Lowering Catholic Standards: Is a More Welcoming Church a Healthier One?
#1
CaptCrunch73 Wrote:Some interesting points from a post over at One Peter Five

Lowering Catholic Standards: Is a More Welcoming Church a Healthier One?

One hallmark of a well-written book is its timelessness. Certainly over time, the jargon and anecdotes of the text will appear antiquated, but its argument will still resonate long after its publication. I picked up Dean Kelley’s 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing, to help me understand a paradox facing the Episcopal Church. Their congregations espouse the values of many young Americans. They are welcoming, nonjudgmental, and diverse. I can only imagine church leaders embracing such attributes with a vision of the inevitable avalanche of young people who would rush into their church.

Instead, the Episcopal Church is dying.

Forty-three years ago, Kelley’s text explained the declining membership of mainline Protestant denominations while still in its early stages, but as I entered deeper into the text, I was surprised to discover that it revealed more to me about contemporary Catholicism than the state of Christianity in the seventies. The import of historical phenomena recounted in the book appear not to have been lost on the thirteen cardinals who intervened during the recent synod, who ended their letter to Pope Francis with this statement:

    “The collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.”

Francis’ tenure has increasingly been characterized as a Rorschach papacy — an inkblot on which the observer can project whatever he prefers — and the pope’s positions on numerous issues prove difficult to discern. With that said, the preponderance of evidence points to the conclusion that Francis wants a more welcoming brand of Catholicism, one that is capable of meeting individuals outside of the church where they are. Also apparent is his desire to loosen the requirements for full participation in the life of the Church.

Traditional Catholics have often critiqued the approach of Francis and his closest advisors on theological grounds, and claims of heresy have even made their way into some of those arguments. I am not a theologian, and given the reaction Ross Douthat recently received, it seems imprudent for me to enter into that particular fray. For my purposes, I want to set sidestep the theological debate and address instead the frequent rejoinder of progressives who support the more progressive initiatives of this papacy.

It seems that in our evaluation of these new approaches there is a question we should be asking: will a more welcoming and less demanding Church attract disillusioned individuals on the periphery into joining the Catholic Faith?

In his work, Kelley’s central thesis is that the primary function of religion is to provide meaning. Members of new religious movements experience an intense rush of meaning, but with time, the intensity declines. According to Kelley, the strategy for delaying this weakening of meaning is strictness — what Pope Francis might refer to as “rigidity” — and he offers four methods to increase this strictness, which he believes should aid in retaining members and stabilizing church attendance.

1) “Do not confuse it [faith]with other beliefs/loyalties/practices, or mingle them together indiscriminately, or pretend they are alike of equal merit, or mutually compatible, if they are not.”

The social strength of Catholicism depends on distinguishing Catholicism from all other religions and emphasizing those differences. Catholicism declines when similarities are drawn between Catholics and Protestants or when common ground is found between Catholics and atheists. By emphasizing similarities and downplaying the Church’s uniqueness, we are taking away the incentive to convert to Catholicism. By downplaying the distinctiveness of Catholicism, we are also making Catholics less likely to remain in the church.

2) “Make high demands of those admitted to the organization that bears the faith, and do not include or allow to continue within it those who are not fully committed to it”

Kelley argues that a religion without high standards will fall into decline. Strict requirements ensure commitment from members, and signify that the religion is worthy of sacrifice. The controversial elements of the recent synod focused on lowering the requirements for full sacramental participation. Kelley’s argument predicts that the pope’s effort to lower the bar so that more individuals can receive Holy Communion will result in fewer people desiring to receive Holy Communion, because it will be less significant. On the contrary, challenging Catholics to follow difficult Church teachings and holding them accountable when they have gone astray will draw more people to both the Church and the sacraments.

3) “Do not consent to, encourage, or indulge any violations of [the religion’s] standards of beliefs or behavior by its professed adherents.”

Progressive Catholics have championed Francis’ openness to divergent viewpoints. During the synod, the fathers felt comfortable speaking without fear of retribution. Some of the most openly dissenting Cardinals in the Church — such as Kasper and Daneels — were even given roles of prominence in the gathering in what should have been the quiet twilight of their careers. Their radical vision of the family has been echoed throughout the Catholic world without any rebuke from the pope. Appealing to common sense, Kelley contends that any promotion of views contrary to the established beliefs hastens the decline of the faith.

CaptCrunch73 Wrote:I find this point particularly interesting coming from a Protestant where different views can turn into a different church or even denominations. The very genesis of Protestantism is protest. With respect to Catholicism this is more problematic as the openness to divergent viewpoint is a threat to Catholicism. If one chooses to dissent from Catholic teaching why not just leave rather than change the faith?

4) “Do not keep silent about it, apologize for it, or let it be treated as though it made no difference, or should make no difference, in their behavior or in their relationship with other.”   

Francis has not been silent. An argument could be made that he has been the most outspoken pope to date. Yet, the content of his speech is significant. Kelley claims that religious leaders need to emphasize what makes religion distinct. Liberal churches stress things like fellowship, entertainment, and social work, but non-religious entities offer these functions as well, often more successfully than churches. Conservative churches promise salvation. Kelley argues the vital message that church leaders need to proclaim is salvation through their church, and not economic inequality, environmental, or other tangential issues.

It bears repeating that these four elements summarize how to halt church decline, while doing the opposite will augment religious decay. Kelley’s argument merits particular attention because it is rooted in statistical analysis, not opinion. In reviewing these four points, we are not debating whether or not we like them, but providing a factual basis for approaches that will help to maintain and grow the social strength of a given religion.

I find his conclusions more convincing because he was not a traditional Catholic but a moderate Protestant. Everyone has a bias, and many progressive Catholics would no doubt be skeptical of a traditional Catholic advancing such ideas. Kelley, however, had no axe to grind against liberals. His research was financed by the ideologically leftist National Council of Churches, and he often expressed his desire that the evidence he uncovered was different.

Kelley’s thesis has its detractors, but he has been vindicated by recent history.[1] As a historian, I find that the most upsetting aspect of watching recent events unfold in the Catholic Church is a horrible case of déjà vu. For the past fifty years, progressives advocated for a more welcoming stance towards non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics through relaxed disciplines, informal practices, and watered-down doctrine. Half a century should have been more than enough time for this strategy, if it were valid, to bear fruit. Where are the converts? Why are Catholics abandoning the faith like never before? Such efforts have repeatedly resulted in failure. Every progressive diocese, religious order, and parish has gone into decline with falling membership. Why should we continue to employ the same approach?

Debate will continue to rage over the theology surrounding papal rhetoric, but Catholics of any persuasion who care about their Church would be remiss to neglect the underlining sociological impact of this pontificate’s programs and proposed changes. There is no data to suggest that a more open and welcoming Church would result in a healthier Catholicism. There is a mounting body of evidence, however, that the reverse is true.

To continue on our present path as though we don’t know this is tantamount to suicide.



[1] The most common critiques are that he overlooked a higher birthrate among more conservative and traditional religions, and he neglects the impact of the surrounding culture.
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#2
Interesting. It also explains why the most Fundamentalist sects of Protestantism are growing instead of declining.
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#3
It's very interesting actually.  There's the idea that strictness can help keep believers together and on the same page, strictness in defining just what a given religion believes and strictness in practice. If you think about it this seems to make sense. Just look at the most observant Jews-- they are strict--- and they are a clearly defined community that knows who they are and where they stand. I imagine individual Orthodox Jews do as well. The same goes for the Memmonites, the Amish and the Old Believers.


If this guys thesis is correct it would make sense why the Roman Catholic Church is in such disarray, and what more traditional style groups and parishes are growing while others are not.

If he is correct the only thing to do is to try and find a parish environment that is growing and more traditional. The problem is that the liberalizing Frankenchurch environment is the mainstream from the papacy on down, and outside a handful of prelates ( some not even really in " full communion)  there's little support for orthodoxy. It remains to be seen just how things fare in this environment where the official hierarchy has " moved on" and it's the disconnected trad style groups that are clinging to a past that has been abandoned.

There's also the problem amongst groups of people that are too inward looking and rigid where they can become cultlike and fanatical or fall apart. 

How does one remain orthodox in a Church whose very leadership seems to look down on it? How to grow with little to no support from the hierarchy?

Groups like the Mennonites, the Amish have no papacy or " magisterium" to guide them while Catholics do, and the modern Papacy and their " magisterium" has largely supported these liberalizing reforms. To go against them is to go against the leadership of the Church, a leadership supposedly under divine guidance.

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#4
(12-21-2015, 10:10 PM)PrairieMom Wrote: Interesting. It also explains why the most Fundamentalist sects of Protestantism are growing instead of declining.

Agreed, from what I know about Protestant Fundamentalists though once you join the repercussions of leaving are huge, that may also play into the growth of Fundamentalists. In order to leave you really must believe in what you are leaving for to pay the price of isolation.
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#5
(12-22-2015, 07:05 AM)formerbuddhist Wrote: It's very interesting actually.  There's the idea that strictness can help keep believers together and on the same page, strictness in defining just what a given religion believes and strictness in practice. If you think about it this seems to make sense. Just look at the most observant Jews-- they are strict--- and they are a clearly defined community that knows who they are and where they stand. I imagine individual Orthodox Jews do as well. The same goes for the Memmonites, the Amish and the Old Believers.


If this guys thesis is correct it would make sense why the Roman Catholic Church is in such disarray, and what more traditional style groups and parishes are growing while others are not.

If he is correct the only thing to do is to try and find a parish environment that is growing and more traditional. The problem is that the liberalizing Frankenchurch environment is the mainstream from the papacy on down, and outside a handful of prelates ( some not even really in " full communion)  there's little support for orthodoxy. It remains to be seen just how things fare in this environment where the official hierarchy has " moved on" and it's the disconnected trad style groups that are clinging to a past that has been abandoned.

There's also the problem amongst groups of people that are too inward looking and rigid where they can become cultlike and fanatical or fall apart. 

How does one remain orthodox in a Church whose very leadership seems to look down on it? How to grow with little to no support from the hierarchy?

Groups like the Mennonites, the Amish have no papacy or " magisterium" to guide them while Catholics do, and the modern Papacy and their " magisterium" has largely supported these liberalizing reforms. To go against them is to go against the leadership of the Church, a leadership supposedly under divine guidance.

FB, do you think that order plays a part in some folks investigating Orthodoxy (capital O)?
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#6
(12-22-2015, 01:23 PM)CaptCrunch73 Wrote:
(12-21-2015, 10:10 PM)PrairieMom Wrote: Interesting. It also explains why the most Fundamentalist sects of Protestantism are growing instead of declining.

Agreed, from what I know about Protestant Fundamentalists though once you join the repercussions of leaving are huge, that may also play into the growth of Fundamentalists. In order to leave you really must believe in what you are leaving for to pay the price of isolation.

I think in some groups there are serious social repercussions, especially if you live in an area where that group is dominant. But I find the social programming is *very* hard to overcome and that's probably what keeps people attached. If you're in a very liberal, anything-goes type of church, even if you deviate from the norm that's something that's celebrated. But if you're in a homogenous group, deviation is not tolerated as well, so there's more social programming that occurs to make sure you toe the line. Maybe not "more social programming" as liberals use social programming too to ensure "tolerance", but a different kind of social programming.

After spending several years in Pentecostalism, even 15+ years later the anti-Catholic rhetoric still catches me from time to time. I have difficulty embracing lots of aspects of our faith because of it.
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#7
(12-22-2015, 02:35 PM)PrairieMom Wrote:
(12-22-2015, 01:23 PM)CaptCrunch73 Wrote:
(12-21-2015, 10:10 PM)PrairieMom Wrote: Interesting. It also explains why the most Fundamentalist sects of Protestantism are growing instead of declining.

Agreed, from what I know about Protestant Fundamentalists though once you join the repercussions of leaving are huge, that may also play into the growth of Fundamentalists. In order to leave you really must believe in what you are leaving for to pay the price of isolation.

I think in some groups there are serious social repercussions, especially if you live in an area where that group is dominant. But I find the social programming is *very* hard to overcome and that's probably what keeps people attached. If you're in a very liberal, anything-goes type of church, even if you deviate from the norm that's something that's celebrated. But if you're in a homogenous group, deviation is not tolerated as well, so there's more social programming that occurs to make sure you toe the line. Maybe not "more social programming" as liberals use social programming too to ensure "tolerance", but a different kind of social programming.

After spending several years in Pentecostalism, even 15+ years later the anti-Catholic rhetoric still catches me from time to time. I have difficulty embracing lots of aspects of our faith because of it.

Interesting. I left Catholicism and attended a Protestant Church for about 7 years or so, I forget exactly how long. But the anti-Catholic attitude actually forced me to investigate Catholicism closer which caused me to realize the Catholic Church is exactly what it says it is. I am forever grateful for that Church's anti-Catholic sentiments  :grin:
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#8
A Church with low standards or expectations for its members is one that is indifferent and a caricature of itself, it is at worst an anti-culture and at best lukewarm Christianity (and remember what happens to the lukewarm). 

I have had a many priests who did everything they wanted and complained about the gridlock in Rome, as if it would matter in one way or another.  All I hear about is building community as if belonging to the Church of Christ alone isn't enough.  I remember one priest was giving a conference, and when he talked about his youth (as most priests from the 70s will tell you), they had "community," but now we have "community!"  In other words, liberals have not a foggiest idea of what church is, what it is meant for, etc (and to be fair so do most conservatives).  There are so many young, middle aged, and elderly Catholics who want some semblance of a Catholic culture, but instead of bread they give us serpents.  They are more eager to please Jews, muslims, etc that they forget the faithful.  You know I do not like this periphery theology out there, in a sense that it is mostly passive.  If one keeps pushing for the peripheries, often times, you will lose those that you take for granted.  The farther they push to the "margin", the more they will lose, because they never really trained their sheep to hear their voice. 
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#9
(12-22-2015, 01:25 PM)CaptCrunch73 Wrote:
(12-22-2015, 07:05 AM)formerbuddhist Wrote: It's very interesting actually.  There's the idea that strictness can help keep believers together and on the same page, strictness in defining just what a given religion believes and strictness in practice. If you think about it this seems to make sense. Just look at the most observant Jews-- they are strict--- and they are a clearly defined community that knows who they are and where they stand. I imagine individual Orthodox Jews do as well. The same goes for the Memmonites, the Amish and the Old Believers.


If this guys thesis is correct it would make sense why the Roman Catholic Church is in such disarray, and what more traditional style groups and parishes are growing while others are not.

If he is correct the only thing to do is to try and find a parish environment that is growing and more traditional. The problem is that the liberalizing Frankenchurch environment is the mainstream from the papacy on down, and outside a handful of prelates ( some not even really in " full communion)  there's little support for orthodoxy. It remains to be seen just how things fare in this environment where the official hierarchy has " moved on" and it's the disconnected trad style groups that are clinging to a past that has been abandoned.

There's also the problem amongst groups of people that are too inward looking and rigid where they can become cultlike and fanatical or fall apart. 

How does one remain orthodox in a Church whose very leadership seems to look down on it? How to grow with little to no support from the hierarchy?

Groups like the Mennonites, the Amish have no papacy or " magisterium" to guide them while Catholics do, and the modern Papacy and their " magisterium" has largely supported these liberalizing reforms. To go against them is to go against the leadership of the Church, a leadership supposedly under divine guidance.

FB, do you think that order plays a part in some folks investigating Orthodoxy (capital O)?

Superficially yes. On paper, and compared to the average Catholic parish Orthodoxy can seem strict and liturgically and doctrinally sound, but dig deeper and not all is always well.

The difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism at least in part as that on paper things like fasting were not changed, and the liturgical calendar is still full. The reality on the ground can be different. Outside of some ROCOR parishes there's quite a truncation and omission of services.

We also can't forget that there are plenty of voices within world Orthodoxy that are trying to do to the Orthodox Church what the Pope and the bishops did to the Roman Catholic. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Orthodoxy in light of all the talk from pretentious konvertsi academics who look to bring a Vatican II style deform to Orthodoxy.

Also, we mustn't forget that Nikonian Orthodoxy is itself already quite a drastic change from what went before it in terms of rites,practices and liturgical music. I posted it someplace before.

The fasting requirements still stand in orthodoxy, and outside the untraditional move to the Gregorian calendar they basically have a full calendar of saints.

Modern Catholicism has reduced fasting to almost nothing,created a three year Lectionary, abolished and or move saints feast days or whole seasons,and in the West moves major feasts to Sunday's so it's easier for the faithful to attend the services. It's so drastically aliturgical and non traditional it's not even funny. Ascension- Thursday Sunday, and Epiphany several days earlier to fall on a Sunday is just lazy and ridiculous. 
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#10
Is fasting in Orthodoxy obligatory? The way it was explained to me is that they set a high bar, but it's not a sin or anything if you don't reach it.  In other words, it's not strict at all and there are no consequences for "non-compliance." 

Also, look at traditionally EO countries.  Church attendance numbers in Greece, for example, are on par with various Catholic places and even worse than traditionally Catholic countries like Italy, Ireland, Poland, and Portugal.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_attendance

Also, I think we're a little prejudiced by American Orthodoxy, which is still very much an ethnic immigrant religion (with a mix of new converts)--it tends to be a more significant source of identity leading to a more devoted practice.  The same was true when Roman Catholicism was such an immigrant religion here.

But anyway, with regards to the OP, there is definitely a good point being made.  Even those most nominal Catholics I know will still abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent.  People want discipline and an identity.  There's no point in getting out of bed on Sunday to drive to church when there's nothing different there than you can get from living in the world. 
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