Monday, April 05, 2010

Relations Between Christian Denominations

A thorny issue, often times. (I usually get along better with atheists than with fundies, as I said somewhere else.) Today I was thinking of Catholic / Protestant relations and the possibilities for dialogue or community, and being more optimistic than usual.

When I go to church with my wife, who is Catholic, I can't take communion. Most of the time, this just aggravates me, to be frank. (But, if communion meant that much to me, I guess I ought to find a church I feel comfortable in attending regularly and go there, so I'm as much to blame for my aggravation as anyone else is!) Now, part of the aggravation isn't just in not receiving the sacrament (since, after all, from a Protestant perspective, that's really not that big of a deal), but just from the physical awkwardness of having to step aside and let a whole row of people climb over you to get to the front, then letting half of them climb back over you again to get to their seats. It just makes you feel like you have a big sign that says "Hi! I'm an outsider! Not from around here! Pagan, heathen, heretic, schismatic up in the house!" (The Obama sticker on my car in the lot gave me a similar feeling, next to all the minivans with "Protect the Unborn" stickers on them, but on that point, I actually felt a little more confident - plus the fact that you can get away from your car, but you can't get away from people having to climb over you.) But yesterday, the people in the row seemed much more gracious and polite (not that people were rude before, but these people seemed to go out of their way to make me feel more comfortable). They seemed welcoming and hospitable, like having a guest and not an intruder. Now, maybe it was a matter of perception; maybe it's just a matter of manners and not religious, interfaith goodwill; maybe they were trying to butter me up to try and convert me later (that was my reaction when I was a youth and my girlfriend dragged me to her Mormon church - that all those smiling, polite people wanted to sign me up - and they did! - not that that makes their niceness insincere, but it changes the motive behind it from mutual respect for my difference, to subtle disapproval and a desire to change that difference into sameness). All likely interpretations.

BUT - if I were to give a more positive, hopeful spin to it: we always interact with individuals, not institutions or hierarchies or bureaucracies. So if individuals treat us with respect and kindness, that's what matters most. (I don't think that's ALL THAT matters, since I believe individuals are responsible for the institutions and groups they join and support, so I won't go that far.) Maybe hospitality is the better analogy than mere acceptance: that we wish to show outsiders generosity - even impress them with our generosity - while they are w/in our group, even though we'll send them back to theirs after a short time. And, we'd like similar hospitality when we go visit their church or community.

Now, even if this worked as a good model for interfaith dialogue and interaction, it'd still stumble (only a little, I hope) in our pluralistic society, where we're not just visiting groups outside our own - but all our groups are somehow included w/in the larger community of which we're all a part, and no one of our individual groups is privileged as "The American Way of Life" or "The American Religion," and likewise none are disadvantaged with the label "Non-American, But We Put Up with It Because We're So Tolerant." That does complicate things, even as it makes the necessity for some model of positive interaction between groups all the more desirable (or even necessary).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't speak for anyone else, but as a Catholic--although I've just recently returned to the church after an absence of over twenty years--I'm still Catholic because of theology, not because of who runs it. I can set aside my differences with the institution to practice my faith...and I try really hard not to make judgements on anyone for anything...God will take care of that.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Nick Cato said...

As a Protestant, I have to say that some of us DO see communion as "that big of a deal." One of the reasons many non-Catholic churches only have communion once a month is to help keep it reverent. Communion is supposed to be (not only) a time we remember and proclaim Jesus' death and his return, but also a time to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Regardless of one's background, communion should never be taken lightly.
And I hear you LOUD AND CLEAR Dr. Kim: I felt like an outsider not taking communion at my mother's )Catholic) funeral, but at the same time I took that time to pray for the countless family members who i KNEW had no idea what they were doing as they took the wafer.

11:31 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

There are certainly a variety of interpretations of the eucharist w/in Protestant-dom, Nick. I didn't mean Protestants were irreverent about it, but just that "missing" an opportunity to participate in the sacrament is not the same as it would be for a Catholic: what's telling is that it would still be the sacrament (from a catholic perspective) even if the communicant didn't know what it meant, or even if the celebrant didn't know: "by the work as it is worked" they decided was the right wording for how a sacrament was rendered efficacious.

But, as usual, this is all going beyond any reasonable, interesting point I meant to make: I meant that one can be hospitable to outsiders (and still regard them as outsiders). Heck, one can be cruel and heartless to the members of one's own family or tribe, too, to take the opposite example.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Scott Field said...

Well put. Part of belonging to a church is the sense of community. So it’s to be expected that outsiders sometimes feel like, well…outsiders.

The situation becomes more problematic IMO when religious practices are used in cultural/social situations outside of church. My wife & I had the same experience at her father’s fundamentalist funeral that Nick had at his mother’s. No one should have to feel like an outsider at their own parent’s funeral. I’m not saying believers shouldn’t practice their beliefs in public; just that if the goal of the gathering is social rather than strictly sectarian, try to err on the side of being welcoming rather than exclusive.

11:24 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

I also take it as a hopeful point that most of us have, somewhere in the family tree, if we shake it hard enough, members of a number of faiths. That in itself should help with these issues and with mutual respect and understanding.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Nick Cato said...

I hear you Dr.---it's just that I KNOW too many (Caths and Prots) who take the sacrament with ZERO relevence. And yes, more churches need to remember that they're supposed to welcome people, not raise their nose at them.

3:22 PM  

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