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Thoughts On Protestants and Catholics

August 23, AD 2013 13 Comments

ID-100156540I missed the quiet years for a minute today when I stumbled upon an abrasive tweet about the pope, written by an evangelical Christian.

The quiet years are the six I spent not texting, the two or three sans social media, the life before my smartphone (which I only have owned since December).

I missed the not knowing what people are saying, the freedom from unsolicited opinions that I implicitly solicit every time I press “follow.” This is because what people say sometimes reminds me of any and all of the times the misinformed mistreated me for being Catholic.

Of being in fourth grade and being told by a pastor’s wife that my church is of the devil.

Of being in fifth grade and being told by my teacher that it is harder for me to get to heaven, because I’m Catholic.

Of being in sixth grade and watching a Protestant pastor tell the student body at my Christian school that the Catholic Church is a cult.

Of being in seventh grade and having to tell my history teacher I don’t worship Mary.

Of being in tenth grade and handing my Church’s creed to my principal and demanding that he show me where it says I worship saints. Of suggesting, when he couldn’t find it, that he replace the history curriculum with one that doesn’t misinform his students. (And he did.)

Oh, the adrenaline. How I would shake.

It’s true, even now, even if the message arrives via tweet, that I don’t really want to be bothered. That eight years (5th grade through 12th) is a lot of years to debate. That I am nine years out of high school and still kind of tired. But hear this:

I would not trade it.

My parents invited me to transfer to public school, but I said no.

I liked my school. The experience.

Much of it made me who I am. It pushed and stretched me. I learned to let go, to forgive, and to coexist. Yes, I was at first the fifth grader whose ex-Catholic teacher told our class how bad it is to be Catholic. But I was also the fifth grader who sat on the couch with my Catholic mom and my Jewish dad and listened to Scott Hahn tapes. I was the fifth grader who sat in the pew and watched a priest baptize my dad, who watched her dad make his first communion.

When I read that tweet today, I shook. Just when I thought we could get along… “Another step back.” But I only missed the quiet years for a minute. I only missed them for a minute because I realized:

One person’s step back doesn’t haven’t to be mine.

That a person is misinformed or misunderstands doesn’t change the truth about my Church. The misinformed can mistreat me, and it doesn’t change the truth about me. Nobody but Christ can discern my faith as real or fake. I can choose dialogue over debate, love over hate, and to unplug for awhile if what surrounds me is abrasive.

I can invite anybody open to it, to let go, to forgive, to coexist.

To – like Pope Francis and his evangelical associates – sip drinks and pray and read the Bible together.

To disagree and love and like each other anyway.

To step forward, into something better and closer to whole.

– – – –

This post originally appeared on

About the Author:

Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press, 2014). She has a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling from the University of South Florida and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the same university. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and blogs at

  • consptheory77

    What state was this school in? I grew up in Texas, and there are actually a lot of Catholics in Texas, but I encountered a lot of isolation because I was home-schooled and the home-school social outlets that existed back in the 80’s where I lived seemed to be uniformly Protestant, and they looked askance at associating with Catholics or Orthodox, so I grew up alone or mostly around adults…I suppose I wouldn’t trade that in, because it’s made me who I am as well.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      My school was in Florida! Lots of Catholics here, too, but definitely more Protestants in that community. Great memories, ultimately.

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  • Robert

    You must have been – and obviously still are – a very brave girl. Well done!

  • True charity is to lead others to the ultimate Truth. Too many Catholics these days are content to see Protestants as “brothers in Christ” who are really not worth converting anyway. Indeed in his recent book “Evangelical Catholicism” George Weigel notes that practicing Catholics have “more in common with evangelicals than liberal Catholics.” This mentality is seriously wrongheaded and has contributed to Catholics becoming culturally Protestant. All are to be united in Christ’s Church.

    • James

      Yes, I’m seeing a lot of culturally Protestant Catholics on both sides among English-speaking US Catholics. Liberal Catholics = Mainline Protestants. Conservative Catholics = Evangelical Protestants.

      They both seem to believe that ecclesiastical obedience doesn’t apply to them and that they have a right to their own private interpretation of Church teaching-all very Protestant ideas. This is true for both the “We are the Church” crowd and the mantilla wearing mommas who is SURE that their priest is a heretic based on what they read on the internet. Socially, each side dines in the cafeteria when it comes to Catholic social teaching. Liberals are proud of the Church’s teachings on war and economic justice, but ignore those on the family and life issues, while conservative Catholics focus only on life issues and the family, while downplaying issues of economic justice and just war.

      But beyond social issues, naive ecumenism is extremely harmful to the young. How many young Catholics have left for megachurches because they have a praise band and better sermons? Other Catholics spend time with Protestant youth groups and get very confused when Protestants attach different meanings to very similar language. There are significant theological and anthropological differences between Catholics and Protestants and downplaying them does nobody any favors.

      • james

        But realistically, James, do you see the day when everybody gets back in the same box ? Pandora is out and the only thing coming back in is a genetically altered Christian. And don’t assume the Holy Spirit isn’t planning it that way.

      • Dagnabbit_42

        Gotta agree with you on just war.

        But you need to watch out on accusing conservative Catholics, and even conservative Evangelical Protestants, of downplaying economic justice. (Or did you mean to lay heavy emphasis on the word “issues”; i.e., to confine economic justice solely to the political sphere?)

        You see, in the U.S., conservative-types give about twice as much of their pre-tax income, both percentage-wise and in absolute dollars, to the poor as left-wing-types do. And they volunteer more. And give blood more. And serve in low-paying but community-protection-oriented vocations more (EMT, police and firefighters, that kind of thing). Conservatives in the U.S. do this at roughly double the rates and levels as their political opposites.

        Those stats have been around for years; though a semi-recent book (“Who Really Cares?” by Arthur Brooks) provides a good centralized integration of the relevant data.

        But here’s the thing: Conservatives (a.) tend often to be Christians, which means they aren’t allowed to make a big public deal about their charitable giving — you know, “let not your left hand know what your right has done”; and (b.) hold originalist views about the Constitutional limits on government’s just authority and Congress’s power to legislate, which means (to varying degrees) they hold that the FEDERAL welfare state is a usurpation of powers which the Constitution expressly reserves “to the states, or to the people.” (See Amendments 9 and 10 for further information.)

        The point is this: Left-wing politicians don’t take a government-can-only-act-within-certain-limits approach. So when they want to do something good, they naturally say, “Hey, let’s get government to do it.” So, they support some increase in the size of the welfare state — publicly. Naturally this makes them look like they care about the poor, in public.

        Conservatives can’t do that: Their understanding of government and law and legitimate authority prohibits that. If they did it, it would be lawlessness, not generosity, according to their own understanding of the law. True, they apparently care twice as much about the poor as leftists do, if you judge by what they do out of their own incomes and time. But the only folk who ever find out about it are the IRS, if they claim it as charitable giving on their taxes. It’s not public record.

        And of course there are exceptions: Leftists who actually aren’t stingy with the poor do exist, and so do stingy right-wingers. But the stats are plain: You want to find a guy who loudly advocates helping the poor while not doing so himself, pick a leftist; you want to find the guy that actually digs deep and pinches his family finances to help his neighbors and poor people in Somalia, pick a Tea Partier.

        So when one says, “economic justice” I really think the American right are far better than the left. (They also make — plausibly, I think, if not entirely convincingly — arguments that the left’s utter undermining of cultural capital through the family-undermining structure of the welfare state has actually made American poor far poorer and more stratified, reducing their capacity to enter the middle class. This, if true, would make even the left’s attempts to help counterproductive.)

        But when you say “issues” of economic justice? Well, “issues” sounds like you’re only including government, or even only FEDERAL-LEVEL government activity, under the heading of “economic justice.” You know: “Issues”: That which gets debated on the news because it involves government budgets, rather than how much our particular family is giving to the crisis pregnancy center.

        I grant that where “issues” (so defined) are concerned, the American right seem less generous. But I think you should look a bit below the surface. There’s more to this topic than “issues.”

  • Caroline Moreschi

    This brought back memories! I didn’t grow up Catholic, but I was a Presbyterian at a Fundamentalist Baptist school for K-12 in Georgia, and you nailed it. The adrenaline, the shaking, the inaccurate history (and science) books, being told (at age 7) that my infant baptism was invalid, being told that my church was a cult, etc. So hard, but ultimately it taught me a lot as you said. Great post.

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