During this time of quarantine, I have had the opportunity to dialogue with some old-school anti-Catholic evangelicals, and it has left me wondering how things came to this.
I grew up in the South. I, therefore, understand that (selective) memories can be very long. The anti-Catholic evangelicals—of whom I counted myself in my youth—however, seem to have the longest memories of all.
To them, the Roman Catholic Church remains that of a sixteenth-century caricature fully expressed in the courts of Leo X and the Borgia popes. St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the many other great paragons of Christian virtue that existed within the Church of the time and up to the present day receive no mention.
That a Holy Church, no doubt, suffered under the rule of a corrupt hierarchy does not negate the authenticity of the faith of the masses.
Power of Propaganda
To me, it is incredible how such caricatures seep into the collective consciousness and centuries-old propaganda becomes accepted as gospel truth.
I recently spoke with a man online who claimed that the Roman Catholic Church deleted the commandment against idolatry—it didn’t—doesn’t accept salvation by grace through faith alone—it does—and worships a God who changes and lies—I couldn’t make sense of that one.
And, of course, the Antichrist, at his coming, would rule the city of Rome and would likely be associated with the papacy.
The Irony of Anti-Catholic Evangelicals
The oddity of the anti-Catholic evangelicals, however, is that they have so much in common with the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, they deny the sacraments, but very little of Roman Catholic teaching, if couched in evangelical terminology, would find much objection within evangelical churches.
(For example, if you told evangelicals you believed that the sanctification process continues after death but never used the word purgatory, you’re likely to find sympathetic ears, even if they may not agree. This is particularly true if you quote C. S. Lewis.)
One of the greatest ironies, however, is that anti-Catholic evangelicals regularly proclaim that Roman Catholics will burn in hell, using imagery of the afterlife derived, not from Scripture, but from their greatest object of contempt: the medieval Catholic Church.
In many ways, therefore, evangelicals have much more in common with Roman Catholics than mainline Protestants, and it is strange to see the vitriol run so deep. Attempts to have logical, reasonable discussions are usually futile.
I grew up evangelical, and, even though I have recently “crossed the Tiber,” so to speak, I still would claim the evangelical label. In fact, it was my attempt to work out consistently my evangelical theology, not my abandoning of it, that led me into the Catholic Church.
I hope that such animosity may cease. I have seen hopeful signs of progress in Catholic-Evangelical relations. Still, I fear that that may simply be a passing phenomenon for current political expediency.
Let’s hope not.