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The Gospel According To St. Richard

Fr. Richard McBrien is not impressed with Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, the two missionary-minded aid workers rescued from the Taliban and then received by President Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House. In his column in the National Catholic Reporter (Jan. 18), McBrien scolds them for having been involved in Christian “proselytism,” which he says is “the use of any undue pressure in attempts at convert-making.” Curiously, McBrien offers no evidence that Mercer and Curry, both evangelical Protestants, were using “undue pressure.” But it’s not really all that curious, for it turns out that McBrien’s gripe isn’t really with undue pressure, but with any kind of verbal witnessing to Christ.

McBrien claims that, unlike evangelicals, “Catholic missionaries believe that the aid they provide and the compassion they show to those in need are a sufficient witness to their Christian faith…. Indeed, truth makes its most powerful entrance not through words, but through the force of example.” We didn’t know McBrien was authorized to speak for all Catholic missionaries, but let that pass.

McBrien’s column provoked a humorously sarcastic response from Terry Kerr in the letters section of the Reporter (Jan. 25): “How presumptuous of these two ‘misguided souls’ to take a direct approach on spreading the gospel and verbally sharing their faith with those unfortunate Afghans. They should, I suppose, take the ‘indirect’ route the good priest [McBrien] recommends. Do good works and let your light shine that way. No doubt, as he does in the inhospitable terrain of the classrooms [at Notre Dame] in South Bend, Ind.”

Indeed! Why does McBrien get to use words to promote his liberal brand of Catholicism in his classroom, in his books and articles, in his syndicated column, and when he appears at a Call to Action conference? Why does he allow himself the advantage of using words while denying that advantage to Christian missionaries?

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