For today’s “Throwback Thursday” installment, we’re going to take a look back at this slightly revised post that was first published on August 29, 2015.
Behind the Purple Curtain
By Walter Manuel Montaño
Cowman Publications, 1950, 327 pages
Americans in the 1950s Cold War-era were accustomed to hearing about the poor souls trapped behind the Soviet Union’s “Iron Curtain” and Communist China’s “Bamboo Curtain.” In “Behind the Purple Curtain,” ex-Dominican monk and evangelical missionary, Walter Montaño, examines the intolerance of Roman Catholicism in regions where it enjoyed a religious majority and received the strong support of the local and national governments.
In 1950s Europe, the Catholic church was closely allied with the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal and there were still disturbingly vivid memories of Catholicism’s strong ties to Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy, Pavelic’s Ustase in Croatia, the post-Pilsudski Sanacja and Dmowski’s Endecja in Poland, and to Petain’s Vichy France. But Montaño’s focus is mainly on Latin America where the Catholic church held sway for 400 years.
The rule of the Spanish conquistadors and their successors eventually gave way to unstable, quasi-democracies and military-backed dictatorships throughout Latin America, but the Catholic church maintained its death grip on the enormous peasant population through its falangist political organizations and alliances with civil governments. Montaño gives many examples of the church’s often-lethal intolerance of Protestants within Latin America and cautions North American Protestants to maintain their vigilance otherwise they would face similar circumstances. Montaño’s warnings may come across as quaintly paranoid and sensationalistic to the contemporary reader accustomed to today’s prevailing spirit of tolerance and ecumenism, but the reality for believers in many parts of world in the 20th-century was that Catholic hegemony often meant harassment, persecution, and even death.
Sixty-nine years after “Behind the Purple Curtain” was written we find that the Catholic church no longer enjoys anywhere near the political prestige and influence it once did. American evangelicals no longer need worry about the pope manipulating Washington politics from his Vatican throne. These days, pope Francis can’t even get his American membership to attend obligatory mass on Sundays. The real danger to contemporary Christian witness began several decades ago when some evangelicals began embracing Catholics as co-belligerents in social causes, which transitioned into compromising the Gospel of Jesus Christ and embracing works-righteousness Catholics as fellow Christians (see Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Rick Warren, etc.). But Catholicism still teaches the same fundamental doctrines as those taught at the time of the Reformation. Most importantly, Catholics teach salvation by sacramental grace and merit while evangelicals proclaim salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. For most Catholics, the “gospel” is receiving the church-administered sacraments, trying to live a “good” life, and hoping their “good” outweighs their “bad” at the end. They’re relying on their works-religion and their own righteousness, not Jesus Christ, for their salvation. So why are some evangelicals so eager to embrace Roman Catholics as “brothers in Christ”? Montaño saw the coming evangelical compromise and betrayal of the Gospel even as far back as 1950 when the leading figure of American Protestantism at the time, Dr. John R. Mott, was already embracing Rome and discouraging mission work to Latin America.
In addition to his many other Gospel ministries, Walter Montaño was executive director of Christ’s Mission, a mission to Roman Catholics based in New York City, from 1951 to 1960.
To read my review of the biography of Walter Montaño, see here.