Perhaps not quite a “landslide”

More of a steady little stream. I am refer to the article in the National Catholic Register by Tim Drake, “The Lutheran Landslide”. Tim is himself a former Lutheran and the editor of the great collection of Lutheran conversion stories, “There we stood, Here we stand”.

Nevertheless, it is a joy to see that the two ex-Lutherans quoted by Drake in his article are aquaintances of mine. Paul Quist I can call a friend, for it was a joy to get to know him and his wife Carol while they were here in Melbourne studying at the John Paul II Institute. It was actually here at St Patrick’s Cathedral that they were received into the Church at Easter about five years ago (if I remember correctly) by Archbishop Hart. Dr Michael Root, the other quoted ex-Lutheran, is a reader and commentator on this ‘ere blog, so we are glad to see him featured too.

Also mentioned is the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ALCC) which, by happy chance of the term “Anglo-” in their title seem to be in line to be included in the provisions for Anglicanorum Coetibus. I am happy to count among readers of this blog one of their bishops, Edward Steele, and Deacon Paul Gustafson. We wish them all the best on the journey into full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

And for a ex-protestant who tried the Catholic Church and found it too murky by far, there is this piece by Rod Dreher. Rod writes:

The main reason why Orthodoxy is so attractive to converts, at least to this convert, is its seriousness about sin. I don’t mean that it’s a dour religion – it is very far from that! – but rather that Orthodoxy takes the brokenness of humankind with appropriate seriousness. Orthodoxy is not going to tell you that you’re okay. In fact, it will require you to call yourself, as St. Paul described himself, the “chief of sinners.” And Orthodoxy is going to tell you the Good News: Jesus died and returned to life so that you too might live. But in order to live, you are going to have to die to yourself, over and over again. And that will not be painless, and cannot be, or it’s not real.

Well, that’s as it should be in the Catholic Church too. Converts to the Catholic Church mustn’t forget that the outcome of the Donatist controversy was to affirm the holiness of the Church even and especially when its priests and members fell below the bar. At the same time, we must keep in mind that these converts were brought up in traditions that did take sin seriously. The teaching regarding sin in the Orthodox Church as Dreher describes it is certainly the teaching of the Catholic Church too. Perhaps we need more converts to remind the cradle-Catholics of this fact…

Actually the comments to the NCR article make interesting reading – as they cover a lot of this – if you have the time.

[HT to Tighe for all these links]

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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28 Responses to Perhaps not quite a “landslide”

  1. Matthias says:

    Wonder what Eastern catholics could add to this

  2. Matthias says:

    “Our Lady of Pizza Hut”. My current church could be entitled ‘ St Jazz singer’s”. Last Thursday night ,we sang the new version of Amazing Grace. now that was “shag-carpeted hymnody”,perhaps devised by hillsong or Graham kendrick. I was so disgusted,I felt like singing a Tsaize hymn as a form of exorcism

  3. A Lutheran “landslide” to Catholicism? Reality check: I’ve got more ex-Catholics worshipping in my one Lutheran parish than there are ex-Lutherans mentioned in the article! But then, these folk aren’t intellectuals, so perhaps they don’t count? (If one were keeping count, that is.)

    • William Tighe says:

      Without being pointlessly contentious, Pastor Mark, I wonder what proportion of your ex-Catholics carefully studied the differences between Lutheran and Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology before becoming Lutherans? My impression here in the States is that, apart from those non-Catholics who become Catholics for “marital convenience,” most of those who become Catholics (except, perhaps, for those converted from non-belief to Catholicism through the influence of Catholics) study and ponder at some length before taking the plunge — but, contrarywise, most of those Catholics or nominal Catholics of whom I have been aware who become Protestants (including Lutherans) do so, for the most part, either as (a) unevangelized nominal Catholics who awaken to Christian belief by Protestant means or through Protestant instruments, (b) Catholics who find that Catholic moral strictures, as in matters of divorce-and-remarriage or the practice of contraception, or of homosexual practice, pinch too tightly upon their predilections for their comfort or (c) reject the Catholic Church’s unalterable teaching (and practice) on such matters as women’s ordination, divorce-and-remarriage or sodomitic pseudogamy, to give but three examples, and seek more congenial religious fellowships for that reason.

      I suppose that (c) above is unlikely to apply, at least in the cases of WO and SodPseud (which I normally abbreviate as SS) to the LCA, because of what I gather to be the latter’s maintenance of Christian orthodoxy in respect to those issues. But in the States it can be said with little exaggeration that such denominational bodies as the Episcopal Church have been kept afloat over the past 30 years by an influx of former Catholics (as of January 1989 — I have no more recent statistics — 48% of the women ordained in the Episcopal Church were former Catholics), and this seems to be increasingly (although to a lesser extent) the case in the ELCA. I do wonder, though, to what extent the “sociological realities” of the religious choices of ex-Catholics is similar to those here in the states, and to what extent different.

      • Chris Jones says:


        If the catechesis required before joining a congregation in the LCA is anything at all like it is in the LCMS, then ex-Catholic converts joining Pr Henderson’s parish will indeed have “carefully studied the differences between Lutheran and Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology before becoming Lutherans.” We’re perfectly happy to have anyone join us for worship as often as they like, but when it comes to formal membership and communion in the sacraments, we are pretty careful that people know what the teachings of the Lutheran Church are.

        That is not to say that Roman Catholic doctrine will be presented by the Lutheran catechist the way a Catholic would like. It’s definitely RC doctrine “as Lutherans see it”. But it cannot be said that new members haven’t studied the issues (in the depth that is appropriate for lay folk).

        Speaking from experience, of course.

        • Schütz says:

          That’s true enough for the LCA too, Chris, with allowance for the regional variety – many “visitors” will have been communing before formal membership, and the standard of catechesis is not usually as deep as for adolescent confirmation. However most who get to the formal membership stage have made their decision to join the Lutheran Church for reasons of “belonging” rather than primarily because they are initially drawn by the truth of Lutheran doctrine.

      • William,
        I’m not aware of any significant movement of liberal Catholics here flocking to either the Lutheran or Anglican churches. They seem content to stay put, and probably for good reason. Now, I don’t intend to be needlessly contentious either, but it has always been my opinion, based simply on my contact with Catholics here over the years, that the Catholic Church in Australia is one of the more liberal parts of the worldwide CC. For e.g., the local Catholic bishop in this city seems to have no qualms about having a female “lay preacher” in a local priestless parish who writes and preaches her own sermons. That would not happen in the LCA, let me assure you.

    • Schütz says:

      But then, these folk aren’t intellectuals, so perhaps they don’t count?

      Sure they would count, Pastor Mark, if we were having a conversation about baptised and confirmed Catholics becoming Lutheran as opposed to baptised and confirmed Lutherans becoming Catholic. But you are right to pick that this particular conversation is not really about that. It is about “clergy-” and “professor-” converts.

      And on that score, I really don’t know of any Catholic priests or academics who have become Lutheran purely out of a faith conviction that the Lutheran Confessions were more true to the Word of God than Catholic Tradition.

      Can you name any?

      (Nb. they are disqualified if they became Lutheran for any other reason, eg. so that they could marry – the way to tell is to ask: would they still be Catholic today rather than Lutheran if it were not for the vow of celibacy required of our Western rite priests?)

      • How about Dr Martin Luther?
        (tongue only slightly in cheek!)
        Btw, I just read an article that states that, if present trends continue, Brazil will be a majority “Protestant” nation in ten years time, and the middle classes – for it is mostly they who convert – are shifting their allegiance for religious, not marital, reasons. Now, the definition of Protestant used in the article is more broad than I would use, as it includes Pentecostals, but given the numbers involsed, and we are talking tens of millions here, that is indeed a “landslide”.

        • In any case Bill & David, being something of a Kierkegaardian, I’ve never been persuaded by the argument from Catholics that truth resides in a majority!

          • Also, David, your appeal – I don’t think it is an argument… but an appeal to authority, yes? (not being sarcastic, but quite serious, although, of course, appeals to authority are fallacious) – might say just as much about contemporary intellectuals in our late modern period as it does about the Catholic Church. Many of us can relate to the common threads that run through these contemporary conversion stories – the quest for authority, tradition, historical continuity, and yet remain unconvinced that Rome is the answer for quite valid theological reasons. OK…enough from me.

        • Schütz says:

          That’s true. The issues are complex in Brazil, and start with the fact the the “default” religion in Brazil is Catholicism. The factors of very poor education and catechization come in at that point, as does a high people to priest ratio. At the other end are the motives for the “conversion”. Some have genuinely come to a new faith in Jesus. Other cases are outright proselytism.

          • Yes, I don’t approve of proselytism. To some extent I gather the Lutheran Churches in Brazil have been subject to the same pressures as the CC in that area. It really is unethical.

            • But that “some have genuinely come to a new faith in Jesus” suggests they haven’t heard the Gospel in the CC, David. Now that _is_ a common refrain among the ex-Catholic converts I have spoken with, and it is a serious indictment of the CC.

            • Schütz says:

              Well, yes and no. I would be the first to say that the CC has to pick up it’s game in the catechization stakes, but there are an awful lot of Catholics to catechize in Brazil! I am sure you would occasionally come across ethnic Lutherans who “have never heard the Gospel”. I know I did when I was a pastor.

            • Schütz says:

              That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. The Vatican calls the proselytizers “sects”.

  4. In my experience, when a Protestant of any description becomes a Catholic, it is because of his search for (in Fr Dwight Longenecker’s fine phrase) “more Christianity,” whether that be liturgical spirituality, sacramental objectivity, doctrinal coherence, ecclesial antiquity, moral seriousness, etc. On the other hand, when a Catholic becomes a Protestant, it is almost always because of a pelvic problem — his own or another’s. A second (or third of fourth) marriage that excludes him from receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Church is the leading cause for a lay Catholic’s departure, and a failure to preserve the vows of his priestly ordination is the most common cause for a priest.

    Naturally, there are other reasons given, e.g. “I never heard the Gospel in the Catholic Church.” or “I didn’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church.” or “The hypocrisy of priests and bishops stinks to heaven.” But, with a little digging, the reasons given are often shown not to be the real reasons for a departure.

    So, in this exchange of persons between the Catholic Church and Protestantism, Catholics usually get theologically serious Protestants, and Protestants most often get sexually irresponsible Catholics. I do not say this to vilify anyone or to arouse contempt in either direction; it is simply the truth that this is very often the case in these changes-of-church, and responsible parties on both sides would do well to bear it in mind.

    • Gareth says:

      I concur with the Father’s last paragragh here: in my experience the Protestants that become Catholics, whilst being small in number are usually deeply intelligent, whilst vice-versa, generally speaking the Catholics that become members of other Christian traditions is mainly due to some sort of greviance or misunderstanding.

      In my experience, the Protestants that become Catholics also usually have no prior greviance with their former Church’s, in fact they are usually grateful that their former Church’s provided them with spiritual direction for part of their lives and lead them to part of the truth, whilst many ex-Catholics usually have to use a cliche some sort of ‘chip on their shoulder’.

      A pretty general observation, but considering the comments poasted here they are probably not far off the mark.

    • Schütz says:

      Hey, Fr Newman! Welcome to the SCE Commentary table.

    • Stephen K says:

      I don’t think I can let your post go uncommented, Father Newman! Your first paragraph may indeed be statistically correct, and I can accept that it’s your “experience”. However I think your characterisation of the principal motive as a “pelvic problem” is a form of ridicule, and sex and relationship questions and experiences are not, in my view, at least in this context, so dismissable. In one way or another, they go to and reflect deep human needs and psychology, and if a person is unfaithful, promiscuous, immature, chronically fixated or whatever, the “problem” is not in the pelvis but in the heart and mind and it would be salutary for those quick to scorn or condemn what must be vast numbers of people to remember this and realise that hearts and minds are healed or nourished by love and understanding, not ridicule or facile rejections. I would have thought.

      As far as your third paragraph goes, I agree that converting Protestants may often be “theologically serious”, but as this blogsite frequently shows, not all or even most of the theologically serious leave for Catholicism, which is what your phrasing could be read to imply. This should give pause for thought.

      And, once again, your description of ex-Catholics as “sexually irresponsible” is altogether too sweeping, in my view, as well as missing the point: if they cannot find healing or reconciliation within the Catholic church, or cannot fulfil their religious/sacramental aspirations because of their actions or situations, is it any wonder that they would seek community and other religious/spiritual goods elsewhere? Why is it that it is to sexual “sins” or matters more than any else that shallowness or absence of spiritual motive is reserved and attributed, and then only if they leave? In other words, the Church is full of sexual (and other) sinners, of many of whom it might plausibly be thought live secret and double or disconnected religious lives. What would you say of their motives? (And what would you say about those who become Buddhists?)

      I don’t say your experience reflects no truth or reality but I think you were being unwarrantably dismissive of your fellow humans, wearing all their various hats, sinners, Protestants and so on.

  5. Dear Stephen,

    Thanks for your reply. Please understand that it was not my intention to dismiss or condemn anyone, just to remind those who read this blog not to accept the facile or self-serving explanations too often offered by Catholics who become Protestants for their decision. The Catholic Church is uncompromising in her teaching of the Gospel and the more excellent way to which we are called by the Lord Jesus and His Law of Love, but this cannot be said of most mainline Protestant communions which have now accommodated themselves to the spirit of the age on the controverted questions of human sexuality and marriage. Given that fact, Catholics who have not lived according to evangelical truth about marriage and sexuality often find it too difficult to remain Catholic because at every Mass when they should not receive Holy Communion they are reminded that their state of life is in objective contradiction to the Gospel. The Church does not reject them, but she must hold them accountable for their choices. And when this accountability becomes too much to bear, some Catholics leave the Catholic Church and join a Protestant communion where they will not be challenged in the same way. This is certainly understandable given the frailty of human nature, but when such persons are asked why they made the decision to leave the Catholic Church and then give an answer that is incomplete or less than candid or even a misrepresentation of the truth, then no pastor of the Church can be complicit in the deception.

    If I go into any Lutheran or Episcopal church in my diocese here in South Carolina and ask for a show of hands from those who were baptized Catholic, the number can be anywhere from ten to thirty percent of the congregation. If asked for the reason for the change, almost none of those persons (in my experience) will give the real reason: they were married in the Church and then got a civil divorce and remarried outside the Church, thus rendering themselves unable to receive Holy Communion. It is the lack of candor about this fact that grieves me more deeply even than their failure to be faithful to the vows of their marriage in Christ.

    • Stephen K says:

      Well, Father, thanks for replying, in return. I understand what you’re saying. And what you say is fair enough. I’m not here – nor am I in a position to – argue statistics or dispute your experience of people you’ve encountered. It was your characterisation I objected to.

      However – all that aside – I can only say that identifying causal sequences is fraught with problems at the best of times when it comes to people’s behaviour and motives (even without embracing Humean scepticism!). We’re complex creatures. I hazard a guess that often only expert therapeutic probing might be able to discern what the key originating reason for different acts lies. Though I fully acknowledge that we can all delude ourselves about why we do anything, I’m not persuaded that the root of change of mind and affection begins – or at least, mostly begins – in conjugal irregularity, rather than ending in it. The same might even be queried of any sin or behaviour, including theological heresy or religious apostasy.

      I also reflect that leaving the Catholic Church, whether formally or merely affectively, is a different kettle of fish from taking the step to joining another Christian community. Why some do the one only and others do both seem to me to reflect the myriad of circumstances and personalities.

      Moreover, have you considered that the lack of candour of which you write may be a question of mistrust and not – or not wholly – of self-deception? (Who wants to be publically reproached or made a pariah? Sounds as though there could be a large dose of healthy self-survival at work here!)

      Even if it is mostly the latter, then don’t you think that we all “smorgasboard” to some extent when it comes to religious practice and belief, and that religious sensibilities, both guilts and positive pieties, all depend on mixtures of affective as well as intellectual discriminations and preferences? Don’t we all, at heart, seek the comfort of harmony between thought and deed (even where we embrace austerities and penances)? Isn’t it just that we all claim different rationales for doing so? Some speak of their faith as a gift, the fruit of the Spirit, a question of reason and conviction on the evidence, or a personal direct experience of God, or all four. Those who think or act otherwise do the same. So in this respect, I think we are all in the same psychological and epistemological boat.

      Well, I seem to have thrown up a few propositions here, Father. It’s only fair you should have the opportunity of shooting them down, if you care to, so I’ll conclude so you can have last reply. (In any case, let me assure you I’ve got over my initial self-important high dudgeon!)

      Best wishes and regards to you.

  6. Dear Stephen,

    You write with all the nuances of a modern Anglican. Only in the cultural miasma of our age could giving a disingenuous reason for abandoning one’s religion be explained away as the search for personal authenticity and tranquility. If a man leaves his Church because his state of life is considered immoral by that Church, then he should at least have the integrity to say so, and I see nothing to be gained by psychologizing away the tendency not to speak honestly about these matters.

  7. Stephen K says:

    “……. all the nuances of a modern Anglican”. I feel strangely complimented!

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