Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to evangelize, you will sound unloving. And that’s okay. But there’s a simple technique you can employ to create a dialogue of openness and charity.
I rarely seek disputes online. Even if I feel “called to defend the gospel” only on very rare occasions will I get into a debate in a combox, a thread, or a Facebook post. Why? Isn’t it worth the soul of the other person?
Personally, while I realize that many hearts and minds can be changed through civil dialogue in these forums, I find that people usually don’t debate openly, and the forum is often too informal, pointed, and pithy to make real impacts. Micro blogs just are not the place to make a treatise of the faith. Just like nobody’s life is changed by reading a fortune cookie.
I find that exchange in private dialogue where parties have time to consider the facts and anecdotes, or sharing a book or extended resource is often the best way to share the faith with those who do not understand it. But eventually, you’ll be in a situation where you skills are tested, invited or not.
A situation came up recently where a Protestant friend of mine shared an image from a particular Protestant apostolate (they refer to them as ministries). The image was two cliffs opposed with a deep and bottomless ravine between them. On side was marked, “People (sinful)”. The other was marked, “God (holy)”. Spanning the middle of these two was a cross (not a crucifix, mind you) marked, “Jesus”. The image is simple for any of us to reconstruct in our minds: Jesus is the way to God. Simple enough, right?
Red flags were raised immediately in my mind. “Jesus isn’t a bridge to God – He is God!” I have a personal history with this Protestant ministry, and I know from that personal experience that they believe in the Protestant teaching of “total depravity”. Prior to becoming Catholic this was one issue I had to confront: what is the nature of our relationship to God, and how does grace, cooperation, free will, and justification play into that? Lucky for the reader, I’m not going to explore that. Well, I shared the image and invited people (Catholics) and tell me what was wrong with the picture.
Whether the picture was an issue or not, some blowback happened, and I woke up the next morning to a list of scripture passages defending depravity, salvation through “grace alone”, and others. Again, I don’t like to put on the apologist in that sort of situation because it rarely ever becomes fruitful. To ease the tension, I wrote a simple reply saying that I would work on a good reply, and to keep in mind – in the meantime – that my friends who commented in disagreement actually supplied arguments that are used in agreement with the Catholic Church, no that of John Calvin.
Then there were the private messages. Replies saying that I was tearing down unity with Protestants and Catholic, that I said people were going to hell, etc. “Woah woah woah! Hold on now! I didn’t mention any of this!” was all I could think. These are close friends and I’m expecting they’re a little familiar with my writings. I wrote a whole book on the positive relationship between Catholic and Protestants. How could they possibly think I have no interest in ecumenism! Now, I’m becoming the defensive one.
So I did something that I learned a long time ago and it works every time. Rather than put on my apologist hat and write the best possible defense I could, I simply wrote a small summary of the items we agree on, and made an apology for not showing enough charity.
Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” as seventh in the nine beatitudes. And though it is number 7, I feel as though it requires the other beatitudes to properly achieve. Being a peacemaker, after all, involves a high amount of mercy, desire for righteousness, purity in heart, meekness, the ability to withstand persecution, and so on. Notice the opposite of these beatitudes will never make us peacemakers.
What I did is a powerful means of evangelizing non-Catholics. It’s not a technique to win an argument, or prove a point, or convince someone of a particular truth. It is a technique that offers a sign a peace. Remember that when Jesus came to the apostles after the crucifixion they were terrified and the first words he spoke to them was an offering of peace before imparting to them the overwhelming idea of forgiving sins in the Sacrament of Confession. It has to be the same when we evangelize because let’s face it: conversion to Catholicism can be terrifying. Offering an apology can reestablish peace and build merit whereby opportunities to explain our faith to someone is not just heard, but potentially invited. Add prayer for that person, and you can’t go wrong.