Interview on March 2, 2021 with Taylor, 36, who enters the Church this May.
What is your faith background?
Taylor: I was born into a family of traditional Southern Baptists in Texas. My parents raised me in a house where the Bible was a source of truth and where we served the Lord by corporate worship. Church attendance was absolutely regular from my earliest years. My parents never drank alcohol, didn’t believe in dancing, and stuck to those more Southern fundamentalist beliefs until I was probably about 14 or 15. Encouraged by my parents, seeing my father read and study the Bible daily, being in Sunday school and in church, I read the Bible on my own starting at six, seven, eight years old. I finished reading it through for the first time when I was eight or nine and expressed a desire for baptism. I went through a baptism class and was baptized when I was ten years old. That was a big day for me and a big day for my family.
I got a four year degree from Westmont College, a non-denominational Protestant school in Santa Barbara, California. I studied theology there and became generally reformed in my own views, holding to the teachings of Calvin, also some Puritan influences like John Bunyan and others, and was pretty well versed biblically and pretty comfortable in my own faith.
My wife and I have been married for eight years. Her background was Assembly of God, which is more charismatic, almost Pentecostal, and different from my own tradition but similar enough that we saw eye to eye on many things about faith and were able to discuss theology and we’ve been attending church together wherever we’ve lived. We’ve taught Sunday school and worked in children’s ministry and volunteered in hospitality and church grounds crew and kitchen duties and homeless ministries and soup kitchens, and generally been involved in our church several days a week since we’ve been married.
My view was that the Catholic Church was a church that had departed from the true faith and replaced the teachings of the Bible with superstition and with traditions of men, that the papacy was a corrupt institution that was generally aligned against the truth, and that while many Catholic Christians were in fact members of our true Christian faith, for the most part, the teachings of the Church were illegitimate. I was in many ways anti-Catholic.
For the last five or six years, my studies have taken me more down a traditional church history path, reading Augustine, reading Boethius, reading Ambrose, and some of the early church fathers, but it was really just academic. I was attracted by the history. I began to study about Eastern Christianity and medieval Christianity, and guys like Duns Scotus and St. Anselm began to be a part of my general studies in philosophy and history.
I travel a lot for work. About a year ago I was on the road and was looking for a church to go to, and there were no Protestant churches around. So I started attending a local Mass where I was in New York and was interested by the liturgy. I started learning about the liturgy and realizing that while some Protestants do have a liturgy, it’s nothing like the form of worship in the Catholic church. I started to think that perhaps liturgy is legitimate and perhaps some forms of worship in Catholicism are legitimate.
I started to investigate, but I was held back by some big obstacles. The Marian doctrines held me back. I didn’t believe in reverencing or venerating the saints. I didn’t believe in the papacy. I didn’t believe in the celibacy of the ministerial priesthood. But I was so interested that I began to study the issues one at a time, the Marian doctrines and where they came from and celibacy in the Church and where it came from. One book that was very helpful was J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines. He was an Anglican who wrote a book about early Church history that was helpful to understand how these don’t just arise out of whole cloth in the medieval ages, but they have their roots back in the earliest times of the Church. Finally, I came to a modern book called Evangelical Exodus.
It’s a story about Southern Evangelical Seminary in South Carolina, which was one of the preeminent evangelical seminaries in the United States, and how over a four-year period or five-year period, about two dozen of the faculty and staff moved into either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Two dozen doesn’t sound like many, but they only had about 15 graduates a year. Douglas Beaumont wrote a story about it and included people’s testimonies. He included an appendix in the back that did a lot to unlock the truth for me. And that was an attack on the idea of sola scriptura.
Once I began to hear the arguments against sola scriptura, I began to question why I should be a Protestant. I lined up all the arguments for Protestantism and all the arguments against it. Initially I had all the arguments in the “for” category, but slowly they began to shift toward the Catholicism category. The history of the Church, the apostolic succession, the writings of the church fathers, the idea of regenerate baptism, the holding of the sacraments. Finally, when I decided that the evidence was strong enough to support the fact that the magisterial authority of the Church was real, and that there’s actually a live teaching office that has authority that derives not just from the apostles but from Christ himself, I broke my belief in sola scriptura and said, “You know what? It’s not just the Bible. The Bible is God’s Holy word, but it’s not enough. It’s not the way it was meant to be. If every Bible in the world was destroyed by some evil dictator or something like that, we would still have the Church.”
I started talking to my wife about what I had learned, and she wasn’t receptive at first, but very soon became receptive when I showed her some of the things I’d been reading. We decided to enter the catechumenate at our local parish and to see where it went. That was last September. Now we’re very excited about our coming confirmations and being a part of Holy Mother Church.
Like my wife says, it’s been so wonderful to see how little we have to give up and how much we have to gain. When I was a Protestant and a Baptist, it was like being on an island where it seemed like this was the whole world, but once we got on the ship of faith and started sailing across the Tiber, the island looked pretty small in the background and the mainland of Mother Church seems a lot bigger.
Did the Church scandals play any part in your initial hesitation?
Taylor: Whether you call it cynicism or historical realism, my picture of God’s Church is not very idealistic. Whether you want to look at the Spanish Inquisition or the Sack of Jerusalem or the clerical scandals in the 20th century, there’s lots of ugly stuff out there. But I am no stranger to scandals in Protestantism either. All sorts of gross financial abuse happens all the time, sexual abuse.
I have huge problems with different sins the Church has committed throughout the ages, but I look at those as historical instances and facts that happened. I don’t see it as de-legitimizing the entire institution, because, if I did, Protestantism would fall as well. We just have to look at Henry VIII to see that. It is problematic and it’s disturbing and I do think about it. It took me a little time to accept the idea that the offices of the Church are separate from the men that hold them. Not that the mitre makes the bishop, but the bishop himself certainly doesn’t derive his authority from his own person. It’s a divine office. I haven’t got it all figured out, but I have enough faith to move forward and trust the Church, even with the scandals.
Were there any particular doctrines that you had trouble accepting?
Taylor: Once sola scriptura fell, that was the biggest key, although the Marian documents were very difficult. Penance was also a difficult concept to understand, getting past the stereotype that we can erase our own sins, the way Protestants see it: “if you just do good, then you’ll be fine.” Understanding the nuances of grace and grace is the core of every sacrament was difficult to understand. The Word on Fire Institute was a big help in some of these things and Fr. Mike Schmitz, as well.
We’ve also been following several younger evangelists, guys like Matt Fradd and Trent Horn, Joe Heschmeyer. Scott Hahn is great and some of those other older guys are good too, but they’re just a different generation, a different time.
How do you think Catholics can better evangelize?
Taylor: I don’t think that my path is going to be the average path. The arguments convinced me. What I wanted was the truth, and while I care about other things and I was concerned about culture and family and all that stuff, at the core of it all, I had to have the truth and the arguments were powerful and convincing.
I don’t think most people will go that way because, honestly, most people aren’t looking for the truth or most people don’t see the world in such a way that they’re willing to consider the arguments.
For people like me, the average Catholic needs to have a few basic answers about what a sacrament is and why they’re Catholics, and at least be able to point to a couple of good resources like the Word on Fire Institute or Catholic Answers, because otherwise someone like me will overpower them with reasons why they shouldn’t be Catholic.
But for many people whose faith is just a simple trust in Jesus, like St. Theresa of Lisieux, that’s where Bishop Barron’s idea is so powerful to lead with the beautiful. Show people the beauty of their walk with Christ and why it is beautiful and what it’s like to pray the rosary and why they keep a crucifix around their neck and what it feels like when they kneel before the altar and pray and the experience of receiving Holy Communion and how their mother raised them to be a Christian and what it’s like to have Easter together as a family. Those arguments and those experiences are so much more poignant for our own generation and for average Christians and that’s something that anyone can share who has experienced the Church in a way that’s of the heart.
One help that my wife and I had is that our expectations were appropriately set for joining our local parish. The Catholic Church is so big and so huge and there’s cathedrals, and there’s history, and there’s saints, and books and libraries and monks and all this huge stuff. But then there’s the local parish where the rubber meets the road. One of the graces we received was that, when we started, we both said to each other, “We have been to small churches our whole lives, in different towns, different countries. This may be the true church and the fullness of truth, but it’s still going to be a local church with local people. Let’s not go in there with cynicism when we see people behave badly or local church politics or people forgetting to do this or that. We can’t just be like, ‘Oh, these Catholics are all hypocrites.’”
Sure enough, going to St. Thomas Aquinas has been great. We’ve met wonderful people, but it’s a local church, people are just living their lives and there’s squabbles and there’s opinions and differences and politics intrude. Some people are rude and snooty, but overall I love our little parish and I’m glad I didn’t expect some higher level of humanity at the local parish because that’s not fair. That’s not what the church is. We’re all being sanctified at the same time together. That’s important to realize too, because in our generation, the only sin left is hypocrisy.
When we’re talking to people about the faith and sharing our faith with others, we have to realize that the number one thing that they’re going to care about is hypocrisy. And so we can’t make any pretensions like, “Oh, our church is the best. It’s so good. And you’ll be happy there and you’ll love it. And we just all sing kumbaya.” It’s not true. It doesn’t need to be true for there to be the grace of Christ. If you go to a parish and it’s not the perfect parish, and you have big problems with it, that’s not a hindrance to inviting someone to look inside your heart and look inside your faith, and even come to your church as long as you’re real with them about it.
I love our parish. I’m just giving a realistic picture. This is the real world.
California Catholic Daily writer Mary Rose is interviewing young Catholic converts as part of our Inquiring Minds series. If you are a young convert to the Catholic Church and would like to share your story, please contact us.