In the wake of a certain pastor’s decision to step down due to changes in his beliefs, his [former?] co-religionists are caught up in a restless sea of emotions that is totally understandable. But there are some among them who are being both irrational and uncharitable in their responses. These latter folks are suspicious that he ever really understood what he previously professed, or had moral or character defects that made him susceptible to “falling away.”
A lot of these opinions amount to nothing more than variations on the No True Scotsman fallacy. For these critics, the problem is with the one who has “fallen away.” If he hadn’t been ignorant (which criticism smells of Gnosticism…but I digress) of certain things, or if he had talked to the right people, or if he had gone to some other seminary than that one, or if he wasn’t identified with that theological camp, or if he had heart knowledge instead of head knowledge, or if his character wasn’t flawed in that way, he would still be a faithful [denomination goes here].
In other words, “no true Scotsman would ever change his views.”
But the truth is that this kind of thing does happen, even to sincere people who are sincerely seeking the truth. I suppose that anything I say about this will have the stink of being self-serving, given that I am a convert myself. But I’m willing to say it even of those who (may God forbid) abandon the Catholic Church. Surely it’s likely that some such decisions are made for illicit reasons. But it is certain that there are people going both ways across the Tiber (and other rivers) who are doing nothing more than the best that they can in seeking the truth and in seeking God. And until or unless we know their hearts, we’ve got no business judging their hearts even if we think that they are in error on the direction that they’re going.
I think it’s reasonable to offer these people help. I think it’s reasonable to offer insights and guidance. I think it’s unreasonable to pretend that defects are the only possible justification anyone ever has for conversion. Sometimes they just love the truth and are doing their best to pursue it, wherever it leads.
Life is messy. It just is. Sometimes we end up coloring outside the lines even though we’re trying our very best to do what’s right. That’s not the best excuse, obviously: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But I think it’s still true that to paint converts as defective does them – does us – an injustice. We’re doing the best that we can. Pray for the convert, love him, be patient with him, but please skip the sanctimonious crap that attributes his conversion to moral failure, as though he doesn’t love the truth. It’s not that simple.