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A Perspective From Across the Pond | A Conversation
with Dwight Longenecker | March 16, 2005
Longenecker is an American who has lived in England for nearly twenty-five
years. He holds degrees in English and speech, and a degree in theology
from Oxford University. A former Anglican priest, he and his family entered
the Catholic Church in 1995 (more about his conversion can
be read here). He writes regularly for over twenty-five magazines, papers,
and journals in Britain, Ireland, and the U.S., including Catholic World
Report and National Catholic Register.
Dwight is also the author
of seven books, including The Path to RomeModern Journeys to
the Catholic Faith (Gracewing, 1999), Listen My Son (Gracewing/Morehouse,
2000), and St. Benedict and St. Thérèse (Gracewing/Our
Sunday Visitor, 2002). Dwight co-authored Challenging Catholics (Paternoster,
2001) with Angelican John Martin. His most recent books are More Christianity
(OSV, 2002), Adventures in Orthodoxy (Sophia Institute Press, 2003),
and Our Lady? (Brazos Press, 2003), a dialogue with Evangelical author
David Gustafson about the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The story of his conversion can be read in detail in Surprised by Truth
3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2003). In addition to his writing he is an
accomplished public speaker and broadcaster, having appeared on EWTN
as well as Britains ITVs Sunday Morning Program, BBC
News Southwest, BBC Local Radio and Londons Premier Radio. For more
information about Dwight, visit his web site: www.dwightlongenecker.com.
IgnatiusInsight.com recently spoke with Dwight about Christianity in England
and the U.S., the future of the Anglican Church, and his work in evangelization
IgnatiusInsight.com: You just returned from a visit to the U.S. What
is your impression of the state of the Catholic Church here, especially
compared to England and Europe?
Dwight Longenecker: The English Catholic Church is actually doing
better than many of her European neighbors. Because of the historic ghetto
mentality of English Catholics they have retained higher loyalty, mass numbers
and numbers of priests than the rest of Europe. However, this is not saying
much. The mass numbers and numbers of priests and religious are falling
fast here as well. Here in England and Europe is it very difficult to get
people to commit to anything extra and almost impossible to get them to
fund a new idea. As a person with American ideas and enthusiasm, it was
great to be home, and difficult to return to this rather barren mission
In contrast, the American Catholic Church is like the American people: it's
full of enthusiasm, exciting initiatives and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Think of an adolescent compared to a tired old man. The old man is tired,
pessimistic and even cynical. The adolescent thinks anything is possible.
On my visit I delivered a two talks and a workshop to Legatus members in
Detroit, led a parish retreat at the fantastic parish of St Mary's Greenville
and did two talks at Ave Maria University in Naples Florida. Everywhere
I went I found a fervent love for the church, a cheerful enthusiasm and
a church brim full of ideas and energy.
I am more on the conservative side of the church, but I'm willing to grant
that the liberal church in America is similarly energetic in comparison
to England and Europe, and I believe this is has more to do with a national
characteristic than theological persuasion.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are differences between the U.S. and England
(and Europe) when it comes to religion in general and Christianity in particular?
Longenecker: I believe the biggest difference is that Christianity
in Europe is still associated with the old establishment. For many ordinary
Europeans Christianity belongs to history, to the aristocracy and to the
educated elite. It simply doesn't connect with the modern world. In the
U.S., because church and state are separate, religion belongs to the people.
If you want a religion in America you have to stand up for it, belong and
pay for it because nobody else will. In parts of Europe there is actually
a 'church tax' which you have to pay. The State actually collects money
for according to your denomination and makes the donation for you. This
enervates the ordinary person's commitment. As a result people conclude
that the church is just another arm of the establishment. They suspect that
the establishment powers are corrupt, venal and interested only in protecting
their own power, and they assume the church is part of this.
In the U.S. there is still a healthy critical and prophetic relationship
between many Christian groups and the secular state. In Europe the now secular
state props up the established church for cultural and historical reasons,
but this now gives the impression that (crazily enough) the church is part
of the secular state. As a result, the historic churches seem to most people
to be a state run museum. This is precisely what the Communists tried to
do by force, but in Western Europe the same effect is being accomplished
by stealth far more effectively.
To make this point, it is interesting that the only churches in Europe that
are actually growing are the fringe Evangelical churches. These churches
are clearly non-secular, prophetic and radical in their espousal of real
Christianity. It is these churches that are growing while the established
churches are withering fast.
IgnatiusInsight.com: As many expected, there have been more Episcopalians,
including notable names such as J. Budziszewski, entering the Catholic Church
in the last few years. In your estimation, what does the future hold for
the Anglican and Episcopalian communities? Will there be an increase in
conversions, or just a steady trickle?
Longenecker: There will be a steady number of conversions to the
Catholic Church from the Anglican Communion. These will be among Anglicans
who take their faith seriously and who take the trouble to think through
the issues. The majority of these Anglican converts will probably be people
who are not cradle Anglicans. They will have moved from other Protestant
denominations to the Anglican Church before coming over to Rome.
The sad truth about the present disturbing trends within the Anglican Church
is that with the growing apostasy and heresy within that church many people
are not going to the Catholic Church, they're going to the golf course.
In other words, their disenchantment with Anglicanism is actually driving
them away from the church altogether, and not necessarily into the arms
of Rome. These 'cultural Anglicans' won't trouble themselves to become Catholic,
they'll simply drift away.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Why did you leave the Anglican Church (and priesthood)
to become Catholic?
Longenecker: When the Church of England decided to ordain women to
the priesthood in the early nineties it made me think more seriously about
the nature of authority in the church. The Anglican church claimed to be
a branch of the Catholic Churchrather like a latter day Orthodox Church.
Many like me felt that if this claim were valid the Anglican Church did
not have the authority to unilaterally break from the ancient tradition
and ordain women as priests.
If she did this she was not just making a decision about women's ordination;
she was also making a statement about what sort of church she really was.
That is to say, she was stating that the Anglican Church was not, in fact,
a branch of the Catholic Church, but simply another Protestant sect who
could decide to do whatever she wanted to do in her own backyard.
I felt that this sort of decision making would only lead to a further secularized
agenda. I remember saying to my parishioners when discussing the matter,
"Mark my words, women priests now; homosexual marriage ten years from now."
I was right. While the two issues are not in themselves, necessarily connected,
the way the decision on the matters are made are identical: if you campaign
long enough, get enough votes and shout loud enough you can change the historic
rule of the Church. While this seems 'democratic' it actually ignores what
G. K. Chesterton referred to as the greatest majority: the dead. In other
words, it ignores tradition.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You've been involved in a number of evangelistic
and apologetic activities over the years. What are some of those and what
are you currently working on?
Longenecker: I've written for numerous magazines and papers on both
sides of the Atlantic and have produced thirteen books and contributed to
a couple more. Most of my work is concerned with Evangelical/Catholic dialogue
as well as Benedictine spirituality. I was pleased to produce this religious
writing, but was worried that I was preaching to the choir. When it comes
to evangelization I was concerned that I was pretty good at giving the answers,
but perhaps I was giving answers to questions people were not yet asking.
I therefore started looking for some new method to communicate the heart
of the Christian gospel in a way that was exciting, motivating and inspiring.
Over the last two years I have been pioneering a new concept in business
training and consulting. We use the plot line and characters of films to
help people make positive change in their lives. We have also started a
charity called 'Ordinary Hero' which uses the same method to help prisoners
in resettlement programs and young people with drug abuse problems to get
a new vision for their lives and receive the positive tools to make that
This method of ministry goes right down where people are: into the workplace
and into their dependency and prison problems. It is a very implicit and
powerful way to work towards the 'evangelization of culture.' We don't apologize
that it is more about getting people to ask the questions that lead them
to the answers.
I'm a great Tolkien fan, and the key film that we use is Lord of the
Rings. Using this great Catholic work of art to help convert people's
imagination, and give them the tools to embark on the spiritual quest for
truth has been exciting, and all the feedback we've had so far has been
fantastic. To learn more about how this works check out the web site: www.workinghero.co.uk
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