The Curse of the Protestant-to-Catholic Convert

By Casey Chalk
March 26, 2018

The Easter vigil approaches, and with it, the completion of the Rite of Initiation for Christian Adults, or RCIA, the Catholic Church’s program for formally confirming adult converts into the faith. Thousands of adults across the United States will receive the sacraments of baptism and/or confirmation, and with them, an effective explosion of sacramental grace. Praise be to God! One candidate for confirmation this Easter is the YouTube personality and former outspoken evangelical Protestant “Lizzie” of “LizziesAnswers.” Her announcement to Catholicism, posted in February, has been widely publicized across the Catholic web, including on the Catholic Herald and Aleteia. After viewing a number of her YouTube videos — and being dismayed by the number of theological errors found therein — I have a word of caution for her and other incoming Protestant converts to Catholicism: slow down and be careful before you start trying to “teach” the Catholic faith to others, because you’re quite likely to get it wrong.
 
Seven years ago, I myself was an emotional and excited Protestant convert to Catholicism (though also a revert, as my parents left the Church shortly after my first communion). I dropped out of a Protestant seminary, enrolled in RCIA, and delved deep into the Catechism, Catholic theology, and Catholic literature. Many wanted to understand why I was converting, and I was very eager to provide my reasons. Yet I often found myself in debates regarding fairly nuanced and technical theological subjects for which I was hardly prepared. Looking back now, I know I sometimes misrepresented the faith, though of course never intentionally. I wish I could have been more circumspect or humble at times, simply willing to acknowledge I wasn’t ready to argue all the technical details of the Catholic faith. Thank God, unlike Lizzie, I didn’t have a YouTube channel with thousands of subscribers.
 
Lizzie is a loud, excitable, and very emotive 23-year-old graduate of Pepperdine University. Her YouTube channel features content not only on theology, but on fashion, dating, mental health issues (she has bipolar disorder), and other topics. Her videos on her newfound interest in the Catholic faith are full of energy and exhilaration. She should be rightly commended for her study of the faith, and decision to convert — welcome to the Church Christ founded, Lizzie! 
 
Yet Lizzie suffers from a syndrome I find common among Protestant converts to Catholicism like myself: just as we as Protestants declare ourselves authorities on the Bible, we frequently develop a commensurate attitude of authority regarding Catholicism. This stems, I believe, from the deeply ingrained Protestant doctrines of perspicuity and the sufficiency of Scripture. We former Protestants simply expect things to be simple, straightforward, easily consumed, and then easily communicated to to others. Lizzie’s own new passion as an ersatz Catholic catechist demonstrates the problem with this.
 
In one video examining a number of common misconceptions about Catholicism, Lizzie tries to defend natural family planning, or NFP. She calls NFP a Catholic “form of birth control,” a characterization that is perhaps in a very narrow sense true (Catholics do often use NFP to regulate births), but is also highly misleading. “Birth control” to our current culture implies an active attempt to prevent conception, which is why it is colloquially synonymous with contraception. Moreover, as Church authorities have noted, even NFP can be practiced with a “contraceptive mentality,” where the intention is to prevent conception, even when there are no “just reasons,” to borrow the language of the Catechism (CCC 2368), to space births. Lizzy, who is unmarried, also demonstrates a perhaps understandable naivete regarding NFP, claiming it is “96% effective,” and that women are only fertile for 12 hours every month. Many of my married Catholic friends would disagree, given the fact that many women’s cycles are irregular.
 
Lizzie also tries to defend the Church’s teaching on infant baptism by claiming that it is not about keeping babies from going to hell. Rather, she argues, it primarily about bringing children into the covenant with God. As with her statements on NFP, there are grains of truth here — the Church does not formally teach that unbaptized babies go to hell. Yet, as official Church documents explain, “the Church has thus shown by her teaching and practice that she knows no other way apart from Baptism for ensuring children's entry into eternal happiness.” Baptism, the Church teaches, ensures that babies will go to heaven. Indeed, “as for children who die without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to God's mercy, as she does in the funeral rite provided for them.” This is why, for example, health professionals are often taught how to perform emergency baptisms on newborns.
 
She also refers to Holy Tradition as simply a record of interpretations of Holy Scripture. This is also inaccurate. Certainly it encompasses that, but far more, including everything the Apostles handed on (Latin: traditio) by the spoken word:  "[by] their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 76). Even the liturgy is itself a component of Holy Tradition. Lizzie elsewhere criticizes the Crusades as violent and evil, though it is one of the most defensible examples in Church history of just warfare theory, a doctrine with roots in St. Augustine.
 
Perhaps most problematic, Lizzie in one video asserts that she doesn’t think masturbation is “that harmful," and that it’s “not that big of a deal.” The Church teaches otherwise: “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CCC 2352). She also received Holy Communion at Catholic and Orthodox services, despite not having been confirmed in either tradition. She has since acknowledged the error of this, claiming that she didn’t know better — a strange excuse, given she’s been posting videos as a supposed theological authority for years. If you don’t know enough about Catholicism to know only Catholics can receive communion, you may not be ready to be publishing theological instruction videos for the public. Moreover, the fact that she did this reflects a concerning impulsivity for someone we are asked to view as an authority. 
 
Indeed, in one of the same videos cited above, Lizzie bemoans the fact that Protestants often form their beliefs based on what their Catholic friends erroneously tell them. Ironically, she has become exactly that erroneous Catholic friend, offering all manner of half-truths and untruths regarding the Catholic faith. Elsewhere she admits that her intuitions regarding theology have often led her to believe heretical doctrines. Yet as any well-informed Catholic can tell you, there are plenty of heretics within the Catholic Church — becoming Catholic won’t short-circuit those inclinations! For this reason, I urge Lizzie and all the other new Catholic converts out there, forego the overly-emotive opining on Catholic theology for a bit, and just enjoy the blessings of your newfound spiritual home. You can teach Church doctrine once you actually understand it. And welcome!