A Turn in the Right Direction? across Catholic and Protestant Churches, "Orthodoxy Movements" Have Sprung Up to Hold on to and Defend What They See as the One True Way of Their Particular Tradition

Article excerpt

When John and Carolyn Green got married, they made all the decisions that any couple makes, like who they invite to the wedding, where they would live, and who would do the cooking. They also had a theological debate about a very personal--issue whether or not to use birth control.

John, a lifelong Catholic who was ordained a deacon last year, was uncomfortable with the idea because of the church's official teaching. For Carolyn, whose father was a Baptist minister, using birth control seemed perfectly normal. They decided to use birth control despite the teaching.

But a few years later the couple had what they call a "conversion experience" that changed their thinking. It started when another couple at their parish, St. Thomas of Canterbury in Chicago, took them aside and asked them about birth control and Natural Family Planning (NFP).

"They said, `You really need to examine this issue--you can't just do your own thing,'" says John. "As we read and looked at the issue more closely, we realized that the church is right and that we need to conform our lives to that truth. That's the real question for us: Do we lives to the truth, or do we try and conform the truth to fit our lives?"

Like the Greens, many of the parishioners at St. Thomas have chosen to be "intentionally orthodox"--embracing official Catholic teaching on a whole range of issues, including NFP. Not because the pope says they have to, or out of nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II past, but because they genuinely believe the church's teaching is "the truth."

In doing so, the Greens and their fellow parishioners are part of a larger movement among American Christians--Catholic and Protestant alike--who are concerned about issues of orthodoxy. In some cases, it is an individual parish like St. Thomas; in others, "orthodoxy movements" have sprung up to push for a return to official church teaching.

A growing movement

In the Catholic Church, members of groups like Catholics United for the Faith, Regnum Christi, Opus Del, and others push for orthodoxy in following their interpretation of the teachings of the Vatican.

Among Protestants, one of the largest orthodoxy groups is the Confessing Church Movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA), named for its commitment to three confessions: 1. Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation; 2. scripture as the church's only infallible rule of faith and life; and 3. The marriage between a man and a woman as the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate. The movement claims to have the support of 1,289 churches with more than 400,000 members, or nearly 20 percent of the 2.5 million-member denomination.

In the Episcopal Church, groups like Episcopalians United and Forward in Faith have opposed the ordination of women, the ordination of gay priests, and the views of liberal clergy such as retired Archbishop John Shelby Spong, who has challenged the Virgin birth, the Incarnation, Jesus' physical Resurrection, and other Christian doctrines.

Within the largest Protestant denomination, the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a movement advocating strict adherence to orthodoxy has been the most successful. The so-called "conservative takeover" of the SBC began in 1979, when fundamentalist Baptists decided that the church had strayed too far from biblical inerrancy--a cornerstone of orthodox Southern Baptist theology. To correct that, the new leadership required all denominational staff, seminary professors, and missionaries to sign a "Baptist Faith and Message" statement. Yet dissent among moderates continues within the SBC.

There is even a confessing movement of sorts in the Unitarian Church--the American Unitarian Conference--which claims that the Unitarian Universalist Association has gone too far and has no room for God.

Church historian Martin E. Marty says these confessing or orthodoxy groups fill a need for stability in an uncertain world. …