Recently, I finished reading What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? by Martin Thielen — not because I was interested in believing the “least” possible, but because I wanted to know what one minister considered the “non-negotiables” of Christianity. The first part of the book covers ten beliefs you don’t have to subscribe to to be Christian. They include things like creationism, the rapture, and the second-class status of women and GLBTQ people. The second part of the book covers ten beliefs that Reverend Thielen does consider central to Christianity; in his opinion, if you don’t subscribe to these beliefs, you’re not Christian. (They include things like Jesus as the Messiah, that love is the ultimate commandment, and the Resurrection.)
While I didn’t necessarily agree with all ten things one “must” believe to be Christian, I appreciated that the book drew clear distinctions between viewpoints espoused by some of the loudest fundamentalist Christians and Christ’s actual example. At the end of the book, he suggests joining a Church to continue your journey of Christian exploration:
My suggestion is that you find a vibrant mainline church in a United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, or American Baptist denomination.
Catholicism is woefully missing from the list.
While it might be easy to dismiss this as protestant prejudice against Catholicism (the author is a Methodist minister), my suspicion is that that’s not the case. In a book that outlines how you don’t have to subscribe to certain conservative beliefs to be truly a Christian, there’s no place for the Catholic Church as it currently presents itself.
Because we’re unfortunately faced with a Church that does tell us we’re not “really” Catholic if we don’t believe certain doctrines even when they have little to no basis in Scripture and grate against our consciences. We’re told we’re “automatically” excommunicated for supporting women’s ordination or legal abortion. Priests can deny us communion if we aren’t straight, or if we’re divorced (as if these are the only transgressions that matter). We know priests and bishops who long for a “smaller, purer Church” that leaves us and many of the people we love out. We’re urged to exercise “forgiveness” of pedophile priests, but not for women who follow a priestly calling.
The list of the “least” one can believe and still be a Catholic can be quite long depending on who you talk to.
But if you talk to me? Here’s the “least” you can believe and still be a Catholic: that you are Catholic. Just like no one else has the right to define your gender, your sexual orientation, or any other label that resonates with you enough to form a core part of your identity, no one can take away your Catholicism if that’s the way you identify. It’s an even shorter list than the one Reverend Thielen lays out. And regardless of how irritated it may make the hierarchy, it’s enough for many of us — and we’re not going away.