Playing the Veneration Game: An Evangelical Apology to Roman Catholics
Growing up in a mixed Protestant (mom) and Roman Catholic (dad) home, the veneration of Mary was taboo. Mom was insistent that nothing too Romish entered the house, but somehow my dad got the Bishop to come over for dinner now and then. Mom cooked. They made it work.
Evangelicals and Catholics do not have much in common practically, but they do tend to share man-centered theology (Arminianism). This does not mean they respect how that plays out in practice, however.
Many Evangelicals, exposed to an iconic statue of Mary, with adoring singers of “Ave Maria” at her feet, are convinced this is worship. In this, Roman Catholics are the ones protesting, “No, it is not worship…it is veneration.” Evangelicals roll their eyes with a “yeah right.”
Man-centered theology does what it is, naturally. It makes man (or woman) the subject in view, rather than any person of the Trinity. With the death of Billy Graham (February 21, 2018) came a cacophony of praise, honor, accolades for the accomplishments of the man. George W. Bush gushed, “Billy Graham changed my life.” I can still remember the day when people used to say that about Jesus Christ.
Veneration, or worship, was probably not on either Mary nor Billy’s agenda for themselves, but who can correct the venerating masses of people, longing for a man or woman they can see and maybe a carved image they can visit?
Roman Catholics have been producing three dimensional icons since the middle of the ninth century A.D. (undermining the iconoclasts long before that). Veneration of Mary and the saints is unapologetically displayed. Evangelicals, as children of the Protestant Reformation and the Puritans, have traditionally been iconoclasts. This has been to distance themselves from Roman Catholics, but maybe not so much anymore.
Man-centered theology needs an object for its praise. If an iconic man or woman is still alive, then photographs, video clips, magazines etc., will serve to satisfy. If one is really lucky, then attending a live performance of the icon will serve as a keepsake story for the telling.
When a living icon dies, then a graven image must be made to satisfy the faithful. Carved statues of living and dead football coaches (legend status only) don the entrances of 100,000 seat worship centers across America’s secular university campuses. This is what the world does to honor its demigods. The church, both Roman Catholic and Evangelical, follows the pattern of the world in this respect.
If Evangelicals and Catholics, together, looked for unity, they might be missing the most obvious place…venerating at the feet of their favorite saints. In this, I do believe Evangelicals owe Roman Catholics an apology.
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 3, 2022