A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One More Time-- Pope Francis Is Not Your Political Puppet or Punching Bag

Pope Francis has certainly drawn much attention since his election as the chief bishop of the Catholic Church. While he has said nothing that departs from traditional Catholic teaching, it is his emphasis on concern for the poor that has drawn attention. Nothing he has said on the matter of caring for the poor nor how economic policy should consider the least of these would have drawn criticism from either Pope Benedict XVI or the late John Paul the II. In fact, one can find in their words the same sentiments as expressed by Pope Francis.

The same can be said in reference to the Catholic Church's social teaching. Francis, like his predecessors, opposes birth control, women priests, gay marriage, and abortion. The difference is one of emphasis: Francis has not denied these latter positions, but he has chosen to concentrate on the former-- the poor in our midst. Many have obviously found that different emphasis refreshing, and others clearly have not-- but regardless of what one thinks of Pope Francis in regard to any of this, he is not offering anything different in substance from the official teachings of the Catholic Church. As Elizabeth Tenety rightly notes,

And Francis is doing work not only that Jesus modeled but that has been practiced by countless Christians in His name for millennia. To Catholics, Francis may feel refreshing, but he isn't surprising. We've seen his example in Catholic homeless shelters and hospitals; through the humble service of the priests, brothers and nuns who taught us; in the lives of anonymous heroes and canonized saints. It's the Christianity we've learned in our childhood CCD classes and read in classic spiritual texts. It's the Christianity that's inspired for 2,000 years.
But Francis isn't trying to win a popularity contest. And there's still a lot in his beliefs, and in the church's teachings, that rankle the very modern culture that is embracing him. Sure, Francis has talked about not judging gay people who seek the Lord, called for greater inclusion of women in Catholic leadership, and critiqued the "obsessed" narrow-mindedness of those in the church who care only about contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion. But he also said, while arguing against gay marriage as bishop in Argentina, that efforts to redefine marriage were inspired by Satan. He's affirmed the church's prohibition on female priests and declared that the church's rejection of a woman's right to abortion "is not something subject to alleged reforms." How come nobody is paying attention to this Francis?
But the political right is just as mistaken in beating him up over his supposed "pure Marxism." Again Tenety observes,
So when Rush Limbaugh, that great arbiter of true Christianity, says that what's coming out of the pope's mouth is "pure Marxism ," when Sarah Palin frets that Francis is "kind of liberal" and when Fox News's Adam Shaw calls him "the Catholic Church's Obama ," they're just distorting the secular left's dreams into their own worst nightmares.
Pope Benedict before Francis and Pope John Paul II before Benedict offered the same warnings against capitalism without restraint. They also rejected Marxism and so does Francis. In a recent interview when Francis was asked about Marxism, he said, "The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don't feel offended." I offer one more quote from Elizabeth Tenety:
Both left and right need to wake up. Francis is, at his heart, a spiritual leader. His mission may have political implications, but he has come to serve God, not to advance the platform of the Democratic Party-- and it's presumptuous to imagine otherwise. Even in discussions of economic inequality, Francis sees the primacy of the faith: "I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset that would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society," he writes in "Evangelii Gaudium." Oh, my: Sounds like Francis believes in trickle-down transcendence.
Even still, there is little doubt that Pope Francis will be continue to be used to promote special interest politics by appropriating his words in support of their program whether in affirmation or critique. But Francis should not be concerned with the cacophony on either side; for he is in good company. Many of these same persons have attempted to manipulate Jesus to serve their agendas as well. And there have been those from the beginning who have attempted to manipulate Jesus into doing their bidding-- Pharisees, Sadducees, Herod, and Pilate, to name just a few.

But Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has not come to this earth to get with our program; he insists that we conform to his agenda for this world

I like Pope Francis. I agree with him on some things and disagree with him on others. I am, after all, a Protestant. But the matters on which I agree and disagree are the same agreements and disagreements I had with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. Nothing has changed in that regard-- and I liked Pope Benedict and John Paul as well.

Perhaps both left and right need to put their agendas on hold long enough to listen truly to what Pope Francis is really saying.

The ones with ears to hear, let them hear.


Mark Mitchell said...

It might be better for him to avoid political buzz words and ideology in order to stay out of the frey.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comment.

The buzz words can indeed be a problem, but never underestimate the ability of the national media to get it wrong no matter how it is said.

Patrick said...

The misinterpretation of his comments is sort of like mis interpreting scripture because we don't read it within it's original context.

Essentially, the pope was not addressing politics, he is addressing specifically the Catholic heart within Catholic doctrine.

He may not understand some secular stuff, but, this man understands God's desire for His church( I say this as a Prot) as we relate to mankind.