Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What's up with that?

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An informal series addressing questions Protestants and Catholics have about each other

Welcome to the first post in this informal series.  (I must stress the lack of formality here--there will be no schedule and no particular format to these posts.)  When I first made public my decision to become Catholic, I mentioned that I desired to continue to be a part of ecumenical efforts by helping Protestants and Catholics to understand one another.  When I was still a Protestant I felt a certain responsibility to defend Catholicism when incorrect comments were made about the denomination.  This happened a lot since I grew up in the south where encountering Catholics can be very rare in some areas.  Because I had a lot of Catholic family members and my family hailed from an area of the country where being Catholic is as tough to shake as being Italian, I had a decent background in Catholicism.  I had family members I loved and respected who were Catholic, I had been taught by them, I went to their funerals.  My father grew up Catholic and still is, technically.  My mother grew up with a parent of each, but because of her Catholic mother's influence adopted Catholic traditions that were passed to us--which is why we were the only Protestant kids in school eating fish on Friday.  So my personal knowledge of Catholicism and Catholics led me to feel the need to be the defender of Catholicism when it took hits from Protestants.  When a girl at my lunch table literally and genuinely asked, Are Catholics Christians?  I tried very hard to not hit my head against the table, but to explain how Catholics were Christians before the Baptists (eek!).

I've always been interested in theology as well and since I have taken more time than the ordinary laywoman to familiarize herself with other denominations, I find that in my station as an extremely minor blogger with excessively little influence on any particular segment of the population, I'm qualified to try to provide some explanations to you, dear readers.  (That's my way of explaining that I have absolutely no professional or spiritual qualifications for any of this so please don't take my word for "Gospel".  Ha.)

First, for all of my Catholic readers and also for my evangelical readers, I would like to make a distinction about Protestants.  Both of these groups have been known to think that the other and themselves are the only two categories out there.  This is false.  For the purposes of my explanation we're going to divide Christians into these categories (and let me just tell you how much it pains an ecumenical champion like myself to have had to use the word "divide" just then):

Mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians)
Evangelical Protestants (Baptist, non-Denominational)
Other (including the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists)
Eastern churches

The distinction I want to most clearly make is between Mainline and Evangelical.  The lists in parentheses are not comprehensive nor are they definitive, but they are helpful for these explanatory purposes.  Many Catholics believe that all Protestants believe the same things based on their knowledge of one or two Protestants.  If those Protestants happened to be evangelical, their understanding of what Protestants believe will be very different from if they were mainline.

One of my pet peeves is the tendency of formerly evangelical Protestants to go about telling Catholics what Protestants believe and what Protestant culture is like when it is, in fact, not true of all denominations.  I have seen formerly evangelical Protestants often talk about the culture of submission for women or the conservatism or the literal interpretation of creation that is Protestant culture.  This is incorrect.  Most mainline Protestant denominations are very liberal.  It may depend on which "flavor" (for instance, there are a few different kinds of Presbyterians--the PC(USA), ARP, PCA), but the larger more dominant "flavors" are, in general, liberal in their interpretation of scripture and practices.  Women are ordained and pastor churches, homosexuality is fine, and abortion can sometimes be a faithful choice.

I grew up in a Presbyterian PC(USA) church, one of the most liberal denominations out there (as a whole).  However, there is also variation between presbyteries and between churches themselves.  So this is all good information to know if you are a cradle Catholic and have any interest in understanding Protestant denominations.  Personally, I think anyone who is seeking to evangelize an individual who already has a faith tradition needs to have some kind of grasp on that tradition AND have a grasp on what the Reformation was aboutOtherwise, you will get lost very quickly because that is like trying to give someone directions to your house when you don't know where their house is.  Make sense?

So, having said all of that, I'm glad everyone has a little place to start from.  I will not be teaching you about all these differences, that's something you'll have to do on your own.  But I do hope I helped a bit.  Here are a few of the topics I'd like to cover in this informal series:

-Using form prayers
-What is religion?
-Beautiful churches
-Catholic "rules"
-Being a physical and spiritual being
-Transformation of pagan rituals to Christian holidays
-Liturgical year

If you see something on this list you are particularly interested in, let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an e-mail.  If you see something you think you would be interested in writing about or being a contributing writer in some capacity, please also get in touch.  This list focuses mostly on questions I know Protestants have about Catholics, but I know I have a lot of Catholic readers who may have their own questions.  Please, let me know what they are in a comment or e-mail and I promise, they will get answered.  I'm interested in having contributors who are cradle Catholics and Protestants and converts of both. 

Please join me--I'm excited!


  1. This is such an interesting idea - I hope you get lots of good questions to answer. I'd love to help you out with the writing, too, if you need me - let me know how I can support you in this project.

  2. I love this idea! I'm not sure I know enough to write a good blog post, but I can't wait to read them!

    1. Caitlin, you don't necessarily need to write a whole post. If you have a thought or two, that's fine too. I might do a post that's just a couple sentences from several people on the subject, Twitter-style! And do YOU have any questions??

    2. Sweet :) We should chat about this stuff sometime and see if we can't come up with a quote. I don't really have questions that you haven't already covered. It kinda helps that I've done a lot of research, too, unlike a lot of Catholics/Protestants about the other faith.

    3. Yeah, I think we're both the sort of people who have done extensive research on our own already. But it doesn't need to be a question you still have--maybe one that you did and answered for yourself early on, but because you had that question you understand where other Protestants are coming from.

  3. Sounds interesting...looking forward to reading more! :)

    1. Thanks, Patty! Let me know if you think of any questions you have about Protestants!


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