I entered college as a fresh-faced, enthusiastic evangelical Protestant. I was eager to change the world for Christ. At my large public university, many campus groups offered ways to fulfill those plans. My freshmen year I tried a number of them, such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Navigators, two evangelical “para-church” organizations. Neither, however, scratched my itch to make an impact on the world.
Then, near the end of my freshman year, my sister invited me to attend a meeting of the campus pro-life group. This simple invitation would lead to a series of events that would radically change my world.
I wasn’t a member for long before I became deeply committed. Although the pro-life group boasted a large membership roll, the number of truly active members was much smaller—less than a dozen. I soon discovered that I was the only Protestant among the ranks of the “active” members; the others were practicing Catholics. This inner circle welcomed me without reservation—no one questioned my pro-life convictions.
However, there was a natural distance between the Catholic members and me. When we went to the abortion clinic to pray, I stood off to the side fingering my pocket Bible while the others prayed a rosary. When everyone else attended Mass on Sunday, I was trekking down to the local evangelical church for some praise and worship.
Together in the trenches of pro-life activism (this was the early ’90s, at the height of the Operation Rescue movement), it was natural that we all became close friends. Even though we loved to strategize about the most effective ways to combat abortion, we also just hung out and debated every topic under the sun, from Buckeyes versus Hoosiers to which economic system was best. Unsurprisingly, since we were all serious about our faith, the discussion often turned to the differences between Protestants and Catholics. Many nights were spent arguing issues such as purgatory, the role of Mary, and transubstantiation, to name a few frequent topics.
As intense as the debates could get, one thing I never doubted: my Catholic friends were Christian, and darn good Christians at that. I, fortunately, had never fallen into the trap of believing that Catholics were not Christian or were under the sway of the Whore of Babylon or any such nonsense. I went into college thinking Catholics were odd and esoteric in their beliefs but still Christian nonetheless.
My experience with my pro-life Catholic friends only fortified that belief. I saw how much they loved Jesus and wanted to serve him, and, to me, an evangelical Protestant, that was the most important thing. So, even though our debates could get heated at times (I remember a particular debate that degenerated into a yelling match in the late hours of the night), I always knew that our differences didn’t negate our shared love for the Lord.
As I became more involved in pro-life work, I also became more uncomfortable with my own Protestant denomination, the United Methodist church. At this time, the official position of this denomination was pro-abortion: it supported abortion as a moral choice in many instances. This scandalized me, and I decided to leave the denomination of my birth. This sent me on a search for another Protestant denomination.
But then I discovered the ever-changing nature of various denominations’ teachings. For example, I was impressed with the Southern Baptists—they unapologetically proclaimed Jesus and were unabashedly pro-life. But I learned that in the initial years after Roe v. Wade, they were pro-abortion, changing their position only in the 1980s. So, I wondered, “What’s to prevent them from changing their position again in the future?” In fact, what’s to stop any denomination from changing its position on any fundamental Christian teaching in the future? This led me to an almost existential crisis.
While I wrestled with this problem, I approached one of my pro-life Catholic friends and asked him, “How do you know that the Catholic Church won’t change its position on abortion in the future?” He looked at me as if I had just asked him about an alien invasion from the planet Vulcan. The question was simply inconceivable to him, almost like a four-sided triangle. He then simply answered, fully confident, “It just won’t.”
Although his answer likely won’t go down in the annals of history’s great apologetic moments, it had a profound impact on me. I realized then that the way the Catholic Church operates is far different from how a Protestant denomination operates. It doesn’t rely on men and women voting to determine truth; it instead hands on what it has been given since the time of the apostles. The first-century Catholic document The Didache condemns abortion as immoral, giving evidence that the Church has always—and will always—oppose the killing of innocent children in the womb. That teaching will never change, and one can count on it as much as one can count on the sun rising in the east.
Many more factors led me to become Catholic (you can see my appearance on The Journey Home for more of those factors), but this was a major moment in the timeline of my conversion. In the Catholic Church, I saw a rock that could be counted on in times of trouble. Instead of worrying about what my denomination might teach tomorrow, I knew the Church would stay steady in the midst of the storm.
The abortion holocaust is a tragedy whose magnitude is hard to comprehend. Yet even during such a horror, God still works to bring out good. I am eternally grateful for being led into the pro-life movement, and especially for my college friends who were led into it and who then helped lead me into the Catholic Church.