3 Myths about the Church to ditch for Lent

Reblog… John Allen on All Things Catholic at the National Catholic Reporter writes on 3 Myths to ditch for Lent:

1. Purple ecclesiology

“Purple ecclesiology” refers to the notion that the lead actors in the Catholic drama are the clergy, and in fact, the only activity that really counts as “Catholic” at all is that carried out by the church’s clerical caste, especially its bishops. You can always spot purple ecclesiology at work when you hear someone say “the church” when what they really mean is “the hierarchy.”

The truth is that the number of ordained clergy in the Catholic church comes to roughly .04 percent of the total Catholic population of 1.2 billion. If they’re the main act, then all one can say is that the Catholic show is wildly top-heavy with supporting cast.

Seeing the church through a purple filter is misleading, even if all we take into view is the visible, institutional dimension of Catholic life. Most Catholic schools, hospitals, social service centers, movements and associations, even chanceries and parish headquarters, are staffed overwhelmingly by laywomen and men. More deeply, however, the church doesn’t exist for itself, but to change the world, which means that if its message is to penetrate the various realms of culture — medicine, law, the academy, politics, the economy and so on — it’s either going to be carried there by laity, or not at all…

2. A church in decline

Seen from global perspective, however, that’s just wildly wrong. The last half-century witnessed the greatest period of missionary expansion in the 2,000-year history of Catholicism, fueled by explosive growth in the southern hemisphere. Take sub-Saharan Africa as a case in point: The Catholic population at the dawn of the 20th century was 1.9 million, while by the end of the century it was more than 130 million, representing a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Overall, the global Catholic footprint shot up from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, ahead of the overall rate of increase in world population, and is still rising today.

The dominant Catholic narrative of our time, in other words, is not decline but astronomic growth. (That’s not true everywhere, as there are significant losses in Europe, parts of North America and in some pockets of Latin America, but it is the global big picture.)

Even in the United States, the Catholic church is actually holding its own. Yes, it’s lost a third of Americans born into the faith, but its retention rate of two-thirds is actually fairly healthy by the competitive standards of America’s wide-open religious marketplace. (It’s much higher than, say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who retain only one-third of their members.) Further, the Catholic church is holding steady at roughly a quarter of the national population, thanks largely to Hispanic immigration and higher-than-average birth rates among Hispanic Catholics. In the words of Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, American Catholicism is “browning,” but it’s not contracting…

3. Christianity is the oppressor, not the oppressed

Of all the popular misconceptions about Catholicism, and about Christianity in general, this is arguably the most pernicious.

Here’s the stark reality of our times: In the early 21st century, we are witnessing the rise of a whole new generation of Christian martyrs.

Christians are today, statistically speaking, by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet. According to the Frankfurt-based Society for Human Rights, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians. The Pew Forum estimates that Christians experience persecution in a staggering total of 133 nations, fully two-thirds of all the countries on earth.

As part of that picture, the Catholic relief agency “Aid to the Church in Need” estimates that 150,000 Christians die for their faith every year, in locales ranging from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America. This means that every hour of every day, roughly 17 Christians are killed somewhere in the world, either out of hatred for the faith or hatred for the works of charity and justice their faith compels them to perform.

Perhaps the emblematic example is Iraq, where a strong Christian community that took two millennia to build has been gutted in the arc of a little more than two decades. Prior to 1991, the year of the First Gulf War, there were more than 2 million Christians in Iraq, while today the high-end estimate is that somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 may be left.

3 Myths about the Church to ditch for Lent

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