When I first started hanging out at ChristianForums, I made a few friends fairly early on. One day, they informed me that they’d declared me an honorary Catholic.
See, I’m not Catholic. I do not believe that the Catholic Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals. I believe they sometimes fall into errors, and it sometimes takes them a while to recover. I am not particularly convinced about the idea of Apostolic Succession (the idea that the current Pope has the same authority Peter did, etcetera). I don’t quite reject the Immaculate Conception (the doctrine that Mary was born specially free of sin in some way), but I don’t really believe it to be likely. I am pretty sure the Church is wrong on celibacy of priests, not allowing women priests, and their stance on contraception. I favor legalized abortion, although I oppose abortion as immoral. (I believe law should not cover purely moral decisions, only the framework society needs to survive.)
But I’m not Catholic. I don’t agree with them on some issues, and I don’t think they have authority.
And yet… In a lot of ways, I think they get things right most Christian groups don’t. Take homosexuality. I personally don’t need to know whether or not God has an opinion about gay sex, but it seems pretty clear to me that homosexuals are people first, and that the Christian response to them should be one of compassion and love. Even if gay sex is a sin, so what? Lots of things are sins. Me sitting here working on this blog when I should probably be working on my paying work, and providing for my family, might be a sin… Hmm.
(500 words about wireless LANs later.)
The Catholic teaching on the issue, as I understand it, is consistent with what scientists in general accept as patently obvious: Homosexuality appears to be something that is the way some people are, and is not generally subject to change. We don’t know all that much about causes, although genetics plays a measurable role. The Catholic teaching, then, is that because the Bible appears to condemn homosexual sex, homosexuals are called to a life of celibacy, and should receive compassionate support from Christians.
Many Protestant groups feel that, since the Bible says something involving gay sex is a sin, that it is reasonable to assume that homosexuality is something people intentionally choose, and therefore, that being gay is in and of itself a sin, and that gay people should be pressured and harrangued until they “change”. From this we get all sorts of horrors and abuses.
Which of these positions is more consistent with the teachings of the Bible? Clearly, unambiguously, the former. To say otherwise is to deny the entire point of the Gospels, and nearly everything Jesus ever did.
So… A lot of the time, I end up agreeing with Catholics, or at least agreeing with them more than with some Protestants.
But I’m still not Catholic.
This creates some very weird interpersonal dynamics, because a lot of people seem to think that Protestants are somehow duty-bound to oppose whatever the Catholics do or say. On the lunatic fringe, we have people like Jack Chick who claim that the entire Catholic Church is an invention of Satan to persecute Christians. It’s terrifying the nonsense people will believe.
What drives me nuts most of all, though, is Protestants who feel they can condemn other people for promoting “heresy”. The things on which Protestant teachings generally differ from Catholic teachings are generally more significant than any of the stuff they persecute others for. The question of whether or not Christians should submit to the authority of the Pope is WAY more important than the question of where guys should stick their private bits.
So, there you have it. I don’t actually agree with the Catholics, but I find myself sticking up for them when ignorant bigots attack them, and I often see a lot of wisdom in their positions. I think people are way too quick to jump from “I do not accept the authority of these people” to “these people have nothing of interest to say”. For better or worse, the Catholics have been around for roughly 2000 years, and they’ve done a lot of hard thinking about some very tough questions. To disregard them casually, or dismiss them as irrelevant, is foolish in the extreme.