Brotherly Love, Courses, and Exclusion

Here’s an email I received from someone who, I thought, was a friend. He is a local pastor who teaches Bible classes in his church for a fee. I was interested enough in one of the classes that I was willing to pay that fee.
I trust you are well. I took a second to look at your facebook page and noticed a medical test.  Did everything turn out alright?
I am writing because you recently enrolled in one of our classes on Catholicism.  You and I have had a few interesting conversations about Catholicism  and frankly I found your you interjecting into many things I write to be distracting  and contentious and thus I defriended you. As President it is my opinion that you will be a distraction in our class on Catholicism. You have made up your mind on much of what will be taught and I sincerely think it would be better for you not to attend. Your motives in signing up maybe pure but the outcome will be less than that and be a determent to our other students 
Again, I hope you are well
I deleted the two instances where he identified his “school” by name. Other than that, the email is as he wrote it.
I had taken a class at his church on the Church Fathers. I was still a Protestant at that time. The class sparked in me a wonder about what actually happened right after the Ascension of Christ. What was the early Church like? Who were the “thought leaders” of that day? The course was amazing. It covered a great deal of the persecution of the day and the heresies that were fought against. It covered the process the Church went through in establishing the Canon. But, the course leader, the “dean”, did something that strongly aroused my interest. I had never realized it before but his determination to never use the word “Catholic” made me see for the first time that the original Church was Catholic! I know it shows my ignorance but I’d just never considered that until that course on Early Fathers opened my eyes.
Now, what my erstwhile pastor friend was afraid of is beyond me. I took that course, saw an obvious anti-catholic bias and never uttered a word. I never asked a question. I never answered one. I never spoke. I never felt it would be appropriate to challenge the “dean” on anything. At least, not in a church setting.
I did interact with the pastor on his Facebook account. I did it because we were friends. He asked a question and my answer differed from his viewpoint. I never thought that would be a problem. He did chastise me immediately on that page so I apologized and asked if we were okay. No response was forthcoming for awhile so I asked again. This time he responded:
Ross, thanks for your words but I wasn’t at all offended. I attempted to write back explaining I understood your bemusement. The message didn’t send because I was in my basement. It will appear below. You and I are good.
So, for some crazy reason, I thought that he and I were “good.”
Apparently, we weren’t. We weren’t good. He defriended me on Facebook without ever telling me that he had an issue with me, without ever going to me as he often preached should be done. Jesus Himself is quoted in the fifth chapter of Matthew as saying that you should resolve conflict between yourself and a brother before even presenting a gift to God. That seems to make relationships between Christian brothers pretty important. Yet this pastor cut me off without warning, without an attempt at resolution and after assuring me that we had no problem between us. It was as though he, as another pastor friend of mine said, “believes the lie that they (pastors) are special.”
And how, I wonder, could it be that although my motives may be pure the outcome “will be less than that?” And how can my mere presence in a classroom where no one knows me be a “determent”? Is this voodoo/Christianity? That’s the only reasonable assumption to a position that asserts that a person purely interested in learning, committed to silence and unknown to anyone else would cause a less than pure outcome.
The amazing part of this is that he was using a textbook that I consider to be fair and objective in its description of Catholicism. So, it can only be that he was planning for the course to deviate from the book and would teach untruths about Catholicism. He was afraid I’d call him on it. I assured him I wouldn’t have.  And even though I’d promised to not speak, the thought of me hearing the lies taught as truth was too embarrassing  for him to bear.
I know that his actions are in no way typical of my Protestant brothers. I will continue to side with Pope Francis when he says that the only acceptable term for a Protestant is “brother.” I will continue to want the best for this pastor. Because, as Pope Francis also has said, any division between Christians is of the devil.
I want to get along with him because we are brothers and the way for brothers to relate to one another is clear. And I don’t ever want to believe the lie that I am special.

Ann Feinstein,Credibility and Trust

Recently, my daughter Bethany was looking for an MLM opportunity. As the mother of my young, (beautiful), grandchildren, she wanted an opportunity to run a small business from her home. She started her research.

My son and I had recently stopped doing our MLM project. We’d had some minor success (he more than me), but there was something that we didn’t care for. what we were doing didn’t get us excited nor did it resonate with us on any level. So, we got out and thought we’d washed our hands of the MLM business model entirely.

I did contact someone on Bethany’s behalf. He was a friend from the first MLM venture. What are you guys doing now, I asked. I told him my daughter was seriously looking for an MLM opportunity. Shockingly, he didn’t tell me what he was doing, he directed me to his website. That wasn’t the response I was looking for. I didn’t go to check the site.

A little time went by, I wasn’t looking for anything. And then, Ann Feinstein called Ross Jr. We knew Ann. She was a legend in the MLM world. She had accomplished a lot in business. We admired her and trusted her.

Ann had shown herself to be a great, compassionate person. Our island had been ravaged by Superstorm Sandy (see Bill Nighy, Yellow Boots and About Time) and she was among the first to respond. We hadn’t set up a charity, there were no tax deductions for donations, only a GoFundMe account and a promise to get the donations to those in need. That was good enough for Ann. She drove to Staten Island with beds and bedding (she knew the Red Cross had refused to supply the local children with dry beds) and joined us at the distribution hub Ross Jr. had set up. She came with a crew and she came with money. She and her husband David came with us along with other members of her company and the two of them negotiated great discounts from Kohls, Loew’s and Home Depot. We were able to really get a good start in helping our neighbors.

So, when Ann asked us to join her in Fuxion, her new project, we were all ears. Ross Jr. was the first in. I joined before I saw the products! If Ann was in, that was good enough for our family. Bethany followed. We had so much of that excitement that we’d always been coached to have but really had never experienced. It translated to an immediate adding of people into the business. We were off and running.

People make the difference in life. If my first friend had had the enthusiasm Ann had we might be working with him. But then, we would have missed the Fuxion opportunity with Ann and David Feinstein. And I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!





Abortion, Dignity and Consistency

by Ross Decker Sr

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Mt2:16-18

This was the reading on December 28, The Feast of The Holy Innocents. For his homily, my priest made the clear connection between those verses and abortion. But he didn’t stop there. He made the case that we, as the Church, should be aware that the abuse of innocent children doesn’t end there. It extends to children born in poverty. Children born in areas of the world where deadly disease spreads unchecked. Children who are killed and maimed because they were born in a country where the adults wage continual war. Children who meet that same fate as refugees trying to flee to safety.

It made me grateful to be in a Church where the Sanctity of Human Life is championed daily, not just on a single snowy, cold day in late January. And it made me grateful to be part of a Church where pro-life means more than just stopping women from getting abortions.

I always felt that there ought to be more to the pro-life movement than being anti-abortion. I learned that from my friend and pastor, Kevin Rhodes. In February of 1982, I invited Kevin, half in jest, to attend a conference for women with me. To my surprise, he accepted and we went there together. One speaker was a young man, a young college professor who spoke about how important it was for women to have access to “easy” abortions. Kevin, sitting next to me, boiled. He was convinced, and was able to convince me, that this guy’s entire agenda was built around creating an environment where it was not only easy to get an abortion but also easy to get college girls to have sex with young college professors.

Kevin felt the need to do something about what we’d seen and soon, the two of us were putting together the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in our borough of New York City. All services were to be free, no board members would be allowed to picket at abortion clinics and there would be nominal material support for mothers who elected to keep their babies. They would get diapers and clothing for their babies. And each year, around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we sent a board member around to each Evangelical church on our island to remind our brethren about the sanctity of human life.

And then, I became Catholic!

When I entered the Catholic Church I got the chance to see what it meant to be pro-life everyday. What it meant to be pro-life, not merely anti-abortion.

From the start of that Crisis Pregnancy Center I saw the need to take care of the mother who didn’t abort. Now, I saw the need to get her counseling, formula, diapers and baby clothes. If we were going to ask a woman to do the right, though hard, thing, it was our responsibility to help her. We had to stick with that mother because it’s important to be as pro-life with a baby once born as it is to care for a pre-born baby. That’s got to be part of being pro-life.

The woman who had the abortion needs care too. There was a lot of stress, fear and confusion that led her to make that choice. Having an abortion doesn’t sort that out. She still needs to be cared for because of the human dignity God gave her. The care of that woman is a pro-life issue.

After becoming Catholic I learned some things about the Church’s compassionate nature that surprised me. I learned that the first AIDS clinic was started in New York City by Cardinal O’Connor. Why did he do it? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

I’ve learned that being pro-life means that we hope for fair immigration laws. Families come to America because they are hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. They’ve always heard that America can offer them a great opportunity. The decision to enter as undocumented isn’t made on a lark. There are real risks in going to America. But there is a dark future in their own country. We want families to be able to hold together. We advocate for fair treatment of immigrants because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see the human dignity in the marginalized. We seek to bring them in from society’s outskirts. We care that the worker gets a fair wage and is able to provide for his or her family because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We advocate against the death penalty because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see war as a last resort because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

Yes, we know there’s a second amendment issue to gun control but we need to see gun violence addressed because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We want to see the LGBT community treated with Godly love and respect. Why? Yes, because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

There’s so much more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion. Being against abortion certainly is an integral part of being pro-life but the issue is greater than that. When I came home to the Catholic Church I learned that the Catholic position on the pro-life is the most comprehensive and consistent position of all.

We see the human dignity in the faces of all God’s children. Why? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

History, Hubris, and Hook Shots (Part two)

When last we met, I was with Protestant friends on the golf course lamenting the “lost” fifteen hundred years of Church history. In fact, I was still a Protestant myself at that time. But that would not be the case for much longer. I’d been in a Protestant church for more than thirty five years and had grown accustomed to seeing everything through a Protestant filter. Protestants had succeeded, and would for a time even after my entrance into the Catholic church, in making the events of the last five hundred years the default position of any discussion.
The Reformers were the definitive experts. Where is that in the Bible?
How does your position supported by applying Sola Scriptura?

For me, for those thirty five years, it was a prison.

Toward the end of my time I began to see holes in the Protestant position. First, and most obvious, there was no canon of Scripture for hundreds of years after the Resurrection of our Lord. Nor were all the books and letters of the Bible even completed for decades. People learned about the Gospel by speaking with those who had been there. Or with those who’d learned from someone who’d been there. They did not learn about it from reading Scripture on their own. I don’t think it’s by accident that Romans 10:14 says “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” It’s all about hearing, being taught, being discipled.

It seems so obvious to me now that Jesus promised us that He would leave us a Church, not a book. While He told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, never once does He say, “write this down.”

For fifteen hundred years, the Church followed sacred tradition. It was the Church that was the authority in the believer’s life. Paul wrote, “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” He, while writing what the Church would later affirm as Scripture, identifies the Church and not Scripture as the pillar and support of the truth.”

There is so much more that shows that the Church is responsible for bringing the knowledge of God to her people. If I was a theologian, you’d see a bunch of examples. But, I’m no theologian. I’m just a former Protestant who has had his awareness challenged and is now finding his way through religious life using a more accurate map. And, it would seem to me, that rather than accusing Catholicism of changing things from Scripture to create a “man-made” religion, it would fall upon the Protestant to show why he would change the way God’s people worshipped for fifteen hundred years.

Why would the Protestant suddenly say that a priest can no longer hear confessions? Why would we relegate the Mother of God to a bit player in salvation history? Why would we assume that, after 1500 years the Eucharist is no longer the actual Body of Christ (as it has always been understood to be) and is merely a symbol? Why were these things, and others, changed after the Church accepted them for 1500 years? Wouldn’t that sudden change be the very definition of “man-made” doctrine?

So, I began to think that it fell to Protestants to justify the major changes to 1500 years of church history, not, as so many of us felt, the responsibility of the Catholic. When I could find no justification, I could see it was time to go where God was leading me, into the arms of Holy Mother Church. There were some rocky moments in the course of my conversion, to be sure. But, It was the right decision and I’m glad I made it.

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