Reaching out to spiritual refugees

Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, is a cradle Roman Catholic who now refers to himself as a spiritual refugee. In a moving column in yesterday’s Newark Star-Ledger, he talks about how the Catholic hierarchy’s teachings on divorce and homosexuality drove him out of the church.

Moran’s personal story is a familiar one. As he points out, one in three American adults was raised a Catholic, but only one in four call themselves Catholic today. I am one of the many former Catholics who became an Episcopalian. If I knew Tom Moran personally, I’d invite him to my church. We have a lot in common. I am assuming from his name that he’s at least half Irish, and he comes from a large family. I think that, like me, he might find much of what he loved and less of what he objected to about the Catholic Church within the Episcopal Church.

Maybe not, but it would be worth a try.

I have wondered why the Episcopal Church, which, if I am not mistaken, is a church made up primarily of adult converts, has never formally reached out to “spiritual refugees” like Moran. What keeps us from saying: Hey, if you consider yourself a Christian, but find much of Christianity misogynistic or homophobic, if you think it is pre-modern in it understanding of creation, you might want to pay us a visit or two and try us on for size. We aren’t perfect, and we offer fewer certainties that more conservative brands of Christianity, but you may consider that a plus.

This isn’t something we can expect Episcopal HQ to do for us. The money isn’t there, and one suspects that it would be difficult to get the necessary agreements on the nature of the message that we might extend. But there isn’t anything stopping individuals, parishes, dioceses and groups of dioceses from saying to the Tom Morans of the world that our doors are open to them and they might like what we find inside. Yet we don’t do it. At least not with any real energy.

Why not? How do we get over our natural reticence about evangelism, pull some money together and make it broadly obvious that people who found other churches harsh and punitive may find our approach to the Christian faith more, um, Christian? We should be in the business of taking in spiritual refugees. But I am not sure those refugees even know we are here.

In workshops on using the means of mass communications for the ends of evangelism, my business partner, Rebecca Wilson, and I sometimes remind people that if you are in a room of 100 randomly generated Americans, you are probably the only Episcopalian in the group. If every Episcopalian who found themselves in that situation took one person out of that room with them, we’d double the size of the church.

What’s the best way to make a deep connection with that one person? To couch what the church has to say in unobjectionable bromides designed to prevail in a plebiscite? Or to speak in a personal way about what is distinctive about the church, what you love best about your church, and why you are an Episcopalian rather than a member of some other denomination?

We Episcopalians have a tendency to illuminate the interior of bushel baskets. This is decorous. It is polite. But it is not what God calls us to do.

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