Our Patrick Madrid will lead a three-man Catholic contingent in a debate against three prominent Protestants. If you'll be in Southern California on March 3 and 4, try to attend the debate, which will be held at the Lake Avenue Congregational Church, 393 N. Lake Avenue, Pasadena.
The Friday evening session, which will look at sola scriptura ("Scripture alone"), begins with registration at 5:30 and opening remarks at 7:00. The Saturday morning session, which will take up sola fide ("faith alone"), begins with a continental breakfast at 8:00 and opening remarks at 9:00. The debate concludes around 1:00.
Patrick, a contributing editor to This Rock and the editor of the recently-released Surprised by Truth, will be joined by William Marshner and Robert Sungenis. Marshner, a convert to Catholicism in 1967, is a professor of theology at Christendom College and wrote for Triumph magazine. He edits one of the newsletters published by Fr. Paul Marx's Human Life International. Sungenis converted in 1992 and heads Catholic Apologetics International. When he was a Protestant, he worked for Harold Camping's ministry. Sungenis wrote one of the chapters in Surprised by Truth.
The Protestant side will be headed by Michael Horton, president of CURE (Christians United for Reformation), author of several books, and host of a radio program. He will be joined by W. Robert Godfrey, president and professor of Church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, and Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran scholar and lecturer who teaches theology at Christ College Irvine.
The debate is sponsored by CURE, 2221 E. Winston Rd., Ste. K, Anaheim, CA 92806. The registration fee is $25 for registrations mailed prior to February 20, $35 after that date. A brochure giving further details is available from CURE. (Don't write to Catholic Answers--we don't stock the brochure. Write to CURE.)
Even a small parish can make a big impact--if it's motivated. James D. Anderson, the director of evangelization at St. John Catholic Church in Logan, Ohio, reports that his parish has only 600 active members and is situated in a county that is 73% unchurched. Yet St. John's has a full-time evangelization program, the progress of which is reported in a quarterly newsletter.
At this autumn's Hocking County Fair parishioners logged 275 man-hours at the parish's booth. They "shared the gospel with any and all who would come up to our booth and talk with us or look at our display," said Anderson.
"Hundreds of people took tracts which explained the teachings of the Catholic Church, the most popular being Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth. They also were given Gospels of St. John. We chose to use this Gospel because it simply and clearly presents the gospel of Christ in a way understandable to those who never heard it before." (Besides, the parish is named after St. John.)
At the booth audio tapes were given away free. The most popular one was Scott Hahn's conversion testimony. "Our best bait to draw people's attention to us was the TV which played non-stop, showing animated videos of Bible stories and biographies of the saints. By the end of the week we could lip-synch the lines from those videos."
The parish's evangelization work isn't confined to the yearly fair. An evangelization training program has been started. It meets on 13 consecutive Saturdays for three hours a day. Emphasis is on equipping parishioners to go door to door. In the first month of hitting the pavement, the team members visited 90 households.
One friendly person said, "Not interested. You're on the wrong side of the river!"
Another, "the daughter-in-law of a Church of Christ minister, thought the work was wonderful"--perhaps a reaction to the minister in the family?
At one house there was a 90-year-old woman. She had been baptized a Catholic. Her father had been Catholic, her mother Protestant, and to keep peace in the family the children were brought up--with no religion at all! This elderly woman had been visited by the pastor of a Fundamentalist church until it became evident that she could no longer make donations. But her face brightened when her Catholic visitors invited her "home" with no purse strings attached.
Several cable stations carry programs featuring stand-up comedians. Problem is, many of the comedians generate laughs only by using words that most readers of this magazine would turn red-eared on hearing. These aren't the sort of comedians you'd invite to perform at your church social or Knights of Columbus meeting. But we have good news: We've run across a young Catholic comic whose tag line--"Good Clean Fun"--says it all. Tommy Di Nardo sent us an audio tape of his routine, which not only is clean, but very funny. A one-time engineer, Di Nardo says, in his mission statement, that he wants "to provide good, clean, wholesome, and family-oriented professional stand-up comedy to Catholic communities across the country." He has appeared at many churches, clubs, and schools and on radio and television. If you need entertainment for your wedding reception or parish festival, check him out. He'll send you his portfolio and a free copy of his tape. Write to him at 2424 Peritan Rd., Virginia Beach, VA 23454, or call (804) 486-1307.
John Boswell, author of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, died December 26 from AIDS. His recently-published book advanced the thesis that in the Middle Ages the Church performed liturgical rites, similar to marriage ceremonies, that solemnized "unions" between males. (Boswell's thesis in an earlier book was that the Church's attitude toward homosexuality arose only during the latter part of the Middle Ages.)
Most reviewers of Same-Sex Unions recognized it for what it is, special pleading by a gay activist who placed his ideology ahead of good scholarship. In fact, the Church never approved of homosexual unions, and its "position" did not arise only in the Middle Ages, but has its roots in the Bible. (Read Paul's epistles, for example.)
What Boswell transformed into "marriage ceremonies" were rites in which two men "adopted" one another as brothers; this was an offshoot of the Middle Ages' system of fealty. There was nothing sexual about these "unions." A modern equivalent, once popular among children, might be ceremonies through which boys became "blood brothers."
As we said, most reviewers immediately saw through Boswell's book; they recognized his not-very-hidden agenda. That was not the case with Fr. Paul K. Thomas, the archivist for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a member of the Gay/Lesbian Outreach. He reviewed Same-Sex Unions in the November 30 issue of The Catholic Review.
Thomas accepts Boswell's thesis that "homosexual Christian history" has "long been ignored and even suppressed." He maintains that "earlier researchers disregarded positive archival materials in an attempt to justify total religious opposition to homosexuality." He seems oblivious to the idea, expressed by numerous reviewers, that Boswell mistakes "blood brother"-type ceremonies for "marriage" ceremonies--a big distinction. He argues that "same-sex unions, although perhaps without genital expression, were once approved and sanctified by the Church and at times became highly idealized in Western society." It's a small step from that, of course, to the argument that same-sex unions involving "genital expression" should be "approved and sanctified by the Church."
Thomas's review strikes us, again, as special pleading. It seems to have been composed to push an agenda. But what's new? Why is it likely that no one will be surprised to find Boswell's kind of scholarship touted by a priest involved with a ministry that probably doesn't do much to promote the Church's teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts?
Is the Gay/Lesbian Outreach closer to Dignity or to Courage in what it teaches? Are the gays and lesbians reached by this ministry invited to live chaste lives and to repent of any homosexual acts or illicit liaisons they may have undertaken? Are they called to the same sexual standards that unmarried heterosexuals are called to by the Church? Does anyone have real doubts about the answers to these questions?
A truer look at homosexuality was given in these pages in the July/August issue. David C. Morrison, a former gay-rights activist and now an orthodox Catholic, wrote "Out of the Closest and Into Chastity." His article was mentioned favorably in a column appearing in the Long Beach, California Press-Telegram. Writer Jessica Shaver called Morrison's article one of "the finest Christian views on homosexuality that I know." Maybe she should have sent a copy of it to Fr. Thomas.
Want, uh, different reading? Consider pamphlets written by Rev. John Martinez of Frederick, Oklahoma. He sends by fax two legal-sized sheets giving the titles and prices of the dozens of pamphlets he has composed. At the bottom of the second sheet he adds this caveat: "Please put this warning sign on the outside of the envelope if you decide to write to me to make more sure that I receive your letter, for 'big brother' is watching me closely now!": "WARNING! This letter to zip code 73542 is being internally audited and delivery will be verified."
This ploy is hardly likely to stop enemies Martinez may have at the U.S. Postal Service, since the warning is as useless as those classified ads that announce, "As of January 1, 1995 John Doe is not responsible for any debts but his own." Such ads are placed only by people who don't realize that they never have been responsible for any debts but their own.
The box to the right lists a few of the pamphlets Martinez offers. In all the titles we've been able to find only one that seems entirely correct: "Tony Alamo is a Jew." It's fitting, perhaps, that this is the only one that Martinez gets right, since Alamo (whose real name is Bernie Lazar Hoffman and who's now in prison) is as obsessed with conspiracy theories as is Martinez.
As a sane alternative, here is a pamphlet--actually, a tract--we can endorse with confidence. It's called 7 Darned Tough Questions, and it's distributed by Doug and Heidi Reeves through their apostolate, Rome and Reason, P.O. Box 571, Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678. The tract poses seven questions that defenders of sola scriptura will have trouble answering. Copies are just five cents apiece, but we suggest you send five bucks for 100 copies and throw in another five bucks as a donation.