Monday, April 9, 2012

Baptists and Catholics Together?

Matthew Schmaltz's article on the "On Faith" blog of the Washington Post entitled "Baylor and Notre Dame: Baptist-Catholic competition, cooperation" was about more than simple March Madness mania, but an increasingly visible coalition. He writes of his New England Roman Catholic background and encountering Southern Baptists for the first time in Oklahoma:
During church baseball games in that small Oklahoma town, Catholics and Baptists would eschew discussions about theological differences to speak about their shared concerns over the rights of the unborn, the removal of religion and religious imagery from public life, the spread of pornography, and the sexualization of popular culture. Underlying it all was a feeling of not being taken seriously in and by American society and culture.
GK Chesterton: OG Distributist
Increasingly, conservative Catholics and those on the opposite end of the liturgical spectrum are finding themselves allies in the public square. Schmaltz cites Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President and all-around Reformed Baptist Extraordinaire Al Mohler's defense of religious liberty in response to the HHS mandate on contraception as an example of this seemingly unlikely partnership. Indeed, the Ethics & Culture Conference on secularism at Notre Dame last November showed the increasingly close ties between Baptists and Catholics. Houston Baptist University had a panel all their own and Baylor was a near ubiquitous presence. (Conference dinner conversation - J: "I read in First Things the other day..." St. Thomas student: "Are you sure you're not Catholic?") Questions about social issues have long brought evangelicals and Catholics together, but, especially in the wake of the unseemly greed and crass consumerism that kicked off the recession, I think more Protestants should rally to Catholic Social Teaching that offers a wholesale alternative to rampant free markets. I can call myself a distributist even though Chesterton finds my fondness for the Institutes a dour tragedy. The author of this article from (no friend of the Magisterium) urges Calvinists to "pay attention to, if not embrace altogether as their own" Catholic Social Teaching, "especially the principles of familialism, subsidiarity, and solidarity." 

My own experience among the small remnant of Catholics who occasionally lament Vatican II at Georgetown, a Jesuit school plagued by varying degrees of nominalism depending on who you ask, confirms the importance of this growing coalition. Clearly, we've had many a heated conversation about justification and purgatory, but have come to find that historical Protestantism and conservative Catholicism care about many of the same things: covenantal relationships over contractual, preeminence of natural law in the public square to reflect the created order, and a desire to see the religious voice taken seriously. Concern for "faith, family, and local community" can bridge gaps without denying the important theological distinctions that divide those on one side of the Tiber from the other. One of my favorite Jesuits calls our little band of Calvinists "separated brethren and sistren" (which we answer with teasing questions about the real meaning of "anathema") and while it breaks my heart that we cannot approach the Lord's Table together, I'm thankful we can venture out in the world to speak caritas in veritate on social issues and in the intellectual world, if not in mission.

Naturally, I bristle at the Catholic argument that the Reformation basically caused modernity and made Nietzsche possible (Carl Trueman has a great response to Brad Gregory here), but that's why we Protestants need some of our own Robbie Georges and Alisdair MacIntyres. We can speak a similar language in the Academy and it is encouraging to see places like Baylor begin to develop a similar appreciation for the interaction of faith and reason within the historical Protestant tradition.

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