Evangelicals, Catholics, and Vandals
Chelsen Vicari made the following remarks at the annual Springtime of Faith Foundation on April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Last year, I talked to you about a very personal issue highlighting several areas of common ground that our Christian communities share when it comes to the harmful effects of contraception and areas where we can share in the benefits of Natural Family Planning.
This year, I want to change gears and talk with you all about a very serious public matter that, again, Catholics and Evangelical Protestants find commonality. That is, we share a concern for culture's distortion of the Gospel within our own sanctuaries and chapels.
Whenever somebody mentions Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, what do you imagine?
Likely, your thoughts drift to the painting's infamous stoic expression or its mysterious legacy. What you probably don't think about is the thick bulletproof glass that sits between the Mona Lisa and art gallery patrons. Did you know that there are these protective measures for a painting people just have to walk up to and look at?
I learned recently that the reason for this thick glass over the Mona Lisa is because vandals have attempted to distort the portrait by throwing acid, rocks and red paint at the portrait for centuries. So the world's most famous work of art must be protected.
Our broken world constantly tries to vandalize famously cherished works, so why would we expect God's valued work of art, His Holy Scriptures, to be any different?
Like the defensive glass in an art gallery, Scripture too must be protected from those who are twisting its contents and damaging its legacy. And this is something surely Protestants and Catholics are cable of doing together.
A subcategory of commonality is that both evangelical Protestants and Catholics are concerned about young Christians departing from the faith and, something that I would like to focus our discussion on culture's vandalizing of traditional Christian teaching.
There is a movement by some church leaders and commentators to dismantle the authority of God's Word before they can convince young Christians that same-sex marriage, abortion, taxpayer funded abortifacients and moral relativism are all biblically endorsed.
To achieve destruction, these vandals typically start by excluding mentions of "sin," "Hell," and "transformation" from their sermons, books, lectures or commentary writings. This way, the need to address and turn away from immorality is intentionally avoided.
Next, they incite confusion, especially in young Christians' minds regarding the clarity of Scripture. Some among the vandals will point to Levitical law outlined in the Old Testament and say that because we do not follow these laws in the Bible, then all Christian cherry-pick principles. Therefore, according to the vandals, followers of Christ don't have to adhere to everything outlined in the New Testament either. Never mentioning that Jesus Christ fulfilled this law for us.
Finally, the vandals dismantle Scripture so much that they have concocted their own cafeteria-style Christianity. That is, taking parts of Scripture out of context so that it fits their own liberal political activism.
These attempts are all nothing short of vandalism of the Gospel.
I recognize that faithful Catholics have been aware of liberal unorthodox theology damaging Scripture for some time and the effects this has on young members of the faith. And so, perhaps I am speaking to the choir, but, I share this information with you in the hopes that your passion for discerning and unmasking distorted theology, vandalism targeting the Scriptures, will be renewed and you will be encouraged to share your own experiences with Evangelical protestants, who I believe, are awakening to the existence of vandals among their churches and recognizing the harmful effects that come when we tarnish the Word of God, its doctrine and moral codes.
At this point you might be wondering how these vandals can successfully convince the rising generation – or Millennial generation – to buy into its damaged, distorted version of Scripture.
The simple answer is: Culture.
Today's cultural climate does not take kindly to the followers of Christ, and it doesn't matter if we attend mass or Sunday school.
Not just silent and gradual, vandal's deconstruction of orthodoxy is often done loudly in the name of compassion and justice.
Having a big heart and desire to be compassionate like Christ made me and other Millennials especially vulnerable to distorted theology because we want desperately to be viewed as compassionate. However, culture calls us uncompassionate if we refuse to reconcile traditional Christian teaching with same-sex marriage, just one example.
We are accused of being backward, unloving, and uncompassionate if we support God's model for marriage. And if we are willing to stand by those convictions in our schools, workplaces and among our friends and family who are non-Believers, then we fear being ostracized, marginalized, or called those dreaded names: bigot, homophobic, hateful, unloving and intolerant.
So to avoid these cultural distortions we compromise on traditional Christian teaching, and unwittingly distort Scripture, God's precious work of art, ourselves becoming the vandals.
A lesson I had to learn is that Christians are compassionate, thought our actions do not fit always jive with popular culture's expectations. I recently learned about Cardinal John Joseph O'Conner, the former archbishop of New York, who boldly and publicly spoke out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but simultaneously showed respect and compassion in the evenings by caring for hospitalized HIV/AIDS patients.
Similarly, Pope Francis has spoken out strongly in support of traditional marriage, but recently visited over lunch with gay, transgender, and HIV-positive prisoners in a Naples jail. The head of a prison ministry told Vatican Radio that Pope Francis took the time to get to know every prisoner personally.
That is what compassion, without compromising Christian convictions looks like. It doesn't look like compromising our Christian convictions. It looks like standing by them, while also caring for those struggling with the ramifications of sin in this broken world.
What I didn't understand, and what so many young Protestants and Catholics do not realize is that compassion does not look like compromise.
I wish I had recognized this truth while in college.
My experience is not unique. Nor do I believe cultures distortions are only a Millennial problem. Timidity, fear of being ostracized, compromise spread across generational and denominational divides.
I want to close with one of the most profound speeches that I have ever witnessed first-hand. And it seems fitting to share with you all, because this speech took place at last years' National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
Delivering an invigorating clarion call for unashamed and unwavering public witness for religious liberty, marriage, and the sanctity of life was Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American ideals and Intuitions at Princeton University. With that long of a bio, you may have heard of Dr. Robbie George.
I remember staring wide-eyed up at the stage as Dr. George said, "The question each of us must face is this: Am I ashamed of the Gospel?"
He continued, "There was a time not long ago when things were quite different. When we could be comfortable Catholics. But those days my friends are gone. They are not coming back anytime soon."
"They tell us we are on the wrong side of history. History is not our judge. God is our Judge." Said Dr. George.
Now, I am not a theologian, nor do I pretend to be. But I have experienced what Dr. George spoke about. I have distorted and compromised Christian teaching in order to stay comfortable.
But now is not the time to hide our witness to the gospel, nor is time to compromise and unwittingly vandalize. Most assuredly Christians — Catholics and Protestants alike— will face persecution, not only from secular popular culture, but also from professing Christians with their own unorthodox agenda.
Dr. George offered a very true message for all Christians—from Catholics to Pentecostals, to Anglicans to Baptists—When it comes to avoiding compromise and standing by our convictions, Catholics and evangelical Protestants have much more common ground than we might think.
But most importantly, we find commonality in fighting culture's distortions together because we value the world's ultimate work of art, the Divinely inspired Holy Word of God, which deserves to be protected and defended by all who believe in Jesus Christ. Thick plate glass is not enough.