Reevaluating “saint” Thomas More, terrorizer of Protestants

The Black Lives Matter protesters are targeting everything (statues, memorials, flags, names, etc.) alleged to be symbolic of Western/European/American/White racism and oppression. State and local governments, private institutions, and businesses are scrambling to align with the “new think.” I don’t agree with violence or the destruction of public or private property, but some of the statues and symbolism were blatant holdovers of other-era racism and bigotry that already should have been changed/removed (e.g., the incorporation of the Confederate flag as part of several southern state flags).

The American Catholic church has been kept busy by the BLM provocateurs. Over the past month we’ve seen protesters targeting memorials to Franciscan friar, Junípero Serra, explorer, Christopher Columbus, and Saint-King Louis IX. We’ve also seen multiple reports of Catholic statues of Jesus and Mary damaged or defaced after BLM leader Shaun King tweeted on June 22 that all images depicting Jesus as a “white European” should be targeted.

Again, I don’t condone mob violence or destruction, but I do think that it is interesting that Catholicism is being pressured to reevaluate some of its revisionist history. Modern popes have previously apologized for some of the most blatant examples of Catholic oppression (the Inquisition, forced baptisms, anti-Semitic pogroms, persecution of Protestants), but some revisionist charades still continue. I know of one such example in my own backyard.

St. Thomas More Catholic church (photo above) is located about three miles from my house. Who was Thomas More? More was Lord High Chancellor (i.e., Prime Minister) of England from 1529 to 1532 during the reign of King Henry VIII. In that role, he authorized the surveillance, arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and execution of Protestants. At least eleven Protestants were burned at the stake under More’s authority (see here) and thousands more were terrorized and persecuted during his three-year, anti-Protestant crusade. It’s ironic that More himself was beheaded in 1535 after refusing to assent to Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic church. More got caught in his own trap. What’s even more ironic is that More is hailed by American Catholics as a champion of religious liberty! Argh! Talk about revisionist double-speak! More was canonized as a “martyred saint” by pope Pius XI in 1935. In 2000, pope John Paul II even declared murderer More the patron saint of statesmen and politicians.

Some would defend More, as Wojtyla did, by saying that he “reflected the limits of the culture of his time” and that he persecuted and murdered Protestants according to the standards of 16th-Century European society. That type of apologia for tainted heroes is no longer tenable or excusable according to the BLM protesters. As long as the Catholic church is reevaluating its memorials to Serra and Columbus, shouldn’t the Rochester Catholic diocese also reevalute its memorial to the bloody-handed terrorizer of English Protestants?

Does terror and persecution mean we lose our discernment?

Back in the Jerusalem of 40 A.D., if one of the officers of the Roman military occupation force was asked to differentiate between the Jews who followed the “officially sanctioned” Pharisees and rabbis, and the Jews who had accepted Christ as Messiah and Savior, he probably would not have been aware or even cared. To him, they would have all been just Jews, although, from our vantage point, we know the theological differences between the two groups were vitally important.

Similarly, we in the West tend to categorize all the followers of various Eastern religions with the same broad brush although there are many sects of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, with distinctive beliefs that are very important to their devotees.

Yesterday, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor described the current persecution of Christians around the world and especially in the Middle East. It’s understandable that the forces of Al-Qaeda and ISIS would not bother to distinguish between Roman Catholics, followers of Eastern Orthodoxy, and Bible Christians. To them, a Christian is a Christian is a Christian, but genuine followers of Christ cannot be so undiscerning.

Persecution is a tragedy for any group. Masses of people throughout history have suffered due to allegiance to their particular religion. But just because people have suffered terror, pain, and death, does not mean we should embrace error as truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses have endured persecution for one-hundred years in many countries. But, in addition to their heretical Christology, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a false gospel of baptismal regeneration and works and I cannot embrace them as Christians. The Mormons have also faced persecution in many countries. I am sorry they have suffered but that does not mean I should disregard our differences. Their heretical Christology and false gospel of baptismal regeneration and works prevents me from embracing them as fellow Christians.

In the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, groups that claim to be Christian are being targeted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS, including Roman Catholics and adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a tragedy that any religious group is targeted for violence. My heart goes out to the children, women, and men who have suffered persecution, torture, and death. But Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. They do not teach the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. According to God’s Word, faithful followers of these churches’ teachings are not Christians, just as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians.

Some say that in the face of persecution, it’s uncharitable to check denominational dog tags. That was the underlying message of the sermon I heard yesterday and that is the regular message of The Voice of the Martyrs para-church organization. Pope Francis has cited Islamic terrorism as a catalyst for (c)hristian unification:

“Let us see this (communion of [c]hristian martyrs) as a call to persevere on our ecumenical journey toward full and visible communion, growing more and more in love and mutual understanding,” the pope challenged an audience back in 2015 (see here).

I’m sorry so many people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. I’m heartbroken that fellow believers have suffered and died for their faith in Christ. But I know those believers would not want their suffering and death to be used as a means to water down the Gospel of grace. Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox need to accept Christ as Savior as much as the bloodthirsty Muslim terrorists.

Postscript: Both Catholics and Protestants have been guilty of religious persecution in centuries gone by, although it could be successfully argued that the Catholic persecution of Protestants was of a MUCH greater magnitude. State-sanctioned persecution of Protestants continued in Catholic-controlled countries in Europe and Latin America well into the 20th-century (e.g., Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Mussolini’s Italy, inter-war Poland, Vichy France, Pavelic’s Croatia, Dollfuss’ Austria, and Rexist Belgium. Vatican concordats with Latin American countries ensured Protestants in the region were persecuted to some degree).

Persecution of evangelicals continues in Catholic Mexico

Commentators frequently like to remind us that anti-Catholic bigotry was onceAAA2 widespread in America. What the commentators neglect to mention is that some of that intolerance and paranoia stemmed from the knowledge of how Protestants were treated in countries where Catholics were in the majority. Several Popes issued declarations maintaining their god-given responsibility to oppress and limit non-Catholic religions in league with the civil government. Protestants were persecuted in Catholic-dominated European and South American countries right up into the mid-20th century. The intolerance continues even today in some parts of the world.

I’ve reported on the persecution of evangelical Christians in Mexico several times in the last nine months. Below are some recent stories. The Mexican bishops could put an end to this oppression with one official statement but they remain silent.

Mexico: Evangelical Christian beaten and imprisoned after he refused to convert to Catholicism – 3/30/16

Evangelical Christians Facing Persecution in Mexico for Refusing to Convert to Catholicism – 4/20/16

Mexican Evangelicals Left Without Water After Refusing to Fund Roman Catholic Festivity – 4/21/16

Spanish evangelicals remember Catholic persecution

Back in December, I commented on how several journalists had used Donald Trump’sFranco controversial remarks regarding Muslims to remind readers of anti-Catholicism in America in previous generations. I pointed out that the journalists conveniently reported only half of the story. The Protestant immigrants to America were painfully aware of the persecution of non-Catholics in countries where Catholics held the majority. Popes reserved the right to suppress Protestants and Protestant worship services wherever Catholics were able to gain the cooperation of the civil authorities. See my previous post here.

In the article below, Spanish evangelical Christians recall the persecution they suffered in Spain during the dictatorial regime (1939-1975) of faithful Roman Catholic, Francisco Franco (see photo of fascist Franco posing with clerical allies).

“…many Spanish Protestants were incarcerated, beginning with Franco’s victory and until the late sixties. Most of them were brought to the courts by Catholic priests. In 1965, Monroy recalls, private Protestant meetings to pray, sing and study the Bible were approved. But the meetings were only legal if there were less than 20 people. Christians were were fined and even incarcereted. In the public spaces, only Catholic ceremonies were allowed.”

But Protestants were also oppressed in many other Catholic countries during the 20th century: Salazar’s Portugal, Mussolini’s Italy, inter-war Poland, Vichy France, Pavelic’s Croatia, and several Latin American countries that were strongly influenced by Catholic clerico-fascism.

Some may respond, “Why bring this up now? It’s all water over the dam. The Catholic church is nowhere near as religiously and politically militant as it used to be.”

The Catholics who still bother to attend mass on Sunday are fed a saccharinized version of their church’s history. Why would anyone think it would be otherwise? But their church’s actual history defies all claims to Spirit-led, infallible leadership. That’s the moral of the story.


Spain, forty years after Franco’s death

Catholics continue to persecute Evangelicals in Mexico

We’ve all heard about Muslims persecuting Christians in the Middle East and Africa butEMEX the ongoing story of Catholics persecuting Evangelicals in Mexico is somehow left out of the evening news.

Here’s the latest sordid episode:

7 evangelical Christians jailed for refusing to convert not to Islam but to Catholicism in Mexico

For my earlier posts on this outrageous situation see here and here.

Catholicism had an ugly history of oppressing Protestants in league with civil governments in countries where it had the majority right up into the 20th-century and this legacy continues in parts of Latin America.

American journalists recently compared Donald Trump’s Muslim-baiting to anti-Catholicism in the U.S. one hundred years ago (see my post here) while Catholic intolerance continues to rear its ugly head just south of the border with no comment.