SIMPSONVILLE — “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how did this doctrine grow?”
Michael Cumbie made up that little ditty when he was an anti-Catholic Southern Baptist preacher for almost 30 years. When he learned that Mary was really the first Christian and the first person to say yes to Jesus, that no Protestant religion existed before 1517, and that the Catholic Church was established by Christ himself in A.D. 33, he said: “I did not want that to be true.”
He came to accept the truth, however, and converted to Catholicism. He then became such an accomplished apologist for the faith that the Knights of Columbus Council 10819 invited him to speak at St. Mary Magdalene Church on June 22 and 23. He drew enormous crowds, an estimated 1,500 people, and gave them exactly what they came for: strong content and clever presentations.
Parishioner Mike Shaw attended both nights. A convert himself, Shaw said that Cumbie struck just the right balance of wit and wisdom.
“It was on our level, not too heavy in doctrine. I came here to learn and I learned a lot,” he said.
One of the things Shaw learned on the first night was that Ignatius of Antioch coined the term Catholic for the church in A.D. 110, from the Greek katholou, meaning “on the whole” or “everywhere the same.”
Cumbie also delineated the history of the Eucharist and apostolic succession, both found only in the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. He criticized the very foundation of Protestantism.
“Luther was right that the church needed to be reformed, in practice, because the bath water always gets dirty. We’re humans … so it needs to be thrown out every so often. Luther threw out the baby with the bath water,” Cumbie said.
He said there are more than 30,000 Protestant denominations today and growing fast.
“The latest was started last week because someone got mad at his pastor and started a new religion,” he said.
But Cumbie also defended the moral stance of fundamentalist Christians.
“Our best friends in America in the fight for morality and in the fight for life are our Evangelical brothers and sisters,” he said.
Some of his popular one-liners included: “If you don’t look good on wood, you can’t be a Christian” and “Peter, old Rocky, suffered from hoof and mouth disease. But he became the first pope and that gives me hope” and “You have to change history to say that the Eucharist was not established from day one.”
Scott F. Johnson, Knights church director, said he first heard Cumbie speak when he ran a mission for St. Mary Magdalene two years ago.
“He got me really interested in apologetics and we wanted to do something for the parish,” Johnson said.
Incoming Grand Knight Bruce Jennings said the reason the council sponsored the talks was to deepen the community’s faith.