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Monday, July 7, 2014

why we need a new protestant reformation

Growing up in Small Town, North Louisiana, I was certain of everything. 

Every word my parents spoke was truth. Every word my church leaders spoke was truth. If a teacher or textbook contradicted what I learned at home or church, it was obviously false information forced on me by the evils of an ungodly society. 

I was raised Baptist, as were all of my friends. My neighbor never went to church, and I made it my mission to “save” her from age 5. There was a single Catholic girl in our entire grade. It wasn’t my mission to save her; bless her heart, she was already a lost cause. was a well-known truth that Catholics aren’t really Christian. My church leaders told me so. They pray to dead saints and to Mary. They rely on their deeds to get to Heaven. They believe “communion” literally turns into Jesus’ blood and flesh. Their priests do dirty things to altar boys.


Sure, the spiritual leaders in my life taught me to love my neighbor as myself, and that love could lead to salvation for any person. Except Catholics.

My freshman year of college at LSU, a Catholic boy asked me to dinner. It wasn’t a “date,” but we liked each other and I considered the possibility that I misunderstood his faith. I cried when I got back to my dorm room, realizing his crazy beliefs would take him first to seminary, then straight to hell.

Three years later, I gave it another go. Too giddy to say no when Stephen asked me out on my birthday, I agreed to go on a real live date with this Catechism-quoting, former altar boy. We discussed classes, relationships and aspirations.

Catholics: they’re just like us!

I fell hard and fast. I couldn’t stop it. I knew it would be detrimental, and I knew it could never last, but I also couldn’t help it. We were “Facebook Official” within a week, at which point my Bible study leader called to let me know that Stephen was probably sent from Satan to derail me from my spiritual path.

I didn’t talk to my new boyfriend for five days, trying to sort out everything going through my mind. I decided it was best to discuss our most basic beliefs to determine the next move.

We met over cheeseburgers and French fries, and he shared with me his beliefs, leading me to realize that everything I’d heard about Catholicism from Protestants was wrong. Catholics are Christians, too. In many ways, better “Christians” than some of those I grew up with.

Obviously, in any denomination, there will be the people who ruin it for everyone. The CEO Baptists (Christmas and Easter Only). The criminals “acting on God’s will.” The Catholics who use confession as an excuse to put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame during the week.

At its core, Catholicism is a stunning belief system. There is literally no part of mass that doesn’t stem from a deep, beautiful and spiritually rich place. The true Catholics exude love in most things they do.

Take, for example, Pope Francis. In his first year of service, he has managed to both enrage and inspire the entire Christian community with one outrageous virtue: love like Jesus. He has embraced the diseased, accepted the homosexual, and denied himself the inherited luxury and comfort of the Vatican.

In my three and a half years of knowing Stephen and growing to understand his beliefs, I’ve come to realize that perhaps the most prevalent evil in Protestant churches is ignorance. 

Protestants’ ignorance of Catholicism is what created the enemy. Most of us neither understand nor bother ourselves to explore their beliefs or the meanings behind them. We simply accept other Protestants’ words as truth.

Ignorance accompanied by stubbornness got us where we are today.

To the world, Protestants aren’t viewed as loving disciples of Christ, as we are called to be. Like it or not, we are viewed as hateful Bible-thumpers who believe in the ultimacy of our values so fiercely that we berate women entering abortion clinics, criminalize the poor for their poverty, and inadvertently push gay teens to suicide.

We save our virginity for marriage, and thumb our noses at the pregnant teen. We take profile pics with an impoverished child during our annual mission trip, and forget the homeless suffering in our own community. We thank our forefathers for our religious freedom, and insist that America is a Christian nation.

One of my favorite notions from Sunday School is that Christ doesn’t differentiate between sins. Sin is sin. My sin is no better or worse than my neighbor’s sin because Christ died for all. Unless you’re gay, loose or a bit too dirty for our tastes.

We’ve created our own polarized culture that reflects not only on our spirituality, but also on our politics, education, perception of others and others’ perceptions of us. We’ve been blessed, both from our creator and from our government, with free will. We’re allowed to believe truth in our own certainties; it’s called faith. But I now see too many Christians assuming that those who don’t share those truths or who, God forbid, question them, are the enemy.

As Arleen Spenceley said in Confessions of a Catholic Christian, “The root of why it’s hard to get along is not the existence of doctrinal differences. It’s our unwillingness to admit that it’s OK for them to exist.”

The original Protestant Reformation stemmed from theological and moral opposition with the Catholic Church. We now need a reformation of ourselves; a realization that we are not at war with other Christians, be they Catholic or Baptist. We’re not even at war with other people. We are at war with evil. 

Just like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled alive, we’ve become so distracted with the enemies we create that we haven’t noticed the true evil we’ve allowed to infiltrate our lives and even ourselves.

“Faith without works is dead.” Your faith, your decades of church-attending, devotional-reading, mission trip faith, is worthless if you don’t love your neighbor. Jesus reminded us that only sick people need a hospital. In the same way, that “sinner” you know needs more love than the pastor you just brought a chicken casserole.

The proof is in the red letters. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

From Matthew 22:36-40 -
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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