Saturday, June 23, 2007

How the Church Lost Generation X, Part I

The Francis Beckwith Story

Francis Beckwith, until a few weeks ago the President of the Evangelical Theological Society, returned to full communion with the Catholic Church. He explained his reversion in an interview with Christianity Today and on the blog Right Reason. This was big news and not everyone one reacted kindly. You can read here how the Evangelical Theological Society's Executive Committee reacted publicly.

By far the most interesting take on the story is given by Jeffery Tucker on the New Liturgical Movement: "Bad liturgy drives people away; embracing our heritage draws them back."

Beckwith, who was born in 1960, is among the first years of Gen X. Listen to what he tells the National Catholic Register:

"Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I believe that the Church’s weakness was presenting the renewal movements as something new and not part of the Church’s theological traditions.

"For someone like me, who was interested in both the spiritual and intellectual grounding of the Christian faith, I didn’t need the 'folk Mass' with cute nuns and hip priests playing 'Kumbaya' with guitars, tambourines and harmonicas. And it was all badly done.

"After all, we listened to the Byrds, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and we knew the Church just couldn’t compete with them.

"But that’s what the Church offered to the young people of my day: lousy pop music and a gutted Mass. If they were trying to make Catholicism unattractive to young and inquisitive Catholics, they were succeeding.

"What I needed, and what many of us desired, were intelligent and winsome ambassadors for Christ who knew the intellectual basis for the Catholic faith, respected and understood the solemnity and theological truths behind the liturgy, and could explain the renewal movements in light of these."

The Jessica Hahn Story

Oddly enough, his story reminds me of another Gen Xer, Jessica Hahn. Jessica Hahn was a church secretary who was invited to the P.T.L. (Praise the Lord) ministries by televangelist Jimmie Bakker. She wound up having sex with him. That much both accounts agree on. According to his account, she ("that Jezebel") seduced him. According to her account, he, with the compliance of his director, drugged and seduced her. I found her account the more plausible. She was no Delilah much less Ahab's queen. Whichever was nearer the truth, the affair led to Bakker's down fall.

Jessica Hahn having failed to find salvation in evangelical Protestantism sought it in America's quintessential neopagan: Hugh Heffner. He offered all the Playboy empire could offer to rebuild her self esteem: money, praise, and bare breasted fame.

I read her Playboy interview. I must have actually paid money and bought a copy of the magazine. Certainly there was no one I knew from whom I could have borrowed it and it would not have been in the St. John's University library. (The University of Connecticut library had a complete collection in braille, but that is another story.)

Jessica Hahn was born in 1959, a year before Beckwith. Her parents were Catholic, but divorced. Apparently her mother had remarried because she lived with her mother and stepfather. She lived on Long Island on the south shore which is much less fancy than the tony north shore. When she was fourteen (according to her Larry King interview) or sixteen (according to her Playboy interview) she was attracted to an evangelical church she would walk by. It was the music that brought her in.

The year would have been 1973 or 1975 (depending on which version of her story you count the years from.) What was the state of Catholic liturgy at the time? The new Missal of Paul VI was imposed in 1970. Concomitant with this was the banning of the fifteen hundred year old liturgy that had been reformed at Trent. Although Vatican II had ascribed pride of place to Latin in the Latin Rite, there was a de facto ban of Latin for liturgical use. The forty years that the American Catholic was exiled in a liturgical desert had begun: little wonder that Holy Mother Church could not compete by offering "lousy pop music and a gutted Mass."

How to Appeal to the Modern World

Many advocates of change in the Catholic Church of the 1960s and 1970s had a set of assumptions on how to make the Church appeal to the modern world. The more I study Generation X, the more I become convinced that their theories drove away the very people they thought they were appealing to.

More in my next posting.

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