Sunday, March 14, 2004

As Christians, let's embrace our sameness

Peter Bronson

Our story begins when Joe Ordinary, "a mild-mannered guy, is accidentally exposed to the full-strength power of Christ at a Catholic men's conference and turns into ... Bibleman."

Bibleman has super-powers. He can shrug off crushing guilt that's heavier than a locomotive. His X-ray vision sees the world in a new light. And he leaps huge obstacles with the power of prayer.

Here's the part that makes moral agnostics break out in hives: Bibleman is not alone. There are thousands like him who describe the same life-changing experiences after attending annual "Answer the Call'' Catholic men's conferences in Cincinnati.

OK, so "superhero'' is an Elastic Man stretch. But I've seen it with my own eyes. Guys go into an arena at Xavier University one weekend, just ordinary dads, brothers and husbands - and many come out changed.

Answer the Call is a lot like an evangelical Promise Keepers' stadium event, with confessions substituted for the Billy Graham altar calls. One of the leaders, Declan O'Sullivan, says 60,000 men have attended since the first one 10 years ago.

"Become a better individual, husband, father and follower of Christ,'' the poster promises. "Learn how to deal with life's challenges - whether you are facing adversity at home, in the workplace, in relationships, or you recognize a void in your life.''

This year's event, open to all men, is Saturday at the Cintas Center. One speaker will be Jerry Kirk of Cincinnati, chairman of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families. His topic will be pornography - which is poisonous green kryptonite to millions of men.

Another speaker will be Richard John Neuhaus, one of the brightest Catholic commentators on culture and religion, and editor of First Things, a monthly that aims "to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.''

That mission is hotly contested in the cultural wars. And Neuhaus is in the front lines.

Take this statement that many people intuitively "know,'' but few dare to say: "Churchgoers are, or lean toward, the Republicans, while non-churchgoers, the nonreligious and the explicitly antireligious are overwhelmingly Democrats.''

Neuhaus also lists the issues that divide America like barbed wire: "abortion, faith-based initiatives, the impossibility of same-sex marriage, parental choice in education, and the belief that God intends the world to be free, toward which end the U.S. is morally obliged to play a part, even the leading part.''

That's a pretty good topographical map of the 2004 presidential election - craters and minefields in sharp relief.

He said he won't talk politics at Answer the Call. But it gives men a good idea of where he stands - and where they may be called to take a stand.

His topic will be another barrier that separates evangelicals and Catholics. Neuhaus says "deeply rooted suspicion'' has hidden "the shared Christian conviction and theological understanding'' of Catholics and evangelicals. "But something very, very important is afoot'' that could build an alliance of culture warriors who would have "great impact'' on issues such as gay marriage.

If that happens, it might begin when Catholics and evangelicals stop acting like Chevy guys vs. Ford guys, and figure out we're all on the same road together.

That would be super, man.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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