Whenever I tune into the local NBC Boston affiliate to watch "Harry's Law" or "Law and Order", I am bound to see a commercial for "Catholics Come Home."
Ordinary people come on the air for about a minute looking very sincere, and talk about how their lives were empty and without meaning until they re-discovered (or discovered) the Roman Catholic Church.
People say things like, "As soon as I walk in the door, I feel peace." And, "I'm accepted for who I am." And, "I was divorced and left the church. If I didn't have God, I would be back to that lonely stage, that troubled place." And, "When you come home to the Catholic Church, you're coming home to a Catholic family where people just embrace you."
You can watch a clip of it, here:
The commercials all end the same way - by encouraging the viewer to visit the website, "Catholics Come Home."
There's an old saying in 12-Step Programs: "If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you're going to get a haircut."
After a few months of watching these commercials, I finally went over to the site. What I found was not exactly my grandfather's Roman Catholic Church - and, it was almost exactly as I had left it, and as it has been for thousands of years.
The technology and website design are pretty impressive. There's lots of videos of personal testimonies, upbeat music one can click on and listen to, and loads of easily accessible information.
"I used to be Catholic - Why should I come home?"Hmmm ... Well, Father, I'd like to see what's behind Box #1, please. So, I clicked it.
"I'm not Catholic - I have questions about your faith."
"I'm Catholic - I'd like to help."
There, on the "I used to be Catholic" page, without even clicking on it, a video clip of a very handsome Mexican man who identifies himself as an actor and a model, begins to play.
He says, "I didn't know about my faith. How can you love your faith when you don't know about it?" before he gives the same spin about 'peace and happiness'.
On that page, I found a link to a sort of "Dave Letterman Top Ten" Reasons to Come Back. "
It begins with this introduction, which carries a similar, welcoming theme that is consistent throughout the web site.
No matter how long you have been away from the Catholic Church, you can always come home. You can start going to Mass again (find a parish) and become a part of a parish community that is ready to welcome you with open arms. God is inviting you to dive into your faith in a deeper way than you ever have before.So, I started to read the "Roman Catholic Top Ten" which includes things I agree with like, "Because we want meaning in life." And, "Because we make mistakes." And, "Because we want to be healed." And, "Because we want our children to have a firm faith foundation."
And, the Number One Reason to come back to the Roman Catholic Church: "Because we hunger for the Eucharist," with the note that "The Eucharist is the number one reason that people come back to the Church."
Pay attention to this list. I'll come back to it in a moment.
I realized that I was starting to feel all gooey-warm in my heart, thinking, "Hey, maybe they have changed. Let me take a closer look."
The banner across the top of the website has a few "drop down menus" including one entitled "Answering Your Questions". The Categories include, "Church Teaching", "Marriage and Divorce", "Moral Issues", "Confession", "Death and Grieving" and "Catholic Resources".
I was curious about "Marriage and Divorce" so I clicked on that first. Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church has softened its stand on divorce - which, I'm assuming, they believe is a big reason why people stay away and don't return to church.
In "my Grandfather's RC Church," if you were divorced, you were automatically excommunicated - meaning, you could not receive communion. You could attend church, of course, but you could not come up to the altar rail. Which meant that everyone in the church KNEW that you were "not worthy" by virtue of the "scandal and sin" of your divorce, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Which meant that you probably stayed away from church - or, like the Samaritan woman at the well, went for "living water" at a time of day in a church where no one would recognize you and when you could be assured that not many people were around to see you receive the Body and Blood of the Living Christ.
She gave the same reason to explain why we were served those Very Thin little plastic-looking wafers they called "bread" instead of real bread. Just budgetary constraints is all. I mean, if you want to serve "all those people".
The joke when I was a kid was that it took two acts of faith to receive Communion - one, that this was the REAL Body of Christ (carnsubstantiation vs. transubstantiation) and two, that it wasn't fish food.
That seems to have changed a bit - or, maybe they're just explaining themselves better. The page begins with this statement:
"After a Catholic goes through a divorce, there is so much confusion and misinformation about practicing their faith. The truth is that your Catholic faith is the very key to your healing after a divorce and is vital to living a life filled with promise, peace, and joy."Turns out, you now CAN receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist if you are divorced as long as you have not remarried before obtaining an annulment. The website explains, in a very matter of fact tone,
"The Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage is that all marriages are considered to be validly sacramental unless proven otherwise through the annulment process, therefore, remarriage without a decree of nullity would constitute a person having two spouses, which is immoral."Immoral? Even though I am legally divorced?
Well, there it is, then.
Welcome home to a "life filled with promise, peace and joy"!
So much for being "Accepted for who I am." And, "When you come home to the Catholic Church, you're coming home to a Catholic family where people just embrace you."
Yup, even if you're 'immoral'. They won't feed you, but they'll embrace you. (Please note the #1 Reason people return to church.)
priesthood, with a very interesting section entitled "Why did all the Priest scandal happen?"
It ends with this positive spin:
All situations of scandal, however, do not negate or disprove the truth that Christ transmitted to the world through His Apostles (Mark 16:15). As Christ promised, in spite of the weakness and sinfulness — and sometimes the scandal — caused by priests and other Catholics, “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church. (Continue reading here for more on the priest scandals.)From there, one can click onto an article from something called "Women for Faith and Family" entitled, "The Catholic Bishops and the Scandals: How Could They Have Done This?" by Kenneth D. Whitehead.
Whitehead is unrestrained in his scolding of the American Catholic Bishops for what he calls their "benign neglect" (Yes, you read that right: Benign. Neglect. I am NOT kidding!), ending with this quote:
Again, as we have seen in the sexual abuse cases driven primarily by a homosexual "culture" that has been allowed to infiltrate the priesthood, most bishops do not appear to recognize or admit the fundamental problems with catechetics, and avoid confronting the source of the problem. Instead, most bishops continue their established pattern of toleration and inaction -- just as, for so long, many of them continued to tolerate the sexual abuse of youngsters by priests in their jurisdiction.
"Homosexual culture"? I know lots of LGBT - and straight - people who could be described as "cultured" but I'll be darned if I know what "Homosexual culture is".
Honest to Pete!
I suppose I should not have been surprised by this. It should have been predictable, given what they have to say about homosexuality. You're gonna love this:
Some men and women who struggle with same-sex attractions wonder if there's any hope for them to be welcomed in or back to the Church. The answer to that question is an unambiguous “yes.” (Read here what the Catholic Church says about homosexuals and homosexual inclinations.) God calls each of us, whether homosexual or heterosexual, to chastity according to our circumstances in life. The Church is here to help all of us live in the light of truth.If I had any "unambiguous" doubt about the Roman Catholic church, that paragraph (and the link to the catechism of the church) confirmed for me that anyone's "homosexual attractions" - or orientation - would most assuredly NOT be welcomed in the Roman Catholic Church.
Unless, of course, we were celibate. You know. Just like "Father". Even then, you would still be "inherently disordered."
reproductive choice, abortion, the ordination of women and stem cell research.
I don't know why they stay in the RC Church, exactly, much less how they can stay. That's really none of my business. That's between them and God. I find myself simply grateful for their presence as a 'witness to sanity' in an institutional church which seems to talk out of both sides of its mouth.
Indeed, Bill Maher talked about this recently on his HBO Show "Real Time". Apparently, he's also seen the "Catholics Come Home" advertisements. Shortly after the debut of these commercials, the scandal about the priests in Philadelphia broke.
Maher quips, "It's sort of like an ad for the Ford Explorer and then they all get recalled." He, of course, has his own suggestion for an advertisement, which he says, "addresses the issue more head-on":
All this got me to thinking about the real issue which is not clearly stated but is the issue which is painfully obvious: People are not going to church. That's a HUGE admission for the Roman Catholic Church (gee, maybe they might get a bit of a hint from their own website), but it is, as well, for any church.
We in The Episcopal Church and other "mainline Protestant denominations" have been beating ourselves up for years about the decline in our membership. Church attendance is at record lows, even as (or, perhaps, because of) the new 'Moral Majority" in the House of Representatives.
Jim DeMint, the ultra-conservative Republican senator from South Carolina, has been recently quoted as saying, "I’ve said it often and I believe it — the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets. As people become more dependent on government, they become less dependent on God.”
So, it's not the fault of "teh gays", it's the Democrats. In the game of "shame and blame," somebody's gotta be the scapegoat.
Truth be told, I think we Christians have bought into the Shame and Blame Game. We've been looking at - and apologizing for - ourselves for years.
Who wants to join the "Church of The Constant Introspection?" or "The Church of The Incessant Apology"?
In other cases, we've "dummied down" our religion, trying so desperately to prove that we're "with it" and "cool" that we've made ourselves irrelevant.
I'm thinking again about the # 1 reason people come back to the Roman Catholic Church: "Because we hunger for the Eucharist."
I understand completely. There were lots of reasons why I became an Episcopalian, but the Eucharist was primary among them.
So, what if we took a 'web page' from our Roman Catholic brethern and did a "Christians Come Home" website for Episcopalians?
We could talk about all the things they talk about, but we wouldn't have to do it out of both sides of our mouths - or bash anyone or apologize about our beliefs.
We could talk about "churchy" things like the sacraments, the priesthood, and the role and status of women in the institutional church - especially our democratic form of ecclesiastical governance.
We could highlight the hot button topics like human sexuality, reproductive rights, abortion and stem cell research. And, tell a truth that is informed by our understanding of scripture, tempered by our God-given reason, and deeply respectful of the tradition of the church.
The present "official" web page of The Episcopal Church is really for "insiders" - which is fine, I suppose. But, if I were surfing the internet looking for information about The Episcopal Church, I would be quickly overwhelmed and confused.
There's not even a link that says, "What Episcopalians Believe" much less anything that says, "Welcome!" Oh, the banner says, "The Episcopal Church" - and then, in smaller lettering, off to the right (interestingly enough) it says, "Welcomes You!". Except you would never know it from navigating the site.
That just doesn't do it for me. I doubt it is convincing to others, either.
Take a look at the website for The United Church of Christ. Their banner reads: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." Nice, right?
And, just to prove their point, the second tab on the right, just below the tab marked "Feed your spirit" (how wonderful is that?), asks, "New to UCC?" where you can click on and get connected to what it means to be a member of their church.
Or, look at website for The United Methodist Church who also go beyond a polite welcome and say, succinctly, "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors."
They also have displayed, very prominently at the top of their banner, tabs which are labeled, "Our Church", "Our Faith", "Our People", and "Our World."
If you have an inquiring mind that wants to know more about these churches, you'll find easy access to that information.
The web site for The Presbyterian Church USA is not as good as the UCC or UMC - you have to scroll down past the rather off-putting banner which proclaims, "...though I was blind, now I see." John 9:25, and a video about Evangelism to find a link to what PCUSA is all about.
At least, you can find a link for more information. Not so at TEC's website.
Come to think of it, does your parish website have a clearly visible and easily accessible link that explains what it means to be an Episcopalian? Just askin'
And we wonder why our church is in decline?
We're always in the newspapers with some controversy or another swirling 'round. Our website looks like a church that is more consumed with itself - while doing some good works in "advocacy", "community", "networking" and "partnerships" - than bringing people to Christ through our doors.
Oh, I suppose one could "infer" it from those tabs, but it needs to be much more clearly articulated than that. "Innuendo" and "inference" in not the strong suit of the internet. People go on the internet looking for information. Fast. Easy.
I don't think this is an understatement, much less hyperbole:
We're missing a HUGE evangelism opportunity folks. HUGE.No, I'm not saying that we should have a website to "bash" the Roman Catholic Church. I'm not doing that here. I don't want to "bash" anyone.
I'm offering a serious statement about what I see as ecclesiastical "spin".
Harmful spin. Hurtful spin. For those who are not formerly Roman Catholics, you have no idea how hurtful - and insulting - this is.
Some of us have been denied the sacraments of the church because we're divorced or LGBT (please remember the number one reason people go back to church - The Eucharist).
Others have been denied ordained leadership in the church because of our gender. And yet, former Roman Catholics are being encouraged to 'come home' where we can expect a 'warm embrace' of welcome.
No spiritual food or Eucharistic sustenance. But, someone will welcome us with a 'warm embrace'.
Here's the salt in the wound: I am a "Catholic". I'm not "Roman" Catholic. I am an Anglo-Catholic - and I'm not talking about liturgical style or theological position. I'm using it as a short-hand way of saying: "Anglican Catholic."
I object to Rome claiming ownership of that word as strenuously as I object to "fundgelicals" claiming the definition of what it means to be "Christian."
Frankly, I don't think "Catholics Come Home" is competition for our particular "market share of the consumer base", as the marketing folks say, but we've at least got to get in the game in order to score a few points.
If we were to have a website that welcomed people to The Episcopal Church, what would it look like? What would it say? How would you talk about the issues that concern us as Christians?
If anyone responds here, I'm happy to forward a link to this blog, highlighting your suggestions, to the folks at 815 Second Avenue (The Episcopal Church's National Center) in New York.
If we were going to have some commercial air time on network television, what would those one minute advertisements say? (Somebody remind me: I think we started to do a series of these commercials, but I never saw them on television.)
Never mind the expense. If we can find a funding source to gather 1/4 of the deputies in Atlanta to talk about "Equal Rites", surely we can find someone who will provide us with a grant - or someones who will contribute money - for this project.
I have no doubt that we could easily find ordinary, everyday people who would readily agree to being filmed saying things like: "As soon as I walk in the door, I feel peace."
And, "I'm accepted for who I am."
And, "I was divorced and left the church. If I didn't have God, I would be back to that lonely stage, that troubled place."
And, "When you come home to The Episcopal Church, you're coming home to a catholic family where people just embrace you."
Except, we have the evidence to back up those claims. And, we have the courage to tell the truth that "your mileage may vary" in different churches in the Episcopal Church.
That wouldn't be a lie.
Neither would it be "spin" - original or ecclesiastical.