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Dallas NEA Speech

Dr. Richard Shriver's "Why We Believe" address to the Dallas NEA Convention

Last summer, I had a dream. I was at home, one day, when two men dressed in dark suits and ties arrived in a limousine and took me away. They seemed to think that I knew why and where I was going, though I didn't. It turned out that they were taking me to a church conference where I was to speak to a large group of church leaders . . . but in my dream, they were Methodists!

 

Jim has called me 'co-host' or 'permanent guest.' More often I am called the resident heretic. For the twenty-two years that I've worked with Deacon Jim Walsh on a Catholic radio and television show (it is Jim's dream and his show, produced by Catholics - Catholic Media Productions - with financial support from the Knights of Columbus, Council 544, and others), I have had Protestants and Catholics alike ask me why I would want to be on a Catholic radio and television show. I have had several answers:

 

1. As a United Methodist Minister, I want to remind both Protestants and Catholics that we are all parts of the Whole Church. I have understood that we Methodists are a part, but only a part.

 

2. As a church historian/theologian professor, I know and want to remind Protestants that you, the Roman Catholic Church, are the Mother Church. You are our heritage. We Protestants are your children (sometimes good children, sometimes wayward); and we share your ancestry and heritage.

 

3. In the field of Evangelization, we and you have the same mission. It is, as Catholics would express it, to tell Jesus' message of God's love for all people, and, as we Protestants might put it, Saint Paul's interpretation of Jesus' message as God's gift of grace. They are the same.

 

4. When we talk of Ecumenism, we need to remember that all people of God - Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and others - need to be uniting. We have split and splintered long enough. We need to be uniting.

 

I truly believe that Jim and I have stumbled onto the secret to world peace! That secret is what I would call, Determined Friendship - not casual friendship, and not accidental friendship, but determined friendship, when friends from different backgrounds work for a friendship, determined to make it work. We have learned that friendship breeds respect - where we listen to each other. Then differences fade...and understanding grows...and agreements develop. Let me give some examples:

 

First, we have learned that we - Protestant and Catholic - share the miracle of the Eucharist. We tend to believe that our differences are great. We do speak with different terminology and we use different forms. But Protestants and Catholics alike believe in the miracle of the Eucharist: that the resurrected Christ is alive and is present with us in the Communion... or else the Eucharist has no meaning for either of us! We are so much closer than we think!

 

Secondly, as Jim told you, our programs began with questions about the role of Mary. As I have watched Jim through the years, and noted his deep devotion to Mary the Mother of Jesus, whom you call, 'the Blessed Mother,' and the 'Mother of God,' I have realized the beauty we Protestants are missing in your veneration of Mary. We Protestants talk about her at Christmas with the birth story, but that's all. We are missing the beautiful relationship that you have with Mary, the most honored human of all history.

 

Third, we have only two Sacraments . . . you have seven. We do them all, but we Protestants have reduced five of the seven to a level we call ordinances. Sacraments are by definition, 'when God does something.' And we Protestants need the other five as Sacraments.

 

And fourth, we Protestants have lost the merciful concept of Purgatory. We have reduced God's choices at the time of our death to two: either we are good enough to get to heaven or we are not. If not, we are condemned to eternal torment. What a silly idea! If there is anything wrong with your concept of Purgatory, it is only that, maybe, it's not enough. But whatever meanings Purgatory has, it represents God's great love for the individual human soul. We Protestants have discarded that merciful concept of Purgatory.

 

You Catholics are the Mother Church. Parents and their children often differ, and sometimes the differences may be healthy. But Protestants need to remember that it is never alright for a child to speak ill of his or her mother. The relationship should always be one of respect and appreciation for what she has given us.

 

And in conclusion: nothing pleases me more than being a part of your great mission to the world. - Richard Shriver.

 

 

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