If the proof is in the pudding, you might be surprised to learn which Christian tradition tends to be the most community-oriented.
I grew up in the Midwest in a nominally Episcopalian family. As a young boy, I asked my Dad why we weren’t Catholics. He said it was because Episcopalians drive better cars. So much for my theological education.
As a theological pygmy, I assumed Catholics were not Christians or, if Christians, certainly inferior to Protestants and other Christian traditions. That was reinforced when I came to Christ. An evangelical college ministry was instrumental in my conversion. The subtle message was that few Catholics practice the faith, Protestants do, and evangelicals are most fervent. But numerous surveys indicate otherwise.
I’m not talking about surveys done by Christian organizations. The International Social Survey Program and the World Values Study have studied human behavior in many countries where there are enough Catholics and Protestants to make fair comparisons. The most crucial of the measures were a series of questions in the 1986 International Social Survey Program research on social networks. In a nutshell, Catholics are more community-oriented. Protestants are more individualistic.
These differences play out in all sorts of fascinating ways. Catholics tend to picture society as supportive and not oppressive. They get involved in all sorts of civic organizations. Protestants tend to picture society as oppressive and not supportive. They tend to be less involved, more often cocooning in church groups.
Catholics are more likely to emphasize “fairness” and “equality.” This causes many to think broadly about societal problems like income disparity or social fragmentation. Protestants are more likely to emphasize “freedom” and “individualism.” This causes them to think narrowly about their work as a place for personal advancement.
With the exception of those in Great Britain, Catholics are more likely to advocate for the strengthening of authority and of the family. Protestants are more likely to insist on the importance of sexual fulfillment as a condition for a successful marriage. Yet two representative samples of American married people indicate Catholics have sex more frequently, persist longer in sexual intercourse as one grows older, and have more sexual playfulness than Protestants.
Catholics are more willing to accept political extremes of either the left or the right into their neighborhoods. Protestants less so. With the exception of Australia, Catholics are also more willing to accept those with drinking and emotional problems (which might be due to alcoholism being a more acute problem than in the countries surveyed).
Modern empirical social science has, for over a century, observed a shift in Western societies. The consensus has been that Westerners, particularly Americans, are becoming more individualistic. However, recent studies indicate the trend is more complex, uneven, and multidimensional than we assume it to be. While the erosion of communalism is widespread, it’s less so in Catholicism. What accounts for the residual strength of the supposedly outmoded Catholic social ethic?
An emphasis on the imagination. The Catholic tradition places great weight on metaphor and imagination. Protestants stress information (worldviews, concepts, etc.). Catholics believe behaviors are anchored in our imagination early in the socialization process and provide patterns that shape the rest of life. These patterns are encoded in collective, sacramental practices—congregational prayers, the Eucharist—even if buried in the sub-conscious. Since 95 percent of our behaviors are sub-conscious, collective practices largely account for Catholics being more community-minded than Protestants.
I’m not suggesting that everyone convert to Catholicism. Jesus chided the Pharisees for claiming to believe in things they didn’t actually do. Americans are famous for saying they believe in community. But the surveys indicate Catholics are more communal than Protestants. Since the proof is in the pudding, Protestants would be well served to learn from the Catholic tradition that practices community as much as it preaches it.
 These statistics are cited in Andrew Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 55-133.