- July 28, 2010
- Evangelicals ‘Crossing the Tiber’ to Catholicism
- Under the radar of most observers a trend is emerging of evangelicals converting to Catholicism.
- By Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
From the cover of Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough.
- Jonathan D. FitzgeraldJonathan D. Fitzgerald is managing editor of Patrolmag.com and has written for several periodicals including the Wall Street Journal and American Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith: Observed. He and his wife Stephanie live across the Hudson from New York in Jersey City. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jfitz81.
- In the fall of 1999, I was a freshman at Gordon College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Massachusetts. There, fifteen years earlier, a professor named Thomas Howard resigned from the English department when he felt his beliefs were no longer in line with the college’s statement of faith. Despite all those intervening years, during my time at Gordon the specter of Thomas Howard loomed large on campus. The story of his resignation captured my imagination; it came about, ultimately, because he converted to Roman Catholicism.Though his reasons for converting were unclear and perhaps unimaginable to me at the time (they are actually well-documented in his book Evangelical is Not Enough which, back then, I had not yet read), his reasons seemed less important than the knowledge that it could happen. I had never heard of such a thing.
I grew up outside of Boston in what could be described as an Irish-Catholic family, except for one minor detail: my parents had left the Church six years before I was born when they were swept up in the so-called “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s. So Catholicism was all around me, but it was not mine. I went to mass with my grandparents, grew up around the symbolism of rosary beads and Virgin Mary statues, attended a Catholic high school, and was present at baptisms, first communions, and confirmations for each of my Catholic family members and friends.
All throughout this time my parents never spoke ill of the Catholic Church; though the pastors and congregants of our non-denominational, charismatic church-that-met-in-a-warehouse, often did. Despite my firsthand experience with the Church, between the legend of my parents’ conversion (anything that happens in a child’s life before he is born is the stuff of legends) and the portrait of the Catholic Church as an oppressive institution that took all the fun out of being “saved,” I understood Catholicism as a religion that a person leaves when she becomes serious about her faith.
And yet, Thomas Howard is only the tip of the iceberg of a hastening trend of evangelicals converting to Catholicism. North Park University professor of religious studies Scot McKnight documented some of the reasons behind this trend in his important 2002 essay entitled “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals become Roman Catholic.” The essay was originally published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and was later included in a collection of conversion stories he co-edited with Hauna Ondrey entitled Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy.
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