AND WHY I CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THE MELTING POT IS CODE FOR PROTESTANT EMPIRE
as well as CHAD’S SELF-CRITIQUE
Mitchell Powell gives us another example of a biblioblogger who offers us his presuppositions.
As a school aged black boy being bused to a “traditional” elementary school as part of Louisville’s delayed racial integration project in the late 1980s, the one thing that stood out in each text book from 2nd grade on was the notice on the front: That no discrimination, based on religion, race, gender, or creed was part and parcel to the handling of the materials given to me, the student. The idea that race divides us I learned at a very early age, and as a child, because of my education, believed that racial difference were somehow “natural.”
As I have tried to articulate my own faith journey, I thought that writing a letter to my fellow Christians who happen to be Catholic would be beneficial. While I know that it is not enough, today, I would like to go into an exploration into Baptist Anti-Catholicism in the context of U.S. American Protestant privilege.
Joel and J.K. both assume that I have this 1980s political vendetta against Carter (as if I was born during the Carter administration?). Why else would Gayle bring up the Equal Rights Amendment (as if laws could ever make human beings equal in the first place?). Joel more specifically sees himself calling me out for having an anti-Carter bias. But this is not personal, I am not attacking Carter personally, but his doctrine. Yes, Joel, I can take older white Southern Baptist men in context but taking people in context should never excuse them for their actions. I have never believed that. Whenever I hear baptist preachers say, “It’s not about religion, its about relationship” or “We Baptists have an empty cross” I know that these are codes for us versus them, Baptists versus Catholics. What I hope to show is that in the history of the United States, there has been a privileged position for Protestant religions (of which I am a member) which has revealed its ugly head in the form of many types of anti-Catholicism, like Baptist’s.
In Jonathan Edwards’ “Note on the Apocalypse, it is no one but the Catholic Church is the anti-Christ, and Edwards argues that throughout history: the Roman Catholic Church forever tied to the fate of the disaster that happened to the Roman Empire. On the one hand, we have an anti-imperial critique by Edwards against religious-driven colonial powers, and this would make post-colonial criticism in some respects unoriginal. But on the other hand, the legacy of Martin Luther’s three-headed anti-Christ still linger (Catholicism, along with the Jews and the Muslims in Luther’s reading of the apocalypse). What this says eschatologically is that God’s kingdom excludes my Catholic neighbor, a premise I reject outright. God does not favor persons according to anything that they have done, but it is by grace freely given that we are saved.
While Edwards was writing prior to the Revolutionary War, the Protestant anti-catholic tradition still remained after the colonists had “liberated” themselves. Back then, and even today, Catholicism is seen as an “anti-democratic” force as opposed to Baptist/methodist religions more “democratic” structures, all myths in dire need of debunking. For example in the case of Baptists, what is the difference between the all powerful Baptist pastor with NO accountability who runs local congregations from the common Baptist distortion that the Vatican has some sort of omnipotence. If anything, the papacy is bound by Tradition and held accountable by other bishops, so that power is limited. There is nothing of the sort, on the other hand, to limit baptist pastors in the same manner, bar active laypersons who care ( a rare exception).
Jay P. Dolan, in his work, In Search of an American Catholicism, goes over the history of Catholicism as A REPUBLIC-AFFIRMING force, that is, in U.S. American Catholicism, prior to Vatican I, American Catholics enjoyed much freedom in setting up trustee systems in their local parishes (ala Methodism). John Carrol, whom I refer to as America’s Erasmus, was the first bishop of Baltimore, and like the founders, he endorsed Enlightenment philosophy, reason and revelation (page 23). Carroll served as a leader on the Baltimore Female Humane Society and as a trustee on the boards of St. John’s College in Annapolis and Baltimore College. The development of trusteeship in early American Catholic parishes had little historical precedent in the Old World. In England, Ireland, Germany, France, and in the United States, lay Catholics were becoming more involved in parish governance. This newly instituted empowerment meant that the trustees had control over church property, legal disputes, and financial concerns. The inevitable power struggle between the bishops, who had traditionally held jurisdiction over these “worldly concerns,” and the trustees, was followed by a reaction that would have tremendous repercussions almost a century and a half later (i.e., Vatican I).
As one can see that contrary to myths we hear today, Catholicism was reconciled with the democratic-republican way of like. Because the Kingdom of God transcends denominational structures as well as political institutions, Christians are able to adapt to all forms of government; the question becomes which policies to promote and protest.
Fast forward to 1925, in the Supreme Court case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters. The Oregon Compulsory Education Act violated the religious freedom of Roman Catholics in that state in the name of forcing all children to go to public schools. This case, found here, is a clear public example of Protestant imperialism. Oregon’s unwillingness to make space for the Other, the Catholic was so ingrained in those days that it openly discriminated against them (not unlike Jim & Jane Crow, I may add).
Social studies classes in the public school offended Catholic theologians, especially with the exclusion of God directing the course of history through interaction (history as a sacrament like Catholic and liberation theologian Gustavo Guittierez talks about). “Rooted in the Protestant culture of the United States, the public school movement encouraged an American Protestant imperialism” (page 60). The public schools that affirmed the modernist mentality understanding of religion as “historically conditioned” and subject to cultural adaptation were the same ones that produced the Know-Nothing movements and the great rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the first three decades of the 20th century. The 1928 presidential bid of Irish Catholic Al Smith was ruined because of the prevailing anti-Catholic sentiment. And remember the challenges that JFK faced? Something about a Vatican in the White House?
It is within this context of privilege of my own Protestant religion that I must examine anti-Catholic bias. Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed the Mariologies of their Catholic background, so why do their descendants refuse to humbly acknowledge this fact. Does Jimmy Carter where a wedding ring on his left ring finger? If so, he is indebted to Catholicism for that symbol.
If there has been one thing that has definitely not changed about me in high school was that Woodrow Wilson has always remained my least favorite president, and that remains true today. So I am not on this warpath to erase those years. This is more than just about me, this is about privilege in which I and others participate in, and how we must come to confess it, and admit its history, yes context, but no excuses. There is no excuse for issuing public statements pertaining to false myths about Catholicism. By seeing the potential for anti-catholicism in the aforementioned comments, I also recognize the anti-catholicism of my own past
If I can’t be self-critical, there is no use in me being a Christian.
Editor’s note: For your information: Jimmy Carter is part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and not methodist as Joel suggested:
“Carter has not been a Southern Baptist for years and, I believe, has at one time or another identified as a UMC.”
Yeah, let’s keep up the misinformation campaign.