Andrew Doran (First Things), Oscar Wilde once observed that “the Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.” Newt Gingrich would have made a pitiable Anglican–or Mormon, for that matter. As a Catholic, however, he fits right in. Catholics are all too familiar with frailty, and in fact the central Christian idea of redemption by Christ presupposes a need for such redemption.
I have little to say about where New Gingrich feels at home. I have less to say about source of the quote or the measure of the life or faith of the man who said it. But, unlike most little ditties people say, this one is worth remembering.
While certainly meant with a certain measure of humor, the quote expresses a great deal of truth. The churches that preach sin and repentance, grace and forgiveness are often seen as out of step for "respectable" folks only because the respectable folks don't talk in those terms or think in those categories. The quote would most certainly have to be redone today. Perhaps the Anglican Church would do for those who like the appearance of traditional Christianity (albeit doctrinally diverse and, yes, lite) but the rest of the crowd would be better suited for other places. Those who think religion is mostly morality might probably like the Mormon Church. Those who think religion is mostly about happy lives and good feelings might better head to Lakewood and Osteen. You can continue the list. But Oscar Wilde hits it on the mark. The evangelical and catholic faith is about redemption for sinners, righteousness for the evil, cleansing for the guilty, life for the dying, and hope for those who know they cannot repair what is wrong in them or in the world.
If the Church is out of step, or appears to be out of step, it just might be because that Church is being faithful to the Gospel. I will admit that I do not worry much about being relevant. I do worry about being faithful. I do worry about being effective (in being faithful). I do worry about catechesis. I do worry about what goes on in worship. I do worry about settling for what is easy instead of striving for our best for Him who gave His all. But relevance is not high on my list. I hope and pray it is not high on yours, either. If what it takes is to fill the pews requires us to be unfaithful, then let us rejoice at the remnant in the pews and preach with the vigor and honesty of Stephen to the masses. Even if we see no change in the statistics, we will have done what God calls us to do. And, in the end, this is the only approval that matters...