Sunday, April 22, 2012

What is the "Good News" in the New Evangelization?

The pope and bishops are launching, “The New Evangelization.”  The word “evangelist” comes from a couple of Greek words meaning, “I bring a message of good news.”  Therefore, evangelization involves expressing good news.  What good news do the new evangelists bring?  To whom do they bring it?  Does that target audience find the message to be “good news?”                                        

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has three goals for the New Evangelization:  
  1. For Catholics’ to live their faith in Jesus enthusiastically and openly
  2. To welcome everyone in the church
  3. To foster gospel values in society. 
On the surface those goals seem fine.  But, the devil is in the details.  Let’s start with the second goal first – welcoming people.

According to a 2009 Canadian study 72.3% of Catholic school students believed their schools were unsupportive of LGBT students and 87.5% felt teachers at their schools were ineffective at addressing homophobic bullying.  Those statistics are far higher than expressed by students at non-Catholic schools.  It is difficult to make a case for welcoming everyone in the Catholic Church when Catholic schools do not welcome homosexual youths as warmly as public schools do.  Youth are a target audience for the new evangelization but they do not see the church as lovingly welcoming their LGBT friends and family.  On this topic, they do not see the church as bringing very “good news”. 

The New Evangelization also tries to bring back fallen-away Catholics.  Therefore the opinions of Catholics who have left the church are important to understand.  According to the 2012 “Empty Pews” study, the top reasons people leave the Catholic Church are:
  • Mishandling of the sex abuse crisis
  • The church’s attitudes towards homosexual people
  • “Arrogant”, “distant”, “aloof” and “insensitive” priests
  • Uninspiring homilies
  • Hierarchy’s entanglement in secular conservative politics and alignment with the Republican Party
  • Attitudes towards divorced and remarried people
  • The status of women in the church
Though fallen-away Catholics are a target audience, this study reveals many of them feel the church lacks compassion dealing with divorcees, homosexuals, and abuse victims.  They are horrified by the lies, deceit and skewed priorities dealing with the abuse crisis.  They see the church as homophobic and sexist and feel it discriminates against homosexuals and women rather than welcomes them.   Women are “welcome” only if they abide by the clergy’s defined mould for women; homosexuals are “welcome” only if they accept the church’s teaching that their God-given sexual orientation is actually “intrinsically disordered”.  Many people just don’t find this very “welcoming” and perhaps even find it unjust. 

Hierarchical leaders refuse to consider that they might be wrong and so they counter that people who feel the church is unwelcoming or unjust are simply either uninformed or misinformed.  They sincerely believe that if people just heard their rationale, they would support church practices. Thus, one of the tactics for the New Evangelization is to re-evangelize the faithful.

In re-evangelizing the faithful, people are encouraged to develop an educated, mature faith.  Mature faith involves probing deep, difficult questions.  But, many people who become educated and mature in their faith and ask questions, find themselves chastised, marginalized, censured, or excommunicated.  Do hierarchical leaders foster education and maturity, or indoctrination? 

Recently seniors at De LaSalle Catholic high school in Minneapolis attended a mandatory marriage presentation and were told that same-sex love was akin to bestiality and children from single-parent homes were abnormal.   Students, maturing in their faith, felt the seminar was an overt political maneuver, trying to shape their minds as soon-to-be-voters on an upcoming same-sex marriage ballot question.  Aligned with their consciences, many students protested.  Rather than engage in mature dialogue, school and diocesan officials abruptly ended the session.  I don’t imagine these students find the church welcoming to gays, single parents, children of single parents, or people of mature faith.

Those students’ reaction is similar to that of many people of mature faith who disagree with church policies.  They are very familiar with the gospel and church teachings.  They feel they have a very strong faith in Jesus but feel Jesus would very strongly object to the church’s policies.  They feel they must openly and enthusiastically live their faith aligned with a Jesus who sought out the marginalized, the unwanted, the devalued, and the sinner.  They feel they must openly and enthusiastically welcome women in ways that break social and religious cultural norms, just like Jesus did.  They feel it is not their place to evaluate the absence or presence of sin in same-sex love but to love the individuals involved because they are fiercely certain the Jesus they know demands such non-judgmental acceptance.

The New Evangelization assumes that louder, more frequent repetition of the same messages that drove people away will cause people to rejoin the church.  Will it do that or just inspire more people to leave? 

In their New Evangelization efforts, church leaders say they seek the “lost” sheep.  But the “lost” sheep think the shepherds are actually the ones who are lost.  Consequently the “lost” think it’s breathtakingly arrogant of church leaders to label them as such.  They don’t think church leaders have very good news to share, or at least not the good news associated with Jesus.  They actually feel Jesus would reprimand today’s religious leaders every bit as vehemently as he did the Pharisees of his day.  Both sides believe they are correct.  Is this an unbreakable impasse?

The New Evangelization materials say the church needs to reach out and show people that the church answers their deepest questions and concerns.  Do church leaders think the “good news” is that they have the answer key to a very complicated final exam?  Or do they think the “good news” is simple acceptance of the Triune God with the assurance that despite our sufferings and failings in this world, we will be forever reunited with God?

My mom died on Valentine’s Day this year, surrounded by about two dozen family members.  That group included married people, unmarried people, divorcees, remarried people, single parents, lapsed Catholics, practicing Catholics, heterosexuals, homosexuals, Caucasians, African Americans, young, old, men and women…all the sorts of people that the church manages to alienate. 

As the end drew near, we held her and each other while quietly singing in multi-part harmony her favorite hymns.  Our diversity allowed us to sing confidently in our own voices – in unified harmony not uniformity or unison – and that enhanced our song.  This reflected the welcoming table my mother set.   What can be said of the choir of voices formed by the forced unison and uniformity of the New Evangelization? 

We sang “There is a balm in Gilead to heal the wounded soul…”  That seemed like good news.  We sang, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free; for his eye is on the sparrow and I know he cares for me…”  That seemed like good news too.  We sang several songs and could sense the way their messages eased her journey from this world to the next.  It eased our journey watching her departure.  That was good news too.  But she died as we sang these very words, “I am the resurrection; I am the life; if you believe in me, even though you die, you will live forever.”  That was her good news – pure and simple.  That is the good news she instilled in us.  It is my understanding that is the gospel's good news too.

My mom railed against injustice in the church whenever she felt it complicated the pure and simple “good news”.   Does the New Evangelization offer pure and simple “good news” or have church leaders complicated and perverted it?


  1. Geez Louise, you literally made me cry with this one. God love you. I know I sure do.

  2. What a gift you are to us who appreciate penetrating minds, one who can scour the depths of thought and feeling. Bless you, unkown but known one.