…the Pope is Catholic.
This morning I’ve been watching the installation service for Pope Francis. In part I did this because it was interesting but in part it was also because I am a news junkie and, when I was up at 5 AM, that is what the major news networks were showing. But it has given me time to ponder the whole process.
As an evangelical I have mixed emotions about the whole thing. On one hand it has nothing to do with me. Catholicism is not my faith. On the other hand I feel this selection matters. Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of over 1 billion people and what he says and does impacts the world. I can hardly be indifferent to it.
Even more, since to those outside our faith, other religious traditions or secularists, all “Christians” are more or less lumped together. Having lived many years in a country where national and/or ethnic identity and religious identity were essentially the same, I’ve come to see how not only does everything the Pope does fall on me, sometimes everything any white westerner does is deemed to reflect Christianity. I sometimes could amaze my Baptist friends by reporting that in Sri Lanka all white westerners were deemed to be Christians. As a result, since many such tourists drank heavily, there was a cultural assumption that alcoholism was symptomatic of Christianity.
So yes, I have been following this process and the reaction to this and one pattern is clear, a lot of folks seem shocked, shocked I tell you, that the Pope is Catholic. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, used the occasion of the new Pope’s installation to deplore Catholic theology. Advocates of same sex marriage were disappointed to find that Pope Francis doesn’t approve. Pro-choice advocates were not happy he is pro-life. Those who favor the ordination of women were dismayed to discover he does not.
While the answer to all of these people should be an incredulous “What did you expect?” it is the responses of Mohler and other evangelicals that trouble me. Let me begin by saying that I have many of the same differences with Catholic theology that Mohler does. But I have to wonder what the point is in bringing them out into the open at this time. This is particularly true in a case where people, Mohler being one of them, are widely read and seen as influential. In fact, one nickname he has, and one I am sure makes him wince, is “the Baptist Pope.”
As a Christian, like it or not, I need to accept that, to a world that lumps us all together, how I act and what I say reflects on all of us. When we air our internal theological differences in public we cause confusion and convince outsiders that we are fragmented and contentious; something Muslims are fond of saying proves that our entire faith is in error. In our times it is getting harder than ever to keep such discussions “in house.” If you read Mohler’s article it is clear he was speaking to evangelicals. But if you search the web for responses you will see that hundreds of non-Christians jumped on it.
Yes, the Pope is Catholic. Yes, that means I will have theological differences. But I also have significant theological commonalities. I certainly want to wish him well; certainly want to use his election as a time to dialogue with Catholic friends. Even when I need to differ I want to do so with grace.
All this leads me to a series of uncomfortable questions. I want to be, like the Berean church in Acts, someone who tests beliefs against Scripture. To what extent am I called to publically challenge, in this media age, everything I perceive to be error? How should I express my differences? In a world full of error and confusion do I really want to spend all my time proclaiming what I am against? Have I thought through my beliefs and come to a coherent philosophy of what I need to stand against and why? Do I show grace to others who have concluded differently or do I need to oppose them too?
I can’t help but think that every time I feel the need to “take a stand” that I may be so busy standing that I could neglect to follow the one who calls me to follow him. What do you think?