I have said before that I refuse to be bound by the modern left/right continuum in thinking through theology, ethics, and politics. The responses from many people to my claim have become all too predictable. Some assume that since I claim neither position, then I must be a moderate, someone who is halfway between the two extremes. This assumes that the left/right continuum remains in place and I am just in the middle; but this mischaracterizes my position. I am not a moderate because I think the left/right continuum is simply incoherent. Thus to be a moderate on that continuum is also incoherent.
Another response I get is that since I refuse to claim allegiance to the left or to the right, then I obviously have no convictions and/or I wish to remain above it all refusing to become involved in the mess that is theology, morality and politics. The assumption here is that in order to be a person of conviction and one who participates in the important matters of life, I must place myself somewhere on this left/right continuum. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very deep convictions on many matters, but once again, the left/right continuum is treated as an ontological reality that cannot be dismissed any more than one can deny they need air to breathe. For many the rejection of the modern left/right continuum makes about as much sense as saying that 2+2=5.
Now enter into the scene Pope Francis I. Some think he has come onto the stage of history from the left, others from the right, but the reality is that neither is true. On Tuesday during his flight from Cuba to the United States, as he was taking questions from reporters on the plane, he was asked if his views leaned left. CNA Daily News picks up the conversation.
"I'm sure that I haven't said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church," he said.
On a different flight, the Pope recalled, someone else asked him whether or not he had reached out a hand to the “popular movements”, and whether or not the Church would follow him.
"I told him, 'I'm the one following the Church,' "Pope Francis said.
"No, my doctrine on this, in Laudato si', on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And if it is necessary, I'll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh," he quipped.Those who are committed to the cause of modern progressive/liberalism or conservatism just can't seem to help themselves when it comes to trying to force someone into the modern liberal/conservative spectrum in which they assume everyone must fit. When Pope Francis was first elected as Pope, liberal/progressives were excited because of his initial comments in reference to the poor and homosexuality, but nothing he said was out of keeping with Catholic social teaching. The reality is he is not going to change such teaching, not only because he can't, but because as a good Catholic he has embraced the teaching of the church. In other words, Francis is not a liberal/progressive.
On the other hand, conservatives are working themselves into a lather over the Pope's comments on homosexuality and not judging, climate change and what he has referred to as the excesses of capitalism. It is important to note that Francis has not condemned capitalism in and of itself, but its excesses that exploit the poor and the most vulnerable. Conservatives are correct that Pope Francis is not a conservative, but neither is he a socialist or a communist. As much as it drives some liberal/progressives and conservatives crazy, Pope Francis does not fit into their view of reality. In other words, Pope Francis' views are rooted in his Catholic Christianity and not in conservative or liberal/progressive ideology.
Now, the purpose of this post is not to evaluate Francis views on any of the issues; rather, it is simply to try to make the case once again, that theological and political reality is much larger and more complex and more diverse than the narrow reality espoused by many liberal/progressives and conservatives. As Stanley Hauerwas has rightly noted, the church must move beyond the sterile and uninteresting modern liberal/conservative dichotomies. By the way, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI said everything Pope Francis has said before him. The difference is that Francis has chosen to change the conversation in reference to emphasis on other issues.
I find Pope Francis to be refreshing in part because he befuddles both conservatives and liberal/progressives. He reminds us that Christianity does not take its cues from the so-called wisdom of the current age, but from the wisdom of the ages that continues to speak and heal and save. That is not to say that he is right on all the issues, but he does not think about the concerns of our time as a liberal or a conservative, but as a Christian.
And if you have to label Francis to keep your world ordered, why not simply call him a Catholic... or even better... a Christian.