Recently a study was done and discovered the reasons for why Catholics leave the Church (either for some form of Protestantism or something else like atheism). This stirred up a brouhaha in the blogosphere as Christians on both sides tried to interpret the numbers and come to conclusions.
From the survey, it was apparent that most Catholics who leave the Church do so because they aren’t getting their needs met and found more appealing/welcoming/satisfying alternatives in Protestant churches. Doctrinal reasons for converting were noticeably less important.
Now contrast this with the many intelligent and faithful Protestants who are becoming Catholic, people like Francis Beckwith, Scott Hahn, and Abby Johnson. They converted because they became convinced that the Catholic Church was the true Church, and consequently that her doctrines were sound and supported by both reason and faith.
The fact is, Protestants are losing many of their “best and brightest” while most of the Catholics who leave were not well-formed in their faith.
These Catholics were drawn away by a combination of lackluster catechesis and celebration of the liturgy and by more exciting Protestant churches, whose ministries and services are both more entertaining and build community better.
Protestant apologists and pastors have noticed this trend. Recently I read an attempt by a faithful Protestant to mitigate this disparity between the two types of converts:
The philosophical sorts of arguments in favor of Catholicism that we hear about at CTC [CalledToCommunion.com] and elsewhere are lost on all but a small group of serious intellectually minded Catholics.
The claim is that Called to Communion’s theologically and philosophically deep arguments fall on deaf ears and make little effect because most Protestants and Catholics simply don’t have the education, desire, or attention span to understand them. Hence, “Catholics can have the small numbers of Protestant intelligentsia, but Joe and Jane Catholic in the pew will become Protestant in much greater numbers.”
But I would counter that the best and the brightest of Protestantism who are becoming Catholic will disproportionately influence other Protestants and strengthen the Catholic Church to a degree that will dwarf the flow of the river in the other direction.
When the Iron Curtain fell and the exodus from Communist countries of brilliant men and women began, the negative effect on those countries was tremendous, proportionate to the gain to countries in the West. Similarly, the “brain drain” over the past several decades caused by Chinese and Indian students coming to the U.S. for graduate school, and then staying for the good jobs, demonstrates the powerful effect that intelligent people have.
That is why I think the argument that Protestants will take greater numbers over greater “quality” of converts doesn’t work. The cultural and ecclesial leaders exert a disproportionately strong influence over society.
When someone who writes a book arguing against the Catholic Church becomes Catholic a few years later, people take notice.
When the President of the Evangelical Theological Society becomes Catholic, people wonder why.
These Protestants who become Catholic enrich the Church in countless ways, not the least of which is the contribution they make to increase and deepen the understanding of the Church’s teachings. Further, they make accessible to the common man the complex theological and philosophical arguments which led them to the Church.
In short, the U.S. is full of nominal and poorly-formed Catholics, and most of these will fall away in this generation or the next, either going to Protestantism or leaving Christianity altogether for atheism, agnosticism, or some kind of New Age spiritualism. Trends that show these Catholics leaving the pews for Protestant churches are not surprising. And the positive hope is that they will discover or rediscover their faith in those Protestant churches. Better to be a Protestant who fervently loves Jesus than a nominal Catholic who doesn’t even believe the Gospel.
Our job as Catholics is to wipe the dust off the beautiful stained glass windows, unveiling the beauty of the Church and the splendor of the fullness of the truth. Celebrate the liturgy reverently; study the Church’s teachings in a dynamic way; adopt and adapt Protestant practices that are legitimate to building strong fellowship and community.
We have a big task in front of us but what’s at stake is of the utmost importance. God bless you the rest of this Easter Octave!