narratives that emerge out of this historical perusal into American abortion legislation. The first is from a pro-life perspective in which abortion had always been criminal prior to Roe v. Wade either outright illegal or after a certain point such as ‘quicking.’ The legality of abortion is a modern trend. The second narrative is from a pro-choice perspective in which the legality of abortion from 1967 onward reflects a change in public opinion. This point will play an important role when discussing Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade

Abortion as a Fundamental Right

The issue addressed by the court is whether the right for women to terminate her pregnancy is protected as the right to privacy located in the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause. In order to address this issue, the court must first determine if the right is implicit to the concept of ordered liberty. This is usually determined by asking the question is the right deeply rooted in American history or traditions. As we discussed above, the answer is not so straightforward. At certain periods in American history, abortion had been legal and at other times illegal. How you view the history largely depends on whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. A majority of the court concluded that “restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage.”2 Thus a fundamental right exists.

Possible state interest

Having established a fundamental right, the court goes on to determine possible state interests. A state may still restrict a fundamental right if it has a compelling interest to do so. The court address two possible interest: 1. protecting the women from a dangerous medical procedure, and 2. Protecting prenatal life.2 In regards to the former, the court said the current medical knowledge makes abortions performed in the early trimester safe for women.2 Addressing protecting prenatal life, the court stated that “protection of the interests involved, again, has generally been contingent upon live birth. In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.”[2] Hence a state’s interest only becomes compelling at the point of viability.2 Abortion as a fundamental right will be defended in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Justice Kennedy was one of the three justices to write the deciding opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and it is his vote that led to the reaffirming of Roe v. Wade. The principle of stare decisis, or the idea that a court must follow the decisions that came before the case in question led the court to uphold the ruling. The court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey states, “Application of the doctrine of stare decisis confirms that Roe’s essential holding should be reaffirmed”.3

In reexamining that holding, the Court’s judgment is informed by a series of prudential and pragmatic considerations designed to test the consistency of overruling the holding with the idea of the rule of law, and to gauge the respective costs of reaffirming and overruling.”3 The important thing to note is that the court deliberately chose not to in this case.

Undue Burden Standard

The court goes on to say that changes in the understanding of when a fetus is viable do not change the fact that states interest only becomes compelling at viability.3 The court also states that weakened precedent has not been shown. However, in order to accommodate the state’s interest in potential life, the court will introduce the undue burden standard.3 “An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”3

Ways the Court Could Overturn Abortion Jurisprudence

There are two questions that govern the legal landscape of abortion: is the right to terminate your pregnancy a fundamental right, and is the legal restriction an undue burden on the women’s access to abortion? A conservative court could address both, most likely it will seek to limit abortion by upholding laws restricting abortion access.

Reasons The Court Will Not Address The Fundamental Rights Question

I do not see the court re-addressing the fundamental right question for two reasons. The first reason has to do with the fact that the question regarding a fundamental right depends on whether it is rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people. The reality is that the general consciousness of the people is more accepting, not less. According to Pew Research Center, “Though abortion is a divisive issue, more than half of U.S. adults take a non-absolutist position, saying that in most — but not all — cases, abortion should be legal.”

Furthermore, the issue has already been decided. Stare decisis requires the court to uphold it’s prior ruling unless the ruling is unworkable or there exists significant societal changes.4 Kurt Lash’s insightful journal article chronologies the history of stare decisis as applied by the court from Casey and onward.  He describes how stare decisis is often applied due to pragmatic concerns. When ruling on constitution decisions there is no remedy for judicial error other than a constitutional amendment and therefore courts applying stare decisis will also discuss the cost of judicial error.5 This can be seen in Casey, where the courts interpreted Roe’s judicial error as minimal and the cost to equal rights for women as very high.5 My argument is that nothing in society has changed to make the cost of repealing Roe less high.

Attacking the Undue Burden Standard

Thus the courts will have more success in upholding legal restrictions on abortion. An example can already be seen when the court upheld the validity of the ban on partial-birth abortion despite the legislation providing no exemption for the health of the mother. The court rationalized that a ban on intact D&E’s (procedure where baby’s head is partially birthed and then crushed) did not threaten the health of the mother because standard D&E procedures are available.

Consequences of Roe v. Wade repeal

If the court does manage to repeal Roe v Wade, I don’t think it will drastically change the abortion industry sadly. A repeal of Roe would mean that the states would now be free to define the legality of abortion. The decision would make a difference in pro-life states like Texas; however, I imagine that most states would allow abortion to remain legal due to the perceived hopelessness regarding the women’s situation.

Failure to Support Women

The pro-life movement has done a good job of defending life at conception; it has not defended the women, who are stuck with the pregnancies. Most women instinctively know that a fetus is living. When I worked at a pro-life pregnancy center, I was taught that if a woman ever said that she could never give her baby up for adoption, we were to question her about why if she chooses to carries it to term that it becomes a baby. Similarly, I learned that most women turn to abortion due to hopelessness. They believe that they have nowhere else to turn. As Christians, we have an answer to hopelessness. Jesus through the power of the gospel gives us hope and we are supposed to share this hope and love with others, who are hopeless and marginalized. We need to implement policies helping pregnant women.

Practical Solutions to Help End Abortion

If we truly want to end abortion, we need to stop picketing planned parenthood and start volunteering at pregnancy centers. We need to write our state legislators to support easier adoption policies, better foster care, and free childcare for low-income families and students. Support unemployment benefits for pregnant women, who are let go, and incentives for employers to hire pregnant women and paid maternity leave. Churches and Christian families need to stop shunning women, who are pregnant out of wedlock (yes, it’s a sin, but abortion is so much worse). However, if we continue to do nothing and society still believes that pregnancy holds women back then it won’t matter what the judicial courts do because we have failed to support pregnant women and we have failed to change the court of public opinion.

Work cited


  1. Gold,, Rachel. “Lessons From Before Roe: Will Past Be Prologue?”. Guttmacher Institute, 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  2. ROE v. WADE 410 US 113. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. ” Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/410/113.html. 
  3. Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 US 833. Supreme Court of the United States.1992  Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/505/833.html 
  4. Oyen, Timothy. “Stare Decisis”. LII / Legal Information Institute, 2018, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/stare_decisis. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  5. Lash, Kurt. “The Cost Of Judicial Error: Stare Decisis And The Role Of Normative Theory”. Notre Dame Law Review, vol 89, no. 5, 2014, pp. 2189-2218., https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=4561&context=ndlr. Accessed 2 July 2018.