Redefining The Other Changing Attitudes Toward Catholicism

As we have stressed throughout this work, Protestantism gains its sense of identity through both internal and external factors. Internally, this sense of common identity arises from a shared commitment to certain beliefs and norms—such as the centrality of the Bible. Yet Protestantism has also been shaped by the perception of a common threat from a significant enemy—Catholicism. From its beginnings until very recently, this has been an integral aspect of Protestant identity.

The importance of "binary opposition" in shaping perceptions of identity has been highlighted in recent years, not least on account of the major debate between different schools of critical thought over whether such "oppositions" determine and shape human thought or are the outcome of human thought.28 A series of significant binary oppositions are held to have shaped Western thought—such as "male-female" and "white-black." Binary oppositions lead to the construction of the category of "the other"—the devalued half of a binary opposition when applied to groups of people. Group identity is often fostered by defining "the other"—as, for example, in Nazi Germany, with its opposition "Aryan-Jew."

In the case of Protestantism, the main binary opposition has been Catholic-Protestant. Its plausibility has been enormously enhanced by the fact that Catholicism adopted precisely the same opposition. Protestantism was not a significant presence in regions of the world where Orthodoxy was dominant, but this binary opposition came to be perceived as normative elsewhere. Each side saw its opponent as "the other," a perception that was relentlessly advanced by novelists and other shapers of public opinion.29 Media reporting of the social unrest in Northern Ireland from 1970 to 1995 reinforced this opposition.

It is a simple fact of history that Protestantism has defined itself against this significant "other." While European Protestantism was haunted by this specter for many years, the lack of a significant Catholic presence in many parts of North America during the colonial era led many Protestants to search, not entirely successfully, for alternative "others." Then waves of Catholic immigration from Europe in the nineteenth century revitalized the traditional perception that the enemy was Catholicism. "The other" had reemerged and proved of decisive importance in shaping American Protestantism's sense of identity.30

The identification of Catholicism with "the other" was pervasive in American Protestantism in the late nineteenth century and can be summed up in the famous comments of a delegate to the Evangelical Alliance meeting in New York in 1873: "The most formidable foe of living Christianity among us is not Deism or Atheism, or any form of infidelity, but the nominally Christian Church of Rome." As the twentieth century opened, this perception seemed permanent and normative. At one level, Protestantism was defined by anti-Catholicism.

Yet the twentieth century has seen this perception change, to the point that it now lingers on only in some parts of American Protestantism, and then more as a historical memory than a current reality. Anti-Catholicism is arguably now more characteristic of political pressure groups and media gurus who resent the continuing moral and political influence of Catholicism in America.31 "The other" is being redefined. No longer is Catholicism the enemy for conservative Protestants; it is the perceived secularism and incipient atheism of America's cultural opinion makers. Socially conservative Protestants and Catholics thus see each other as natural allies in a struggle against a secularizing government, despite the obvious tensions within that working agreement.

This is not to say that Protestants no longer regard Catholicism with suspicion, or even hostility. For many Protestants, the agenda of the European Reformation remains a live issue and has not been resolved to this day.32 The point here, however, is more subtle: it is that secularism has surfaced as the major concern of many Protestants. This does not mean that other concerns or threats have been eliminated, or are even seen to have been eliminated. It represents a communal shift in many Protestant circles concerning the identity of the most pressing challenge of the moment.

What of liberal Protestants, still a very significant constituency within the American religious scene? On the whole, these Protestants do not regard secularizing forces in America as an enemy, being broadly sympathetic to their goals, if occasionally uneasy over their fine detail. Protestants in this constituency tend to regard conservative Christians, irrespective of denominational allegiance, as "the other" and occasionally use the term "fundamentalist" in a purely derogatory sense to stigmatize them.33 This points to the fragmentation of "the other" within Protestantism as a whole.

Yet while many Protestants no longer regard Catholicism as an enemy, it is still widely seen as a rival. This perception has been catalyzed by a significant development since about 1990—prominent Protestants, including evangelicals, have been converting, either by "crossing the Tiber" to Catholicism or "crossing the Bosphorus" to Orthodoxy. In 1990 the leading Lutheran theologian Richard John Neuhaus converted to Catholicism, setting a trend that has escalated since then. Recent defections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) illustrate this trend well. Robert Wilken, a leading Lutheran patristics scholar teaching at the University of Virginia, became a Roman Catholic. The preeminent church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale University, became a member of the Orthodox Church. Leonard Klein, pastor of Christ Church, a large

Lutheran parish in York, Pennsylvania, and sometime editor of Lutheran Forum, converted to Catholicism with his family and is studying for the priesthood. Bruce Marshall, one of American's most significant younger Lutheran theologians, recently converted to Catholicism. The list goes on.

What is causing these conversions? It is clear that a variety of factors are involved. One of the reasons so many evangelicals are "crossing the Bosphorus" is that they are alarmed at evangelicalism's lack of historical roots and institutional continuity with the New Testament and they see Orthodoxy as having particularly strong credentials in this area. Other Protestants are uneasy about the biblical foundations of one of the core ideas of the first phase of the Reformation—the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Catholic critics regularly argue that this is unbibli-cal: not only, they insist, is there no New Testament passage that affirms this idea, but one passage explicitly condemns the idea.34 A third group is concerned about developments within their denominations that they regard as departing from historic Christianity; therefore, they have transferred to churches with a strong record of defending the tradition.

The long-term implications of this trend, if continued, remain uncertain. Yet all the indications are that it has not led to increased hostility between Catholicism and Protestantism but is actually the outcome of increased understanding, which makes such ecclesiastical transitions easier. While the evidence is that some Catholics do convert to forms of Protestantism, the traffic appears to be primarily in the other direction.

Finally, we must note that this shift in the perception of Catholicism came about through changes in American culture at large, not in response to Protestantism's understanding of its internal marks of identity. "The other" is determined culturally. When there were hardly any Catholics in America, "the other" was often identified as Protestants with differing views on church polity. The massive immigration of Catholics—a social development—altered that perception. The rise of secularism changed it still further. But what lies in the future? Will "the other" be redefined still further? To Protestants in many parts of Africa and Asia, "the other" is radical Islam, which is widely regarded as an intellectual and physical threat to Protestantism. It must be noted that America is not typical of global Protestantism and that its culturally determined perceptions of "the other" do not resonate with the experience of coreligionists in other parts of the world.

With that point in mind, we shall presently turn to consider the remarkable transformation in Protestant identity that took place in the twentieth century as Protestantism became a significant living presence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, we must now address a new form of Protestantism that emerged in the twentieth century and has now become the largest single constituency of the movement— Pentecostalism.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit, by Marcos de Escamilla (sixteenth century).

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