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Do You Choose Your Friends by Religion?
By Patti Armstrong
Circling the wagons to keep them out became passé in the Sixties.
Come people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another now, (The Youngbloods 1967). But does loving one another mean we should all hang out together?
In the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof, (adapted from 1964 musical) Tevye disowned his daughter for marrying a non-Jew. The fact that she rejected her Jewish faith was largely not significant to most audiences still under the spell from the movie Love Story, released the previous year. In it, upper-class Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) rejected the shackles of class distinctions to marry true love Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw).
The Sixties and Seventies blurred race and class lines and religion tagged along. Sharing the same religion is less important to many couples today than it was before the Sixties. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study found that 39% of marriages since 2010 are interfaith but only 19% before 1960 were. Some research suggests, however, that marriages between members of the same religion are more likely to last when compared to mixed religions.
Love and marriage aside, the Pew Research Center’s 2015 study on Religion & Public Life shows that Catholics and mainline Protestants lose more members than they gain. Among U.S. adults, there are now more than six former Catholics for every convert to Catholicism. Could the company we keep have anything to do with that? Are we more likely to stay Catholic if our friends are Catholic? But how can we evangelize if we don’t develop friendships across faith lines? When our pastor challenged the congregation to bring fallen-away Catholics back to the Church, several people commented after Mass that they were not friends with non-Catholics, so how were they going to respond to the challenge?
What’s Faith Got To Do With It?
I asked a mixture of Catholics to share their perspectives on what their social life looks like. All are married to Catholics although some spouses converted along the way.
Michael Weisbeck, works in the finance office of a Catholic school system, has been married 2 years, and has a 6-month old daughter. He used to hang out with “whoever” during college at University of Minnesota, but conversations tended to be shallow and he began slipping away from his Catholic values. After suffering 10 months of overwhelming anxiety, he started making religion more important and returned to confession after a 3-year absence. Peace returned
Since then, he has found greater value in spending time with like-minded Catholics and even started an informal social group of Catholic young adults who get together monthly for activities. “We can dive quickly into life issues because we have shared understanding,” Weisbeck explained. “Discussions are more productive.”
Although his social circle is Catholic, Weisbeck finds ways to witness among neighbors, relatives, and even in restaurants and grocery stores. While working temporarily at a second job, he managed to have good conversations with a Christian employee and encouraged a fallen-away Catholic to return to confession.
Jeannie Ewing, freelance writer and Catholic author of From Grief to Grace, has friends of many faiths including atheists and agnostics. “I grew up in a Protestant/Catholic family and attended a large metropolitan public high school,” she said. “Many of the people I befriended twenty years ago were not Catholic. One of my good friends is a conservative Jew who lives in Israel.
Ewing said that friendships with non-Catholics have opened doors to evangelization. “It’s really a blessing to be a positive witness to non-Catholics,” Ewing said. “As I build friendships with them, they learn to trust me. That trust leads them to open up and they often ask me sincere questions about Catholicism.” Ewing said it’s important to let the Holy Spirit direct your friendships. “He always has a greater plan than our fears or comfort zones.”
Jeff Cann is a convert, husband, father, and businessman. Most of his friends are not Catholic, and identify as Christian but many don’t practice their denomination. He said he would not choose a friend based on religion because if a person isn’t Catholic, it opens the door to sharing his faith with them. However, Cann said he would love it if all his friends and extended family were Catholic “because my conversion was the greatest gift I could ever receive. I wish they would accept the same.”
Chuck Huber is a married father of two grown children, real estate broker, and small business owner. About half of his friends are Catholic and his deepest friendships are with Catholics. It was actually his Protestant friends that brought him to a deeper relationship with Jesus. “I searched for the truth and realized it was in the Catholic faith that I grew up with,” Huber said. “Now my heart hurts for my Protestant friends that can’t or won’t see this truth.”
Colleen Matthewson, x-ray technician, wife and mother, said that most of her friends are not Catholic although she feels that sharing the same faith helps to build closer relationships. “I would rather have all Catholic friends,” she said. “Like minds don't argue as much over religion and you are not afraid to talk openly about your faith.”
Theresa Thomas, mother of 9 children, homeschooler, author of the book Big Hearted and a newspaper columnist, said most of her friends are Catholic by design. “We, as humans, just naturally seek to be understood, so we are attracted to people most like us,” she said. “My Catholic friends fortify me in the faith and help me strive to be a better person!”
For me, I admit that I personally gravitate towards Catholics, although I’ve made some friendships with non-Catholics. I do feel closer to my Catholic friends but cautiously look for opportunities to witness to friends of other faiths, even in subtle ways.
When I asked people to share, I did not think there was a right or wrong answer. I’d love to hear what your social circle looks like and what your thoughts on the topic are.
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