M. Regina Cram
This story began a dozen years ago when our son Skip headed off to overnight camp. My husband and I were fervent born-again Christians so we were thrilled when we stumbled upon an excellent Christian camp nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains along the shores of one of America’s cleanest lakes.
Skip’s days were filled with swimming, sailing expeditions, Bible games, pancake eating contests and all manner of fun that we could scarcely imagine.
His camp experience also ignited his faith, thanks in large part to the fantastic Boys Camp speaker, Bill Franklin. I was in awe of Mr. Franklin. Anyone who can inspire 10-year-old boys to fall in love with Jesus is a hero in my book.
The only thing that left me uncomfortable was Skip’s report that Mr. Franklin had criticized the Catholic practice of infant baptism. I had no great love of Catholics, but it bothered me that a potentially divisive issue was discussed with impressionable kids.
The following summer, Skip again reported anti-Catholic remarks by Mr. Franklin, which compelled us to act. Peter and I wrote a brief note to the camp director, expressing our delight at Mr. Franklin’s ability to kindle the boys’ faith, and also describing our concern.
The camp director replied immediately and apologetically. He assured us that the camp strongly opposed discrimina-tion of any kind and that he would personally correct the situation. That was good enough for us.
The following summer when I retrieved Skip at the conclusion of Boys Camp, we lingered for the skits, awards and a Gospel message by Bill Franklin. I enjoyed him immensely as he preached a hilarious and rousing message – until he launched into a searing diatribe against Catholics.
I could scarcely believe my ears. Some of the boys who hung on his every word were Catholic, and by that time, we had become Catholics ourselves. How could he condemn Catholicism in the very place where these boys’ faith was being nurtured?
Again we contacted the camp director. We were very polite, giving Mr. Franklin every bit of well-deserved credit. Then, plainly and without rancor, we explained our deep concern about Mr. Franklin’s remarks. We cited specifics, and also described the Catholic family and parish to which our son was returning.
The camp director was horrified. He’d been under the impression that the problem was resolved and was sincerely grateful that we’d brought it to his attention, particularly because we’d been so even-handed. This time, he asked permission to show the letter to Mr. Franklin and other staff members. We agreed and again accepted his assurances that it would not happen again.
One afternoon the following spring, I was standing in our noisy kitchen when the telephone rang.
“Hi. This is Bill Franklin,” spoke a deep voice on the other end. “I’m the speaker from your son’s Boys Camp. Is this the Crams?”
Mr. Franklin? The guy who hated Catholics?
“Um, hi, Mr. Franklin,” I replied uneasily.
“Please call me Bill,” he said warmly. “I’m in Connecticut today and I wonder if it might be possible to stop by to meet you and your husband. I really appreciate your efforts to get me to clean up my act, and I was hoping you might give me more specifics.”
When I retrieved my jaw from the floor, we arranged for Bill to join us that evening for dinner.
The first few minutes were excruciatingly awkward as we tried to navigate a religious minefield. The fact that four children were listening intently didn’t help.
Bill quickly offered that Peter and I should speak freely without fear of offending him, and he asked permission to do the same. What ensued was one of the most delightful evenings we’ve ever spent.
Bill pulled from his pocket a dog-eared copy of the letter we had sent to the camp director the previous summer. Bill had underlined key points and made copious notes in the margins; it was clear that he was taking our concerns very seriously.
As we plunged into discussion, Peter and I realized that Bill misunderstood many Catholic doctrines. What’s more, no Catholic had ever been able to explain to him why we believe what we believe, so he thought we had just made stuff up. He was shocked to discover that not only could Peter and I explain the foundations of our faith, we were intimately familiar with Scripture so we could all talk the same language.
With growing respect for one other, Peter and Bill went head-to-head on issues of authority, Marian beliefs, the papacy, the Eucharist. They were in their glory, debating Bible translations and original Greek texts and early Church practices. Neither expected to change the other’s basic beliefs, but we did hope to change some attitudes.
Evidently we succeeded, because when Bill headed home that night, he was different. He recognized some ways in which he had been wrong, and he humbly acknowledged that his attitude toward Catholics was rooted in bigotry.
All that in one night. And we had a great time doing it.
Regina Cram is a freelance writer.