Response to Sarah Moran by Ben Bennett-Carpenter

Thanks to Sarah Moran for the excellent write-up about our article and also the thoughtful and challenging reply.  I’d like to follow up Mike’s comments here with a brief response to Sarah’s appreciation/critique of the article.  As a brief word of background, I tend to come at these discussions with a focus on the rhetorical considerations, with some sensitivity to issues of affect and practice.  Briefly put, I pay special attention to how words are being used in particular contexts.  With that in mind, I want to highlight the terms “traditional,” “the Church”, “individual” / “community”, and “New Evangelization.”

First, on the word “traditional” in our article, I think Sarah is right to identify this term as problematic.  We had in mind an American context that, fairly or unfairly, usually has contrasted a Catholic emphasis on community with a Protestant emphasis on the individual.  The observations and analysis we’ve made in Detroit point toward a New Evangelization emphasis upon the individual that at times is uncanny in its similarities to American evangelical Protestantism.  A key example of this is the New Evangelization Catholic’s employment of the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus.”

Second, the word “Church” or “the Church.”  I’m right with Mike in his observation that for New Evangelization Catholics, the term “Church” is normally not referring to “the People of God.”  Often “the Church” gets used as synonymous with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church rather than all the people that make up the parishes and other organizations on the planet Earth.  Joseph Komonchak, among others, once taught me that the Church is 99% lay people and that without the people you do not have the Church.  An emphasis on “the people” in Vatican II, following progress elsewhere including the American constitution, is quite distinct from an emphasis upon a “Church” that exists as an idealized community.  I wonder if “the Church” that Sarah describes is more of an idealized community that primarily references the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and less of the particular people and parishes that make up the Church from “the ground level.”

Third, I think Sarah is right to press us on the terms “individual” and “community,” and the issues she raises should definitely be pressed further.  For example, in our research, along with David Maines, we have found that when Catholics talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” they often have the Eucharist or Mass in mind along with, or instead of, a sense of an idealized person that they are relating to on an individual basis.  Thus, even in the “individualistic” sense of a focus on Jesus, many Catholics have a more “communal” sensibility about that relationship than many evangelical Protestants may have.  Certainly understanding the issues at hand go well beyond a dichotomy of individual vs. community – nevertheless, we do find the tendency of the New Evangelizers at the local level and beyond to imply that sacraments and community alone are not enough and that an individual “personal relationship with Jesus” is the ultimate concern.  Sarah’s comments about the Mass being primarily about “bringing together the ‘Community of Believers’” vs “the partaking of the ‘True Presence’” speak directly to these issues.

Finally, even the term “New Evangelization” itself is a point of much interest.  In one of our upcoming articles, we focus further on the emergence of the New Evangelization and how the term “New Evangelization” has been used at local, national, and international levels (Michigan Academician forthcoming).  Thank you for initiating this discussion, -Ben Bennett-Carpenter

Comments are closed.