Category Archives: Crossing the Tiber
The metaphor of courtship and marriage fits conversion well, as many of the attitudes and behaviors are similar. People may be attracted by looks, station in life, or other peripheral issues, but these will not sustain a marriage; after all, injury, disease, and age wreak havoc on externals. Converts may fall head-over-heals in love with liturgy/aesthetics or with kindnesses shown them, but must eventually reckon with people and behaviors illustrating the truth of the doctrine of total depravity. While there will always be those terminally naive folks who quixotically search for the nonexistent “perfect church” – like those who think that marriage is all champagne and fireworks – even the sober-minded and practical can lose sight of what truly matters. In marriage one exchanges the problems of singleness for the problems of having two sinners locked into a life-long covenant. Ecclesially, conversion means exchanging one set of problems for another; no problems is not an option. In this world there are no perfect people, marriages, or churches, and pretending otherwise is a set-up for failure; ultimately, though, some things are more important than others.
Embryo Parson, who blogs at theoldjamestownchurch.org, is a convert from Orthodoxy to Continuing Anglicanism, and wrote an article about both important doctrinal differences and those “extras” associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church. These include: rampant ethnocentrism; a virulent anti-Western bias; and a growing acceptance of the Liberal agenda, including LGBT issues (1). The Roman Catholic Church is no different here.
While I agree with him, especially on doctrinal matters, I offer a few tu quoques. I bring these up only because convert infatuation tends to blind one to the faults of the object of one’s affection and idealize her – not a good way to think and act in a very real and unideal world. When it comes to the extras, for every finger pointed at Catholics and Orthodox, they could point one back at Embryo Parson. I include this review to illustrate the point that, in the end, these hidden costs and problems are inescapable, universal, and irrelevant. That said, I will address the points in EP’s article.
As I mentioned in my article on Messianic Judaism, Vanilla American as an ethnicity is particularly evident to those who aren’t, and is not one free of racial/ethnic bigotry and American civic religion. I also mentioned the attitude rife in the conservative Reformed world: “if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much;” similar attitudes can be found among Covenanters (Reformed Presbyterians, aka “Covies”). The Lutheran idea of diversity historically amounted to people from different German states and regions of Scandinavia; for Anglicans, the old adage “wogs begin at Calais” makes the same point. The difference between Catholics and Protestants vis-a-vis ethnocentrism may be more imagined than real, reflecting human nature more than a particular theology or culture.
A particular manifestation of ethnic bigotry which thrives in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic circles is antisemitism of the most virulent sort (2). Even “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a tract so obviously contrived that even Czar Nicholas II, who was no Judeophile, condemned it as a patent fraud, is still being published and distributed courtesy of the good offices of the Russian Orthodox Church. The ravings of Athonite monks (eg Elder Paisios (3)), saints (eg John Chrysostom (4), John of Kronstadt (5)), and recently Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus (6), seem to be giving the Russians a run for their money. Chrysostom’s animadversion towards Jews is still reflected in his liturgy, and hence is virtually fixed in the minds of the Orthodox faithful, whose forebears were enthusiastic participants in pogroms and other depredations against Eastern European Jewry (7). Not to be outdone, Roman rad-trads like SSPX, Rorate Caeli, Fish Eaters, and Most Holy Family Monastery still spew forth the old libels and stereotypes which helped create a climate ripe for the Holocaust. (8) As for “main line” Catholics (ie, those in communion with the pope), the culture that wrought centuries of bloodbaths, plundering, forced conversions, exiles, and humiliations, lingers on. An example is the growing support for Palestine and condemning Christian Zionism while ignoring Palestinian groups like Musalaha and Sabeel using Christianity for their own political ends – even as Palestinian Christians flee their own territories, Hamas and the Palestine Authority call for shariah law, and the church in Israel grows. This double standard makes poor camouflage for “respectable” antisemitism. (9). The Liberal churches are joining in the feeding frenzy under the guise of “social justice” (10).
Granted, Protestantism has no lack of bigots and not the cleanest past regarding the Jews, but the difference today is individual rather than systemic. For example, the LCMS has publicly repudiated Luther’s choleric “Concerning the Jews and Their Lies” as well as antisemitism in general (11). Thus antisemitism in the church is due to individual haters (eg “Holocaust Herman” Otten) rather than church positions or culture, but is there nonetheless (12). Explanations for this include lack of liturgical malediction, an history of missions to Jews, and a long history of Reformed tolerance (13).
Along with antisemitism comes its equally low-brow sibling, conspiracy theories, both sired by a mindset and culture averse to accepting responsibility for its own bad fortune. Not only are Jews and Western culture held responsible for all that is wrong in and with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic homelands, but also freemasonry with other secret societies and shadowy “dark forces.” The idea that a religious culture which has bred poverty, peasantry, and pogroms everywhere it has been expressed could possibly be the source of its own misery does not seem to have occurred to these people. The idea that godless immorality is a Western import is equally outrageous, considering the rates of abortion, drunkenness, and violence in said homelands.
Orthodox and Catholics could counter the anti-Western bigotry charge with the anything-not-American bigotry in many Evangelical circles as being equally parochial; if you disagree, you probably haven’t endured enough “Christian America” and “those people out there” sermons, or worse, pop-dispy prophecy-mongering. If it’s crackpot conspiracy theories you seek, the Christian Right abounds with them (14). As for Liberalism, the LCMS is rife with it, as illustrated by the support given to Liberal minister Matthew Becker (15). The Reformed and Anglicans are no better, as Continuing Anglicans still battle with Liberalism in the form of priestesses and the Reformed tolerate Darwinism in failing to discipline its members associated with BioLogos (16).
Although not covered by Embryo Parson, a favorite argument against Protestantism is its schismatic behavior, having many conflicting beliefs and denominations despite a shared claim of sola Scriptura. However, the number of equally schismatic and mutually hostile churches claiming to the the One True Church Founded by Christ is not insignificant (17), despite their shared commitment to Holy Tradition.
In marriage, after looks and ability begin their inevitable decline, commitment and character issues remain; ecclesially, after one’s infatuation with liturgy, aesthetics, and antiquarianism ends, what remains? Is there any better way to discriminate between Wittenberg, Geneva, Canterbury, and Edinburgh on one side, and Rome and Constantinople on the other, besides engaging in meaningless nyah-nyah tu quoques? DV this will be answered in the next post.
http://www.oldjamestownchurch.com/blog/2012/6/8/for-evangelicals-and-others-considering-eastern-orthodoxy.html. The article also discusses key theological issues, but those are without the scope of my post.
2. http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/jewish_1.html. This is the first article in a series, which is well worth reading in toto even if I reject some of the author’s conclusions.
4. http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/622. See http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/antisemitism.aspx for a rebuttal of this notion; the argument that Chrysostom meant “Judaizers” when he wrote and said “Jews” was a subtlety lost on his audiences (and victims). It is more honest to just admit that even great men – including Luther – had flaws than to tap-dance around the obvious.
7. A noteworthy exception occurred in Nazi-occupied Bulgaria, where both King Boris III and Archbishop Stefan defied Hitler’s orders to deport Bulgarian Jewry to death camps. The two leaders werre assisted by Roman Catholic Msgr Angelo Roncalli, better known in history as Pope John XXIII
http://www.mostholyfamilymonastery.com/news/holocaust-hoax/#.Vexhu0r3arV res ipsa loquitur
http://roshpinaproject.com/tag/mitri-raheb/ read entire series of articles
http://www.catholicireland.net/distinguishing-antizionism-from-antisemitism/ – note the total lack of reference to Arab treatment of Jews; many of the Israelis most opposed to peace with Palestinians are Mizrahis ( “easterners;” ie residents of MENA) thrown out of their homes with no compensation; I recall no discussion on whether such Jews should be compensated by the Arab states from “limousine liberals” and “parlor Palestinians” in the West.
10. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/jesus-was-a-palestinian-the-return-of-christian-anti-semitism/ from a Liberal Jewish journal showing the shark turning in its entrails;
12. http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/holohoax.htm. Otten wrote many antisemitic diatribes which found ready support in such racist papers as The Spotlight and various White Supremacist papers and blogs
13. Mission work to Jews has always figured prominently among the Reformed, a notable examble being the Free Church of Scotland mission in Hungary under Rev John “Rabbi” Duncan, among whose convert were Alfred Edersheim and Adoph Saphir. Among Lutherans one of the brightest examples was Rev Hermann Strack, a professor of Hebrew and a student of Talmud. Emamples of tolerance shown to Jews include Jewish civil equality in New Amsterdam enforced by central authority in its revoking Peter Stuyvesant’s discriminatory laws; Jews permitted to return to England by Cromwell; general acceptance of Jews in Colonial America; Jews able to enter professions including American government service and military; even places named for Jews (eg Yulee County and Ft Myers, FL; Aaronsburg, PA)
14. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Christianity_conspiracy_theorists No church community has cornered the conspiracy theory market
15. http://steadfastlutherans.org/2015/03/lcms-liberals-write-an-open-letter-to-pr-gilbert/. In fine, Becker, who DG is now out of the LCMS, openly and in defiance of church teaching and his ministerial oath, publicly supported Liberal views such as priestesses; note the scandalous support of those who lack the integrity to leave the LCMS quietly.
16. BioLogos is a Liberal organization promoting theistic evolution, which is a position contrary to Reformed symbols (eg Westminster Confession of Faith) and subsequent rulings by the conservative Reformed churches in the US (eg Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America). Tim Keller, a rockstar pastor in the PCA, is a public supporter of BioLogos in open defiance of his church’s teaching; the synodical silence thereabout has been deafening.
17. Here’s a short list: Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Church of the East, sedevacantists, rad-trads, Old Calendarists. There are numerous non-canonical Catholic and Orthodox continuing bodies as well, and a number of Anglo-Catholic wannabees So much for the unifying influence of “Holy Tradition.”
While I am a rather conservative sort of LCMS’er, I really fit nowhere in the worship wars. I refer to myself as “mid-church,” meaning that I expect decency and order, the use of the creeds, and a general maintaining of the integrity of the Western liturgy; I care nothing for crucifixes, processionals, sanctus bells, and all of the sort of fussbudgetry characterizing those who (wrongly) see themselves as “Evangelical Catholics.” Then again, if I wanted “shake yo’ booty fo’ Jesus” contemporary worship, I wouldn’t be a Lutheran, as such worship is no fit vehicle for a Word-and-Sacrament sort of Christianity. Besides, given the ages of our congregants, the broken hips and slipped discs in our superannuated booty-shakers would wreak havoc on our already unfavorable burial-to-baptism ratio.
Yet for me, sitting in church this morning being serenaded by an all-female choir singing pietistical hymns led by a female Haugenista music director, after which the congregation applauded, I began to think of folks like Dr Pelikan, Fr Neuhaus, Rod Dreher, Frank Schaefer, Scott Hahn, Thomas Howard, and an host of others who left the ranks of conservative confessional Protestantism for the murky waters of Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. Remembering the cacophonic kiddie choir singing patriotic songs after the Nunc Dimittis on Flag Day (“oh, they were just soooooo adorable!”) did little to improve my state of mind. With each bum note of each bum song I felt I understood the converts’ reason for swapping churches – worlds, really – a little better, and even felt a little sympathy.
So, why are we seeing a stream of Protestant intelligentsia converting to Rome and Orthodoxy? Entire websites are dedicated to Catholic (Roman and otherwise) apologetics, conversion stories, support networks, etc, and the reasons for people’s conversions are as varied as the converts themselves. There are, however, some common reasons, which I wish to explore. My information comes from books, internet sources, personal interviews with converts, and a rather strong attraction to Eastern Christianity. So, here goes nothing:
- Somewhere over the rainbow: an unsatisfying church life and/or faith experience can be the first step out the door. As I once heard Dr Laura say when advising a woman whose daughter was leaving her Baptist background for Mormonism, people don’t go from something to something else – they go from nothing to something; ie for whatever reason, the spiritual status quo is rejected and something is sought after to fill the void. Perhaps the convert had unanswered questions and lingering doubts, an outsider’s loneliness with no social anchor to the original church, run-ins with the powers that be, etc, and is just looking for some acceptance so he can live out his faith in a supportive community. A big problem here is that anger, while a strong motivator, is an awful reason to do just about anything. Leaving a church over real or perceived mistreatment, a desire to “flip-off” family or foes, or other causes for high dudgeon, may lead to precipitous decisions resulting in unpleasant and irremediable consequences. If respectful remonstration is met with high-handedness or outright dismissal, that is another matter entirely.
2. Exhuming Miss Janet: closely akin to #1 is a longing for the gravitas so conspicuously absent from me-focused and entertainment-focused contemporary worship yet abundantly manifest in the historic liturgies. The convert need not fear clown or polka services, although Sister Mary Feminazi may still be pushing guitar masses or other such Romper Room antics in some quarters. Even then, there are congregations using the Latin Mass, providing a niche for those to whom historic and dignified worship is important. Orthodox churches, Eastern and Oriental, have not abbreviated their liturgies, and are (for the present) refractory to changing them. Since not all well-educated folk are motivated by doctrine alone or even primarily, aesthetics can play a major role in a convert’s decision-making process, and is really not a subject to be dismissed out of hand.
3. Old dead guys: the late Cardinal Newman once (erroneously) quipped: “To be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.” Intelligent people with a love and respect for history can get hung-up on the parochiality of referring only to one’s own group’s theologians from the Reformation forward, as if nothing of any worth happened between AD 33 and 1517 (or later, depending upon the group in question), as if their church were the people and wisdom shall die with them. The perceived lack of continuity between modern Evangelicalism and the early church can be very troubling to those with respect for the past.
4. Participatory: having attended a Tridentine Mass, several Eastern Orthodox liturgies (including in an Old Calendarist church where I stood for nearly three hours) and a Coptic Orthodox liturgy, conventional “hymn sandwich” Evangelical worship looks like a mere spectator’s sport. Liturgy means “work of the people,” and those people do work. The church year is replete with feasts, fasts, additional services, traditions, etc. These engage the body as incense does smell; iconography and architecture, sight; exquisite chanting, hearing. In short, traditional liturgical worship engages the worshiper holistically and with a sense of awe and wonder – exactly how Marty Haugen doesn’t. A cynic or church-growther might quip that historic liturgies are but the entertainment of the antiquarian curmudgeon and hence the desire for such is but another example of niche marketing, but that argument is about as credible as “I never inhaled” because, well, those liturgies antedate contemporary worship by nearly two millennia, making contemporary worship the exemplar of niche marketing. One need not believe in capital-t Tradition to reject the removing or altering the historic liturgies for any other reason than fidelity to Scripture; ie “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set (Prov 22:28).”
5. Appreciation for men: Outside of the Reformed and Eastern Orthodox churches, conservative Christianity is overwhelmingly a woman’s world despite the restriction of ordination to men. There’s just something about lilting music sung by women, felt banners, kiddie plays and choirs, effeminate hymnody, bridal mysticism, a laundry list of namby-pamby do’s and don’t’s (eg no drinking, no smoking, watch your language), and an host of other extra-scriptural rules (ie, a “Christian Talmud”) that repel men. In Orthodoxy men take church seriously, and take the lead in worship. For a good read pick up Leon Podles’ /The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity/ and see what I mean.
6. Appreciation for intelligence: whatever else one may say of them, priests tend to be educated men, and educated men appreciate education. While this can also be said of confessional Protestant clergy, the same cannot be said of broad Evangelicals, whose colleges and seminaries were accurately lampooned in Sinclair Lewis’ /Elmer Gantry/. I remember driving one Sunday night through the middle of Pennsylvania’s radio wasteland, where one’s choice of listening spanned the spectrum of country-western to gospel. A radio preacher was disabusing the audience of the notion that Samson was mucho macho, and that indeed he was a flaming sissy; after all, he had long hair and, rather than go “a-courtin’,” he had to ask his parents to find him a wife. Res ipsa loquitur. It is understandable how anyone functioning above the brainstem would find such preaching gut-curdling and seek refuge from it. The RCC has always sought out the best and brightest, and has contributed immeasurably to Occidental learning and culture; there is no gainsaying this.
7. Let’s go to the hop: Americans are said to be church-hoppers, and might view the Catholic churches as but other selections on the religious dim sum cart. While I don’t doubt that people so doctrinally destitute exist, I’m not skeptical enough to believe that they make up anything but an infinitesimally small part of Tiber and Bosporus traffic; then again PT Barnum was right when he said that nobody ever lost money underestimating American intelligence.
8. Puddle-jumping: for those who never grasped or bought sola gratia and solo Christo (eg, those who would have said “God is my co-pilot” back in the day), conversion is but a switch from one religion of works-righteousness to another. One trades ugly modern American rules, rituals, and aesthetics for beautiful ancient European ones, and kisses a papal or episcopal ring rather than a controlling minister’s backside. Some call this progress.
9. The last group to consider is that which pollsters and others writing on this topic fail to or just won’t recognize: those who, despite being well-grounded in Reformation theology, convert after serious study and in all sincerity. This is the group with which I’m most familiar, and I find it far too easy and ego-tonic to dismiss these people as those who were never real Protestants to begin with. Those who do dismiss them have the annoying habit of viewing converts from the opposite direction as having been sincere and committed, but can’t fathom how or why men like Dr Pelikan could leave Lutheranism for what Doug Wilson called “Roman Catholicism with a beard.” The bottom line is that they do; Christian charity requires us to assume such sans sufficient evidence to the contrary.
I doubt that my list is exhaustive, and agree that people may fit into multiple categories. However central worship is to church life, church is more than worship, and other factors – not the least of which is doctrine – can’t be ignored. Yet, given the emotional emphasis of many conversion stories, the risk is that those who are lovestruck one day may be apathetic or antipathetic the next, given the changeable nature of our emotions. On the other hand, few people are like Mr Spock and work by logic alone, and GIGO works in more areas than computing. My next post will, DV, examine some of these other factors involved in leaving Protestantism for the Catholic world.