An important shift is happening in the church of western Oregon.

For decades, Oregon Catholics attempted to win over an anti-Catholic culture by embracing relevance and cooperation. The strategy bore glorious fruit from the 1930s through the 1980s, as the church became a leader in labor and civil rights. Catholic social teaching appealed mightily to wider society and prevented the church from being walled off as a stodgy artifact. Oregon heroes like Archbishop Edwin O’Hara and Msgr. Thomas Tobin became national figures in social movements supporting workers and minority groups.

But many secular denizens of social justice didn’t return the church’s warm clasp. For secularists, who were on the rise, convenience steadily overrode principle. Once-forbidden practices like abortion and euthanasia became celebrated causes.

In recent years, a conservative part of Oregon culture turned its back on the poor and migrants, a travesty according to biblical and Catholic wisdom. And many Oregon conservatives grumble at Catholic teaching on care for creation.

The dual betrayal leaves Oregon Catholics confused, at odds and wondering how they fit in. One result of the chaos: While the Archdiocese of Portland welcomes about 1,000 converts each year, it loses about 5,000 Catholics in the same period.

The answer may be that Catholics should stand beyond the divide, outside culture, using the Gospel to create a more just and believing society that values vulnerable people.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said at a January vocations retreat. He suggested that a Christianity too cozy with culture won’t hold people who instead yearn for the boldness of the Gospel.

He urged Catholics to have confidence. Those who live their faith with fervor will be highly attractive, he explained. “People will say, ‘They have something I don’t have, and I want it.’”

The archbishop warned against those who would soft-pedal the Gospel to keep the peace.

Of course, we cannot evangelize a culture unless we love it. No one will be drawn by self-righteous boors. But love doesn’t mean acquiescence. Sometimes, being a prophet is the most loving and appealing of acts.