Last week, I got an email from a befuddled, genuinely distressed Catholic. She dearly loves her Southern Baptist friends but doesn't know how to converse with them about Christianity. For example, the Southern Baptist once started a conversation by asking: "So, what's the difference between Catholics and Christians?" (You know, because Catholics aren't Christians. Ack! Ack! Excuse me while I choke on sunking caught in me froat.)
The point is, conversations between Protestants and Catholics are often difficult, emotionally fraught and potentially damaging to relationships. Furthermore, so much of what we say gets lost in translation. Sometimes it can feel like Protestants and Catholics speak two different languages.
I grew up independent, evangelical fundamentalist, so I speak Protestant as my native language. I've been learning a second language--Catholicism--for the past 5 years. The point is, I can translate. A little.
Here are a few pointers for trying to "speak across the divide":
- First ask yourself: will this conversation end in mutual understanding or hurt feelings? If this is conversation between friends seeking to understand each other better, then by all means, have the conversation! But if your friend's idea of "conversation" is better described as a theological fighting match, then I would avoid it. Mutual understanding and appreciation is never achieved through arguments.
- Define terms. There are so many misconceptions about Catholicism that stem from different meanings for the same word. Catholics do not define worship in the same way Protestants do which is why Catholics are all like: "What? We don't worship Mary!" I would say that at the beginning of any conversation between Catholics and Protestants, there needs to be an explanation and definition of terms.
- Humility. I think it's really important for both parties to enter the conversation with open minds and hearts. In school, we talk about academic humility. I think the same idea applies to spirituality. Have an attitude that says: "What I know is not all there is to know." I think Christians of all denominations need to exercise spiritual humility. Just because we're fluent in our native dialect doesn't mean our way of understanding Christianity is All There Is To Know. Be open to understand and follow-up with further reading for your own self-education.
- Bible knowledge isn't everything. Many Catholics often feel intimidated by their Protestant friends who grew up doing "Bible drills" and can quote Scripture from memory. I would like to reassure my Catholic friends that knowing things isn't everything. Living what you know is more important. Even in the "Protestant Bible" (wink, wink) there is a verse that says: "faith without works is dead." Actually, St. James repeats this TWICE. St. James 2:20 and St. James 2:26. (Protestants won't call him SAINT James, though, so if you feel like quoting that verse, just say: "Well, what about James 2:20 and 2:26?").
- You don't have to be the Holy Spirit. There are 500 years of misunderstandings between Catholics and Protestants. There are like beheadings and stuff. God hasn't called you to Solve All The Problems. That's the Holy Spirit's job. All you have to do is be who God made you to be. As St. Irenaeus once said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive!" Being fully alive is the best witness of all.
Do you have suggestions for promoting edifying dialogue? Please share!