A followup post to "All Things Are Political."

Sometimes others express my opinions better than I do. This repost from the Gospel Coalition presents a cautionary tale for Protestant Christians:


Freedom-Fighting Catholics

“It all comes down to catechesis.” Monsignor Irvine was known for memorable quips. A little leprechaun of a man, he was full of good-natured humor and wit (it was he who also told me, “Chris, if you go into the ministry, be sure to take God seriously and not yourself”). You can imagine, therefore, how my ears perked up when I recently spoke with Francis Cardinal George and heard him say nearly the same thing. “It’s all about catechesis.”

I don’t usually have dinner with the Cardinal (just for the record), but on this occasion I happened to be sitting beside him for an hour discussing the interface of Catholic theology and current affairs. The context of his comment was the Department of Health and Human Services mandate. With an admirable measure of candor, the Cardinal not only articulated his concern for the threat to our nation’s religious freedom, he also lamented the paucity of Christian thinking on the issue. However, far from a negative bemoaning of the problem, he was strikingly enthusiastic about the current “discipleship opportunity.”

Fortnight for Freedom 

Starting June 21, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a Fortnight for Freedom, intended to expose the government’s violations of religious liberty. In an interview with CNN, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, explained that leading up to July 4, there will be prayer vigils, religious rallies, and homilies at Mass to build awareness among the faithful. In his words, it is about “prayer, education, and action.”

It is interesting to observe this movement through the lens of “catechesis.” Once again, quoting Cardinal Wuerl who spoke on Sunday before a rally at George Washington University, “We’re here to educate about freedom. We started this campaign to say religious liberty is eroding.” To understand precisely what part of liberty the Cardinal understands to be eroding, you’ll want to read the recent USCCB statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” Here is one of several places in the document where the theme of catechesis emerges:

Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.

One such writer is Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, whose new ebook,True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty (Image Books), was released June 19. Over and against the government’s secular creed, which supports abortion providers with tax dollars, imposes the HHS mandates, and threatens to redefine marriage, the Cardinal envisions a “culture of life” in which men and women, made in God’s image, are free to live out their faith. Quoting Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Dolan begins: “True freedom . . . is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church, and which she holds most dear.” The Bishops’ message might be unpopular, but it is eminently clear.

The Challenge of Communication

As every pastor knows, catechesis involves two distinct challenges: content and delivery. You labor to craft a message from God, and when your exegesis is done, you’re only half-finished. Along this line, the Catholic Bishops are now facing a communication challenge. According to sociologist William D’Antonio and his team at Catholic University, whose recent study Catholics in America: Persistence and Change in the Catholic Landscape wasfeatured in USA Today, these challenges include the following:

  • 86 percent of Catholics say “you can disagree with aspects of church teachings and still remain loyal to the church.” Only about 30 percent support the “teaching authority claimed by the Vatican.”
  • 40 percent say you can be a good Catholic without believing that in Mass, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Christ—a core doctrine of Catholicism.
  • When asked why they don’t go to Mass more often, 40 percent say they are simply not very religious.
  • 88 percent say “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.”

While the antichristian bias of government and media is a formidable challenge to U.S. Catholic Bishops, the more immediate predicament may actually be the lukewarm theology of men and women who identify themselves as Catholic. To be sure, there is no room for triumphalism here. We Protestants see enough nominal faith in our own ranks. But it may raise a point worth considering.

The enterprise of catechesis can only succeed when one’s public identity is manifestly defined and critiqued by the objective truth of divine revelation. Any bifurcation between public and private life pulls the carpet out from beneath the whole project. Evangelism, discipleship, and the fulfillment of Christian vocation are all predicated on this conviction; otherwise, there is a smattering of religious opinions and nothing more.

Men and women will only listen to their pastors and take action when they believe that they are hearing the voice of God. How do churches arrive at this place? This, too, underscores the point of my favorite Irish Monsignor: “It all comes down to catechesis.”

Chris Castaldo serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and a main contributor to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism. He blogs atwww.chriscastaldo.com.


Teens & Retirement: Two 20th Century Phenomena We Didn’t Get Right.

Teens & Retirement: two 20th century phenomena we didn’t get right.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw unprecedented economic growth and the improvement of life for many in the Western world. Out of this came two phenomena, teenagers and retirees. Although on opposite ends of life, they are intricately connected.

As life became more industrialised, education and work moved from the home to the factory and school. Child labour was reduced and education was encouraged, so that rather than girls starting motherhood in their teen years, and boys apprenticing during that time, teen years began to be a time of education and preparation. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries this time has increased to nearly 30, as education and career development set marriage and family aside. Sexual relations, however, for very many, begin in the teen years and continue with multiple partners until some sort of monogamous relationship is established. This is proved disastrous to the moral, emotional, spiritual, and economic health of children born to families only of “half” siblings, as many mothers bear children to different father s on each occasion. Teen bodies are ready for childbearing, but society has changed to the point that teen marriage and childbearing is scandalous and unsustainable. Given the educational requirements for even the simplest employment, teen marriage and childbearing is a sure ticket to permanent welfare.

At the other end of the age spectrum is retirement. Modern social security began in the United States during the Great Depression, and it was seen as a way to make way for younger, healthier workers and to free up families from the need to care for elders. Of course it was assumed that one wouldn’t live much past the 65 year retirement age. No one could see at that time the amazing improvement in health care from birth to old age, decreasing infant mortality and extending life well into the eighties as a matter of routine. The same scenario has been repeated in most Western countries, some predating the US model, some preceding it.

So education, work, and care of elders has been outsourced from the family to schools, factories, and nursing homes, paid for by social programs.

What this has meant practically is that families are smaller because they can be. Declining birthrates in Western nations attest to this. Mark Steyn has argued that of the developed European countries, Canada, US, Austrailia, Russia and Japan, only the US replicates itself by birthrate, and that only barely. The rest are dependent upon immigration. Large families, once seen as a guarantee against high infant mortality and as a means to support elders who cannot work, are now seen as unsustainable. This is largely because along with the outsourcing of education, work, and old-age care has come a massive transfer of wealth from the family to the state for education, daycare (for the majority who do work outside the home), and social programs for the aged. Add to this the expanding definition of disability, and it becomes easy to see why the family does not have the resources to have many children or to care for elders.

I wonder what the Christians thought of all this as it was developing? When work was removed from the home, and education was handed over to others, were there voices of dissent? I know that J. Gresham Machen objected to public education in his Christianity and Liberalism in the 1920’s. But as far as I know, only the Amish and Mennonite Christians resisted these trends on a practical level.

1 Timothy 5:8 strongly suggests that care of the aged is not to be left for others, either:

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

I think it is time for Christians to mount a Biblical response to teenagers and retirees. It is hard to resist culture, especially when it seems to improve life. But with each economic downturn, it may show that the improvements that allegedly come from our prosperity were often simply a case of borrowing against the future, and that future has arrived.

Is it possible to remove the temptation to sexual promiscuity by encouraging our teens to marry earlier, rather than putting it off? Is it not possible for Christian families to work together to help the breadwinner to accomplish the education and training necessary for gainful employment while being a father, rather than putting off fatherhood with the help of birth control and abortion? Is it not possible for younger women to be married mothers without scandal? Has the church become so infected by the world’s standards that it shames a young couple who want to marry and start a family in their late teens?

Now I know that our world is more technologically complex, and a high school diploma makes one ready for college or university, but as far as jobs go, much more training is needed. That is a reality, but is delaying marriage (and failing at celibacy) the only way to live with this?

As far as caring for the aged, the Christian church’s response may be much  more urgent. We are witnessing the end of retirement as it has been presented. Most people reading this have lived under the assumption that at age 65 (soon to be 67 in Canada), one can quit working and relax for the next 20 years. Is there a Biblical precedent for this? Is this what God intended for humanity, much less for His church? It sounds attractive, but so does all temptation. It also disappoints, as does all sin.

Again, we see that our resources are taxed to provide for retirement, but there aren’t enough taxes (nor can there be) paid to really afford it. Hence the case for large families, especially among believers. Those who are young parents now would do well to consider how many children it will take to support them when they cannot work. There will, for a while, be money flowing from governments to support the elderly, but this will be curtailed in some often cruel ways. Is it not better to plan now for the inevitable collapse of the social safety net?

In the past 100 years, as in no other time in human history, childbearing is delayed and lifespan extended. I believe we have failed to successfully plan for and manage our retirements, and to counteract the only apparent  need to delay the creation of Christian families.

Both the teenager and retiree can vanish if they are products of a false and bankrupt economy.

©2012 Scott Jacobsen