Protest and Evangelization Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 27 March 2009 06:59
Kevin Jones asks a profound question over at Amy's new blog, Via Media:

Isn’t protest in some ways the opposite of evangelization?

It is - unless we live lives of such integrated, sacrificial, compelling discipleship that we become simultaneously witnesses and calls to conversion. Then protest and evangelization become one.

The great lay disciples of the early 20th century: Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Peter Maurin were such witnesses. But they were also extremely radical figures before the Vatican Council. So far to the left on the spectrum that you could hardly see them. As Catherine Doherty noted: In the 60's, her community woke up to find that they had suddenly become "conservative". Madonna House hadn't changed a hair but the entire Church had revolved around them - seemingly overnight.

Here Catholics are at something of a disadvantage. At the parochial level where 99% of all Catholics live, the current generation of American Catholics don't have a strong tradition of either protest or evangelization. Since talk of human rights, liberty, and protest were associated with revolution and anti-clericalism in the 18th and 19th centuries and because we felt vulnerable in a country with a tradition of popular anti-Catholicism, bishops, pastors, and faithful Catholics usually regarded the idea of protest with distrust and stressed obedience.

At the parochial level, neither do we have a strong tradition of anything as evangelization. (it is fascinating to be around fellow evangelizers as I was in Detroit last weekend and hear them confirm the same dynamics that we have encountered: de facto universalism and pelagianism everywhere, the conflation of catechesis and evangelization, no imaginative category for intentional discipleship etc.) Evangelization was the responsibility of religious orders specifically dedicated to that purpose: the Paulists or Mother Cabrini's sisters who worked to help Catholic immigrants return to Mass and the sacraments.

Certainly not protest as evangelization.

What would protest as evangelization look like? In the current situation where economic fears are driving women and even married couples to choose abortion in larger numbers than ever, how about this?

What if the USCCB in collaboration with all the major pro-life groups and support of parishes and million of Catholics were to announce a national initiative:

That we are committed to ensuring that no woman or couple feels compelled to choose abortion out of fear. If you need financial support, we stand ready to give it. If you need a home, a supportive community, medical assistance, whatever to bring this baby to birth, we will be there. We have hundreds of thousands of adoptive and foster parents ready to help. We will not let you drown. We will back this up with our lives: our parishes, our networks, our institutions, our money, our time and energy, our sacrifice. You don't have to be Catholic or Christian or religious. No bull. No judgement.

All you have to do is call or e-mail us today here (National website/toll free number)

A sort of national, high visibility, high priority, well financed, Nurturing Network supported by all dioceses, bishops, and parishes and millions of pro-lifers from all backgrounds. And then, of course, we actually did it.

Something like this has been done on a large scale around a different issue before in the US. But not by Catholics. By Quakers.

In 1688, a small Quaker meeting in Germantown, Pennsylvania became the first Christian body to, as a whole, repudiate slavery. Before the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, propelled by the life-long witness of people like the gentle prophet, John Woolman, had determined to utterly reject the owning of slaves. In 1780, the state of Pennsylvania, the heart of Quakerism in the US, passed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Quakers, as a body, not only freed their slaves, many left their homes in slave areas (like North Carolina) to new territories like Indiana in order to be free to free their slaves. And many paid their former slaves back wages.

Richmond, Indiana, where I studied before I became Catholic, was founded by such Quaker families and the region went on to become a center of the Underground Railroad before the civil war.

The larger American abolitionist movement, involving many other Christian groups - but very few Catholics for the reasons I mentioned above - had going full steam by the 1830's. Although it was war that ultimately changed the national laws, without decades of popular agitation on the topic, it would never happened, By 1830, Quakers, who pioneered religious opposition to slavery both in the US and in Britain, had been firmly abolitionist for three generations.

The out-spoken "abolitionist", draw a line in the sand, fervor of some American Catholic bishops and lay people is apparently, unique in the Catholic world at this time. (As many have pointed out, even out-spoken champions of life like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have given communion to and honored openly pro-abortion politicians. John Allen has observed the burning civil rights issue for Catholics in Italy is the death penalty, not abortion. In Australia, the most passionately orthodox pro-life leaders vote for candidates who are openly pro-abortion without a crisis of conscience. It's illegal to abstain from voting and there aren't any real pro-life candidates anyway. It is just not an issue in the same way. And in any case, Catholic doctrine is deeply under-developed in this area. Because the dynamics of democracy - which is the real issue here - are relatively new.)

What if American Catholics are called to play a role in the the development of an understanding of how respond to life issues in a democratic context within global Catholicism similar to the role that American Quakers played in the cause of the abolition of slavery? The prophetic catalyst.

But we won't do it by scolding or merely venting which seems to be our modus operandi at present. We seem to be re-fighting the battles of the 50's and 60's. The vast majority of US Catholics under the age of 65 are not disciples and are deeply post-modern in their worldview. The majority don't even darken the door anymore. But we keep trying to lecture them as though they were Polish parishioners listening to Father or Sister in a parish hall in 1950's Chicago. It didn't work all that well then. it really doesn't work now.

What does speak to people in every generation, what reaches past distrust and politics and culture, what changes the nature of the debate, is a persistent, costly, loving witness that the majority cannot dismiss as mere self-interest. A faithful public witness beyond considerations of political success, a witness that incarnates what we say we believe.

A witness of communal, rather than merely individual, life where protest really does become evangelization.