Yesterday we considered the obstacles to the evangelization of Christians which lie in the listeners. The next variety of obstacle lies in the proclaimers.
Adding to the proclamation. When the proclaimers go beyond the Gospel and insist on the soundness of prudential and scientific judgments which they are not equipped to make, they weaken the authority of their witness. For example, the Church does not know whether the planet is getting warmer, whether such change would be good or bad, or whether human activity is the cause; nor does she know whether minimum wage laws do more good to the poor by increasing their income of those who work, or more harm to the poor by throwing those with marginal skills out of work. Moreover, her ministers are naïve about the pressures toward conformity which often operate in scientific communities just as strongly as in the political world. When those who speak for the Church pretend to expertise which she does not possess, they blur the Christian message and undermine confidence in the charism she does possess.
The solution is to stop doing that. To be a faithful minister of the word of God is not the same thing as to peddle fallible judgments about its remote implications concerning matters about which others are more knowledgeable. Let holy lay people figure those things out.
Subtracting from the proclamation. So often we underestimate the desire for truth and meaning. How often have you heard the pastor tell jokes on Trinity Sunday about why he never preaches about the Trinity and isn’t about to begin? When was the last time you heard a homilist name the congregation’s favorite sins and explain exactly what is wrong with them? How many catechists fail to explain what God has done for us? How many who do teach what He has done leave out what we must do?
The solution is to stop dumbing down Christian doctrine and to teach it all. We seem to think that the starving desire only a morsel, that the thirsty long only for a sip. I suggest that in the long run, the very opposite is true, for the mind, like the stomach, desires a meal. True, a mind that is starving may gladly devour even a morsel, but the morsel may come back up -- for just as some foods are palatable only in combination with other foods, so also some truths are plausible only in combination with other truths. In order to stand firm, they must have context, as the single stone requires the arch. We must serve the full meal, not just part of it.
Substituting a different proclamation. There is a false Gospel for every taste and budget. A Gospel of wealth proclaims a Jesus who will give us any greedy thing we want if only we ask for it with enough confidence; a Gospel of cool sophistication proclaims a “historical” Jesus who might be anyone but who the saints and martyrs say He is. A social Gospel maintains that we are saved not by personal repentance but by social revolution; a Gospel of positive thinking maintains that we are saved by warm feelings and “be happy attitudes.” Eventually the sheep catch on that the voice they are hearing is not the Shepherd, and they stop listening.
It might seem that if teachers of the faith avoid the substitutes, that is enough. It isn’t, because false teachers will go on proclaiming them, and a good many people in our own pews are suffering post false Gospel trauma. To them we should say, “We understand that after hearing so many untruths you may be suspicious of truth claims in general, and we respect your caution. Ask any questions you wish. We also understand that you may feel burned and desire some healing peace. You are welcome to be peaceful with us. We will not crowd you. But there is a God, who is the Truth, and He desires to be known. Give Him a chance.”