The following is a guest blog post by Shoshana. She is an art communications major at Liberty University. Her interests include literature, history, and botany. In her spare time, she enjoys watercolor painting, gardening, and reading fiction.
I am a Catholic student at Liberty University. I am in my sophomore year studying studio art: painting, drawing, sculpture, etc. I very much enjoy my major and Liberty as a whole. I was raised Baptist. When I was eight years old my family entered the Catholic Church. My brother and I decided we wanted to stay at Liberty Christian Academy (LCA–the private Baptist school we had attended since kindergarten) rather than leave our friends and go to a Catholic school. There were times in high school when I regretted my decision to stay at LCA. I had a lot of friends, but none of them understood what I believed. My teachers were all great people, but all of them thought they knew what I as a Catholic believed and were often completely wrong. I cannot recount all the kindly and patiently uttered anti-Catholic speeches I endured, the many unconscious slights against Catholicism, and the few not-so-innocent remarks. One girl in my history class verbally attacked me because I “worshipped Mary”. I wish I had a dime for every time that untruth came up. Instead of asking me what I believed and taking time to listen, this girl assumed that she already knew all of my beliefs. Yet what she “knew” was based on hearsay. This is perhaps to be overlooked in a teenager, but when the offender was a teacher, he or she needed to be aware that “bearing false witness” (i.e., telling the class that Catholics believe something which they do not believe) is an offense in God’s eyes. In high school I had a teacher who told me it was his goal to convert me to Protestantism before the year was over. I found that insulting. I was a Christian just as he was (as Dr. Jerry Falwell always said, “Catholics are Christians!”). What right did my teacher have to try to change my Christian beliefs to match his own? This wasn’t even in a Bible class. Speaking of Bible classes, I had one every year from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I think I can claim to be thoroughly familiar with Baptist beliefs and even those of some other Protestant denominations (as several of my Bible teachers were not Baptist). I have the advantage of familiarity with both sides of Catholic/Protestant arguments. I wish that before someone tried to challenge my beliefs, they had to spend thirteen years learning catechism and Christian formation in a Catholic school. That would eliminate most of the arguments I’ve ever had with people who were woefully ignorant of Catholic beliefs.
I had always planned to go to Liberty because LCA offered a four-year scholarship to students who went to high school there. Most of my friends were going to Liberty and, once again, I wanted to stay with them. I have encountered delightful people who have been willing to ask questions and listen to answers, such as an art professor who showed thoughtful interest when he learned that I was Catholic. Many of my professors at Liberty, however, have been much like my teachers at LCA: good, friendly people, but biased and ignorant when it comes to Catholicism. Once again I am sitting through lectures where the professor’s anti-Catholic comments are prefaced with “You have to understand, it’s not that I’m against Catholicism,” and where teachers betray an ignorance of history and of Catholic teaching, telling the class, for example, that the veneration of Mary stems from the ancient pagan worship of Venus. It’s extremely frustrating when I get a professor who tells the entire 400-person class untruths about Catholics. Of course the class believes him or her because he or she is the one with the doctorate, the one who is supposed to be the most knowledgeable. These men and women seem to be perfectly knowledgeable in their fields, and I usually enjoy learning from them. It’s only when they stray into the apparently unfamiliar territory of Catholic beliefs that they start saying ridiculous things. One of my theology professors, for example, told our class that Catholics don’t believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, based on something he apparently heard from a Catholic. How was he to know that this isn’t true?
All Protestant denominations have a “statement of faith,” usually accessible at their website. Therefore, if I meet a Baptist who tells me that she believes that all “good people” will go to Heaven, I can check the Thomas Road Baptist Church website, look at their statement of faith (found under “What We Believe”), and see whether my Baptist informant is a reliable witness to the actual beliefs of her denomination. The Catholic “statement of faith” is called the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the CCC), and it is available in book form ($9.00 at Barnes and Noble), or online at www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm. Keywords can be searched, so if my professor wished to compare his Catholic informant’s claim to what Catholics actually believe about Christ’s resurrection, he could search the term “resurrection” and find the pertinent information on that subject, as follows
639 The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness.
642 The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection”, but they are not the only ones – Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.
643 Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.
645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body.
Why does a familiarity with Catholic doctrine matter? According to Christianity Today (2008), approximately 10% of Protestants are former Catholics, and approximately 8% of Catholics are former Protestants. Over the past 25 years converts to Catholicism have included prominent Protestant philosophers (Trent Dougherty, Rob Koons, J. Budziszewski, Jay Richards and the former president of the ETS, Francis Beckwith), theologians (Paul Quist, Richard Ballard, Paul Abbe, Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Bruce Marshall, Reinhard Hutter, Philip Max Johnson, Michael Root, R.R. Reno, Douglas Farrow and Gerald Schlabach), Wheaton professors (Joshua Hochschild, Leroy Huizenga), authors (the editor of “First Things” Richard John Neuhaus, former Touchstone Magazine editor David Mills, the co-author of Norman Geisler’s Is Rome the True Church? Joshua Betancourt, and Elizabeth Elliott’s brother Thomas Howard), and pro-life activists (Lila Rose, Norma McCorvey, Paul Schenck, Bryan Kemper, and Abby Johnson). Yet I believe that many, if not most, Baptists are unaware of this trend. Communication between Catholics and Evangelicals is crucially important, yet it will never take place if our attitude begins and ends with, “I already know what you believe – shut up and let me tell you about it.” How can we follow the Scriptural injunction to “speak the truth in love” if we have no earthly idea what we are talking about? A willingness to learn is vital, and the best place for Protestants to start learning about Catholicism is the CCC. Taking the time to read the Catechism is arguably the best way to familiarize oneself with actual Catholic theology, as opposed to “My neighbor’s nephew’s sister-in-law’s hairdresser is Catholic, and she said…..”
Dialogue between Protestants and Catholics is more important now than it ever has been. One of my most pressing concerns as a Catholic is to alert Protestants to the recent ruling by the Obama administration concerning Catholic-run schools, hospitals and social service agencies and contraception coverage. Providing contraception for employees would be, of course, in violation of Catholic teaching, and is a gross affront to our Constitutional right of freedom of religion. The issue is not whether you as a Protestant agree with the Catholic Theology of the Body; the issue is whether Catholics and Protestants will stand together in opposition to this blatant assault on religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Chuck Colson discusses it here: www.oneplace.com/ministries/breakpoint/listen/outrageous-choice-religious-freedom-or-healthcare-257522.html.
Martin Niemoller’s famous warning could literally come true in our generation:
“Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
We are all Christians – we have to speak out for each other. But as we speak out, I hope we can begin speaking to each other – listening and speaking the truth in love.