In my 45th year, I “came to my senses in a dark forest." Somehow my life had once again veered out of control, though not in the usual sense: not morally. In that sphere, I was looking pretty good. I was teaching at a university and was a published writer. After a challenging stint as a single mother, I’d made a go of it with a new marriage. Most important, after a decade of deliberate, repetitive sinning, I’d repented and returned to the church. I was bashfully pleased with myself and content with my life.
It is by living and dying that one becomes a theologian, Martin Luther said. With that comment in mind, we have resumed a Century series published at intervals since 1939 and asked theologians to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their work and life have been intertwined.
Ten Maryland nuns—almost an entire religious community—converted from the Episcopal Church to Catholicism on September 3, saying that their former denomination had become too liberal in its acceptance of homosexuality.
In the nearly 500 years since the Church of England split with the Roman Catholic Church, a fair number of converts have crossed from one church to the other. Still, the path can be rocky, as Alberto Cutié—the most recent high-profile convert—discovered on May 28 when he left Catholicism to join the Episcopal Church.
Sara Miles describes herself as an unlikely candidate to walk into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in 1999 at the moment when the congregation was receiving communion. With little knowledge of what she was doing, the secular-minded lesbian journalist took communion herself and realized that she was hungry.
Last year six men joined a string of theologians who are leaving their Protestant denominations for the church of Rome. They included three Lutherans, two Anglicans and a Mennonite. All of them had strong connections to mainline institutions. All fit the description “postliberal”—accepting such mainline practices as historical criticism and women’s ordination while wanting the church to exhibit more robust dogmatic commitments. All embraced an evangelical, catholic and orthodox vision of the church. And none of them could see a way to be all those things within mainline denominations.
Jason Byassee’s account of six Protestant theologians who made the journey to the Roman Catholic Church made me reflect on my own experience of Catholicism. My Presbyterian and Methodist ancestors viewed Rome with suspicion and thinly veiled hostility, though they maintained cordial friendships with individual Catholics.
Christians tend to compare their personal conversion experiences to Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus. Not all of us, of course, talk freely about what happened in us and to us on the way to becoming Christian. Our levels of comfort with such talk vary widely depending on our congregational culture, our notions of evangelism and our ability to be self-revelatory. But when we do think about that journey, and when we’re willing to talk about it, we say that our conversion was—or was not—a Damascus Road. We tell our young people that their experience does not need to be a Damascus Road experience, although it can be. There are many paths of Christian transformation—and the light from heaven is only one of them.