Several friend have written asking me to comment on a recent news report about David Pendleton, a former state legislator in Hawaii who converted from Seventh-day Adventism to Roman Catholicism at Easter.
I, too, had left the Adventist church (though at a younger age), and was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. But I returned to Adventism a year ago, after fifteen years in the Catholic church, during which time I served as a parish director of religious education, a campus minister, an archdiocesan director of young adult and campus ministry, chair of the archdiocesan evangelization commission, and membership on a national council on Catholic evangelization. Hence the reason for the curiosity of my friends.
I can connect with much in Pendleton’s story. He says it wasn’t a single “eureka” moment, but was a long journey: “It was awareness over time that Catholicism and Catholic Christianity were speaking to me, heart and mind, head and soul.” That was true for me. He is of Filipino ancestry, and has Catholic family members, and his conversion has helped him connect with this heritage in the same way that mine helped me connect with my Acadian ancestry. He was interested in church history, especially church and state issues, and the new approach of Vatican 2; so was I–I thought that Vatican 2 had really changed things in this area and others. As a member of the legislature, he had contact with many Catholic lobbyists and legislators–I had the same kinds of contacts as a member of ecumenical associations, as a chaplain in the military, and as a member of John Michael Talbot’s Brothers and Sisters of Charity. He was attracted by the “aesthetic experience” of Catholicism, by a nostalgia for the early Christian experience, and by the “breadth of perspective” that comes with being a member of “this large extended family”–so was I. His wife and kids have remained Adventist–so did mine.
So I am not going to criticize Mr. Pendleton. I don’t know all that went into his journey.
But I learned that romantic connections to distant ancestors, cousins, and church members can’t replace broken connections with wife and children; that Vatican 2 must be interpreted through a “hermeneutic of continuity,” not through the rose-colored glasses of wished-for change; that church history is a messy business, with good and bad sprinkled throughout; that the “breadth of experience” in the Catholic church today includes Benedict XVI, who is very orthodox (almost evangelical in some ways), as well as anti-semitic groups like the SSPX that he wants to reach out to, and liberals and feminists and New Age dreamers and lots of ordinary people who struggle and question and doubt and defy; that you can find the “aesthetic experience” of which he speaks in some places, but more often you find pablum homilies and ’60s folk music and large anonymous parishes.
A better test, I’d suggest, is Truth, as attested by Scripture. And so I’d ask Pendleton, and anyone else, regardless of what church they are in, regardless of their journey, to be open to that. Finally, I’m reminded of a brief note once handed to me by Charles Teel: “Other Christians hear God’s voice. Don’t burn all bridges.”