Joe Carter, who is a Southern Baptist, has coined a neat phrase to describe the act of leaving the Catholic Church for the Southern Baptist church: “swimming the Cumberland.” (The HQ of the Southern Baptist Convention, he points out, is on the Cumberland River). Joe gives three reasons for why Catholics who make the swim probably do. Here’s one:
Second, if someone has invited you to church there is a 87% chance that they are Baptist. That’s just what we do. We invite people to church. I’ve been around Catholics all my life and yet I don’t think they’ve ever invited me to Mass. I’m not saying that should have extended an invitation and they probably have good reason why they do not (e.g., they’ve seen the “Baptist 4 Eva” tattoo on my neck). The same is true for most other (at least most other non-evangelical) denominations. The reason that Baptists pick up so many lapsed members of other congregations is not because we are “sheep stealing” (though, admittedly, that does happen) but merely because we ask, “Do you go to church somewhere? No? Well, why don’t you visit mine?”
That’s one thing I really admire about Southern Baptists. I don’t want to mention Joe’s other two reasons, because I want you to read his post. But the last one is a big one, and why, I think, Catholics and Orthodox are at a big disadvantage in American culture.
That Notre Dame study I blogged about the other day, which reports that Southern Baptists have picked up the largest number of Catholics who have left the Roman church in the wake of the abuse scandal, is finally available (here). It shows, for example, that four times as many departing Catholics leave for the Baptist church as for the Episcopal church — which may indicate that most people leaving the Roman fold for religious reasons are doing so not because they are morally and theologically liberal, but rather morally and theologically conservative.
To be sure, the study points out that an even larger fraction of departing Catholics left for a variety of other churches; it’s only that the Baptists were the one church of them all that took in the largest number of ex-Catholics. Other Mainline churches, including the Episcopal church, took in more than the Baptists, so it’s not like there has been a real Catholic exodus to Baptist churches. Plus, almost half of ex-Catholics chose not to affiliate with a particular church or religion at all after leaving the church.
The study, interestingly, shows that when Catholics leave the Roman church for another church (as opposed to leaving religion altogether), they usually choose churches that are most unlike the Roman church. The study finds by far that the two reasons people give for leaving Catholicism are 1) gradually drifting away from the religion, and 2) “spiritual needs not being met.” (To be sure, the survey didn’t ask for the most important reason, only for important reasons; it is possible that one could have gradually drifted away because spiritual needs aren’t being met).
I don’t have time to get into the weeds of this study, but I invite any of you who do, and who are more versed in reading social science studies, to do so, and to help us understand the particulars here.
Question for the room: next to Catholicism, the Baptist church is the largest denomination in America. Why don’t we hear more from Catholics who swim the Cumberland? It seems like every fourth Catholic who has swum the Tiber gets a blog and writes joyfully about why he did what he did, and how wonderful life is on the other side. Where are the blogs and books by Catholics who have swum the Cumberland? It’s probably the case that they are out there, but I don’t see them because I don’t venture into blog and book territory inhabited by Baptist ex-Catholics. Let me know what you think, and what you have seen.