Deacon reviews church differences - Catholic Courier

Deacon reviews church differences

As the well-dressed people draw closer, ringing neighbors’ doorbells and brandishing literature, your first instinct may be to head for the basement and pretend nobody is home.

Yet according to Deacon George Kozak, Catholics have no reason to sidestep discussion and debate with members of other denominations. The prospect of coming face-to-face with door-to-door proselytizers actually underscores “how important it is for us to understand our own faith,” he said.

During presentations on March 26 and April 6 at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish, where he is assigned, Deacon Kozak discussed three denominations Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Seventh-day Adventists that regularly engage in door-to-door outreach. He said he chose these groups because they are all active in the Ithaca area and have important distinctions that set them apart from Catholicism and Christianity. In addition, he noted famous people who belong to these denominations such as Michael Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness; and the Osmond singing family, who are Mormon.

“Each considers themselves to be Christian, and there are things about each group that makes them basically non-Christian,” Deacon Kozak said.
He observed that all three denominations began in the 1800s and place some of their beliefs on writings other than the Bible. Among their differences from the doctrines of mainstream Christianity are the Seventh-day Adventists’ opposition to Sunday as the sabbath day; Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rejection of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ; and the Mormons’ original teaching of polygamy, which the church officially renounced in 1890 but is still practiced by splinter groups.

The deacon stopped short of denouncing these groups, saying that he prefers the phrasing “Here’s what they believe, and here’s what we believe, and here’s why we think what we believe is more accurate.”

Meanwhile, Deacon Kozak said he’s not confident that Catholics understand their own religion to the degree they should. “Why do we believe what we believe, and what is the basis for our faith?” Deacon Kozak asked rhetorically. He noted that he has encountered at his lectures Catholics who are unsure whether the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, and others who believe everything the pope says and does is infallible.
He said that making serious study of their own beliefs will better equip Catholics to engage in dialogue with the various religious groups who come knocking.

“Be nice to them. You don’t have to slam the door in their face,” he said. Acknowledging that Catholics aren’t always vocal about their beliefs, he added that we could borrow a page from these faiths’ efforts to evangelize: “We should be proselytizing back to them.”

Deacon Kozak was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1998. He said his interest in other faiths began as he grew up with a brother whom he described as “a spiritual seeker.” In addition, as a full-time computer programmer at Cornell University, he is situated on a campus well-known for its religious diversity.

“Every time I meet somebody here at work with a different religion than mine, I spend time trying to understand what they believe,” he said.

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