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Who am I to judge?

July 31, 2013

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

That line from Pope Francis coming out of an impromptu press conference on the plane ride back from Brazil was picked up out of all that was said on his trip and broadcast around the world.  It set off a firestorm of speculation about the implications of that remark.  Some were joyous, believing this signified a new beginning in the Catholic Church’s attitude toward gays.  Others were dismayed.  Still others took haste to point out that the official position of the church on homosexuality has not changed.  And yet others who wanted change were doubtful, even suspicious.

For me the biggest shock of the matter was in the last five words – “who am I to judge?”  I am not Catholic but I’ve always felt that as Pope judging was, well, his job.  Wasn’t he actually given that hat and scepter and ring and all as a sign that he was supposed to be the judge on such things?

In any event, with just a tad of effort I found 41 detailed and thoughtful explanations of the implications of his comment online.  I stopped at 41 not because I ran out of choices but because it was lunch time.  I am not adding my analysis because I don’t have one.

I do like those last five words however; and I am a little amazed that the leader of the world’s largest denomination might say them.  I mean the pressure to know all the facts about God must be pretty great when a million people decide you are infallible and are waiting for you to render judgment.

Actually “I don’t know” is one of my favorite answers to questions of applied theology.  I like it so much that sometimes I will use it even when I think I might actually know the answer.  But I have found that “who am I to judge” does a better job of keeping the conversation, and the friendship, going than “let me explain that to you.”

I really doubt that Francis is on a mission to change Catholic theology.  But he does seem to be on a mission to change Catholics.  From his rock-star reception in Brazil it seems that he is off to a good start.  What might this teach us over in evangelical land? Here are a couple of guesses.

–          Nobody likes a know-it-all.  I can’t help but wonder if gathering all the evidence for our theology and then demanding a verdict actually does much good in helping people get to know Jesus.

–          Nobody is a know-it-all.  I sometimes think that study Bibles are the bane of the church.   Christian book stores are full of them so there seems to be an endless supply of people who make scholarly comments about every verse in the Bible.  Have you ever read one where the author says “I actually don’t know what this passage means?”  Yet their very number shouts to us that we can, and should, strive to be as learned as they are.

–          Nobody needs to be a know-it-all.  I think the first step toward really getting to know Jesus is realizing that I will never be able to figure him out.  The day that I stopped defining Christian growth as being ever more certain about an ever-increasing number of theological issues is the day the majesty and mystery of Jesus started to come into focus.

So where does a path that allows for us to say that there are a lot of things we don’t know the answer to take us?  Who am I to judge?

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