A Beginner’s Guide to Dissent: the extended version

by | May 1, 2016 | Catholic Living, What I Wore Sunday | 22 comments

Disagreement with Catholic teaching is something that saints and heretics have in common. The great St. Paul himself, we read about in today’s first reading, was a dissenter and debater. But the difference between the saints and the heretics has always been in how they’ve gone about dissenting.

I’m at Blessed is She today, discussing today’s readings through the lens of Catholic dissent. But, as per usual, I had a lot to say on the subject. One of the beautiful parts of the Blessed is She devotions is that they’re short and sweet. SO, I put the first, more-theoretical half over there, and I’m putting the second, more-practical half over here.

Read this part first, then come right back.

At every step, St. Paul was agitating for change via prayer, study, and intellectual argument, rather than through disobedience, sedition, and personal sin. He didn’t claim that his conscience dictated that he should do as he pleased, and encourage others to do so. He didn’t claim that since not eating shellfish was super hard for him, HE shouldn’t have to do it.

He knew that we are one body, with one set of teaching applicable to all. What he hoped to change was a changeable matter of Church practice,
rather than an infallible teaching on a matter of faith or morals. Since he understood that some within the Church were teaching in error, he set out to correct that error, while maintaining his obedience to the pope.

What St. Paul did not do was rabble-rouse. He didn’t incite those around him to sin and rebellion. He wanted to create peace, not division, and correct, rather than exacerbate, the discord within the Church, “some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most modern Catholic “dissent” doesn’t really live up to the term. Most modern Catholic “dissent” is just willful disobedience or lazy ignorance.

Let’s avoid that. Let’s dissent like St. Paul.

I’m what folks call a “revert.” I was baptized as an infant and raised Catholic, but without much formation. My whole family and I have been on a journey towards faithful Catholic life together. On that journey, I have encountered plenty of Catholic teaching that seemed crazy, or hard, or wrong.

There were definitely times on my journey in which I disagreed with Church teaching without understanding the whys behind that teaching. There are certainly instances throughout Church history when good faithful Catholics have mindfully and respectfully agitated for meaningful change.  But there’s been a lot MORE willful ignorance and petulant disobedience. I was in the latter camp for sure. And it was NOT satisfying.

What HAS been both enlightening and satisfying is a different approach.

NOW, if I’m confused by or in disagreement with a with a teaching of the Church, here’s what I do:

Step 1: Pray about it. I ask God to help me understand that teaching.

Step 2: Keep it quiet. I ponder it in my heart, not on a soapbox. There is no sin in not understanding or in questioning. There is sin in creating scandal and leading others away from the Church. Respectful, scholarly debate with knowledgeable, faithful Catholics is one thing. Finding a bunch of people to pat me on the back as I disagree is another.

Step 3: Learn about it. I research the issue. I read the Bible and the Catechism, and the words of the saints. I consult my elders by reading faithful Catholic blogs and talking with faithful Catholic priests and trusted Catholic friends.

Step 4: Think, rather than act. I can disagree with a teaching of the Church without disobeying it. I can think Catholics have it all wrong on something, I can determine that it isn’t an infallible teaching on faith and morals, I can pray about it and read about it, I can write about it and debate it over the proper channels. I can try to get it changed, all the while without disobeying.

But I gotta say, in all my experience, I’ve never made it past Step 3. Some great saints have. Important policies and positions within the Church have been changed. We have St. Paul to thank for a Church that’s approachable for people from all over the world, and for a holy example of both dissent and obedience; a life spent going from place to place, “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41).


And, hey, there’s a new link up in town. Rosie from A Blog for My Mom is hosting an ALL NEW weekly link up called My Sunday Best, to replace another similar link up that had sort of run its course. If you’ve got a blog and you wore something to church today, link it up and share it with the world!

Sooooo, here we are. At Mass this morning, Mary Jane decided to try that thing from the movies where you yank the strand of pearls and they snap, sending pearls cascading towards the marble floor in slow motion, noisily skittering about, being chased by brothers. Consequently, Lulu’s accessory game is way better than mine.

And here are a couple from yesterday. You’ll never guess where we went . . .

And, have you see these cute free downloadable coloring pages from Nancy at Do Small Things With Love? SO cute. Print out these babies and preschool is taken care of!

Happy Feast of St. Joseph the Worker! This download is in the shop, if you’re looking for a quick decoration . . .

Happy Sunday all. And happy dissenting . . .


  1. Amanda

    As usual, your BIS was great. And this follow up is helpful too. I'm a revert too, but I was a Protestant for a long time, and I have to say – there's something wonderful about there being a Chuch, with a Faith and Tradition. I'm so glad it's not all up to my interpretation anymore, and that keeps me calm if I think something isn't how I'd want.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Amanda! I also take so much consolation in the fact that other women have faced the personal difficulties that come with being a devout Catholic and have managed it. For thousands of years, they've managed it, and survived and thrived and been canonized. I figure I can do it too.

  2. Heather Knox

    As a person who lived for 33 years without much of any faith at all, this has been an issue for me. It's a shock to the system to go from the nothing of secular culture to the SO MUCH something of Catholicism. But while I have struggled with not completely agreeing with or understanding all the teachings of the church, I've also found a great amount of liberation in following them. I think Jennifer Fulwiler once called the Catechism something like a handbook for a happy life and it helps me to think of it in that way. But I am very much a brand new Catholic so there haven't been too many opportunities for dissent just yet. Maybe give me a few years. 😉

  3. Laura Rose

    I LOVE your approach when you disagree or are confused by a Church teaching. Wise, humble advice for us all. And I love your outfit. You are so classy even without your pearls. 🙂 Your gals are ALL completely adorable as well, but I just have to say the ruffled dress and pink parasol are just amazing. I want both in my size. 🙂

  4. Tracy Bua Smith

    Your steps remind me of how we should form our consciences based on truth vs. based on moral relativism and what we think is right/wrong for us.

  5. Anonymous

    I am curious about what Church teachings you may have disagreed with. Could you give us an example and how you came to a resolution?

    • Kendra

      Just about every controversial topic there is. I'm a bit contrary by nature. 🙂 I think NFP is an obvious example for me. I was raised Catholic but had literally never EVER heard of NFP until our pre-Cana classes where it was broached in a slightly-embarrassed, apologetic way. I was pretty sure at the time we were just going to ignore it and get married and go on the pill like normal people, but by the grace of God we did more research and became convinced that, however crazy it seemed, the arguments against artificial contraception were sound. There were times when it seemed like a hard teaching, but we trusted the Church enough to stick with it. And we lived happily ever after . . .

  6. Rosie

    That graphic for St. Paul is AMAZING. And I don't know why we don't *all* bring parasols to Mass! Well, I suppose certain children would probably use them as swords so… Probably okay that they're not a mainstream accessory 😉 My pearls got yanked off my neck by a baby a few years ago and they're *nice* pearls! I don't know that there's anything you can do about it except not wear necklaces 🙁 Thanks so much for linking up and spreading the word!

  7. Manda

    Love this! This is how we approach things as well, and is a very new approach for my husband during his journey into the Catholic Church. And it was new to me too as a sort-of-revert (I got my sacraments but was raised in a decidedly non-Catholic home….we still don't know why our parents bothered to drop us off for CCD those few years, lol!) Anyway, your steps ring true in my life as well.

    BTW, I love the new My Sunday Best idea! So much more fitting than kinda using the What I Wore Wednesday as a Sunday thing. If I ever get time to truly blog again I might have to join in 🙂 You and the girls look stunning as usual this week!

  8. Vanessa Schoon

    This step-by-step approach is so helpful! Thank you!!! I read your BIS post (fantastic, of course!) and was thrilled to see you added more to it here. 🙂 I am a contrary questioner too. Every time I study and read about a topic that I have trouble with, I end up realizing, "Oh nooooo…I am wrong! As always, 2000 years of Catholic teaching is correct, and I am not!" No shocker there. You'd think I would learn. 😉

  9. Mary Lenaburg

    So much awesomeness here Kendra!! Your BIS is just a home run! I actually printed it out to bring to work since some of my older co-workers are still stuck in the 60's-70's. As for your Sunday Best…lovely. ALL of you look wonderful. A little sass and a lot of class. Happy Sunday Friend!!

  10. Alexandra

    This is great – and what I've intuitively been trying to do. I'm a convert – a liberal, socialist, contrary convert who wants to disagree with more than what she agrees with. *g* But I've mostly kept quiet about it, researched things, come round on some things, and haven't on others. I figure, with time my mind will change like it has on some teachings, or I will have prayed and considered long enough that I can make a more meaningful decision on how to respectfully dissent. I've been surprised really, on how the Holy Spirit has changed my heart on some things – things I was militant about, just a few years ago.

  11. Lindsay

    You make an excellent point about individual versus vocal, rabble-rousing dissent. I've always said that what makes someone a heretic is not believing something different; it's teaching others to believe that same thing as though you have teaching authority that you don't really have.

    By saying the other Sunday link-up had "run its course," do you mean that the founders disappeared, and then people stopped linking up? That seems like a more accurate description of what happened.

    I'd also like to make a plug for people to read Humanae Vitae, if they haven't. For an encyclical, it is *crazy* short! Basically anyone can do six pages.

  12. Josephene

    I appreciated this post very much — prudent, modest. I often feel (non-spiritual) awe when someone expresses pointed disagreement with Catholic teaching — I can hardly dissent from my own husband without some level of anxiety and trepidation (and he's a softy!). I can't imagine just dissenting from church teaching so loudly! Maybe it gives some folk a sense of confidence in their faith? Like, they are so in command of their faith and spiritual life that they can dissent from Mother Church, which shows their great faith? It's a little perverted, I think (in the non-pejorative sense).

  13. Jenny Cook

    Here's a question, perhaps for a follow-up post, and touching on some of the spiritual works of mercy: what to do (if anything) when a fellow Catholic–who publicly identifies as such–is vociferously promoting (on social media) political candidates whose policies are in stark disagreement with Church teaching? I presume that the place to start is assuming charitably that they must not really understand what the Church teaches, but then what?

    • Kendra

      But also, if I felt like I had enough of a relationship with the person, I would try to calmly and pleasantly share with them some truth, usually in the form of legit, non-salacious, fact-checked blog posts and articles.

  14. Mariaa D

    I loved this post, only got around to reading it now but had read the first half on BIS almost a week ago. I love you practical four step idea, Church teaching truly has to be examined prayfully and respectfully.

    Anyhow, I got to the part about the Sunday link up and I literally burst out laughing at 'if you've got a blog and you wore something to church today', I don't blog but I'm pretty sure I wore something to church 😉 Sorry just my childishness surfacing!

    God bless and congrats on your new newphew Mike 🙂

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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