The Economist today asked if Pope Francis is liberal.
I’ve watched this media exercise for thirty years since John Paul II. Here’s how it goes: the media judges the Pope according to their assumed secular moral preconceptions. Is the Pope fulfilling our moral expectations: abortion, gay marriage, divorce – these are mentioned.
Then things take a curious turn for Americans. The Economist is actually asking, “Is the Pope liberal theologically, doctrinally, and ethically?” Americans start to scratch their heads at this point because we don’t conceive of liberal and conservative in theological terms. We think “Hilary Clinton’s politics or Donald Trump’s politics?”
The Economist declares Francis is NOT liberal because he hasn’t fulfilled their mandate. Francis has not changed any Catholic moral positions. He is, however, kind and compassionate toward outcasts, outliers, and offenders.
American Christians exhibit a very strange convoluted understanding of conservative vs liberal. Octogenarian American civil rights advocate Dr. John Perkins of Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org) said, “When I talked about Jesus they called me a Christian. But when I wanted to help the poor they called me liberal.”
I think most evangelical Christians believe Francis is liberal because he wants to help refugees and immigrants, even though he is very conservative theologically. Things have come to a pretty pass when conservative Christians cannot distinguish between what is liberal and conservative. We need a larger vocabulary and more consciousness.
When the media (and I really like The Economist by the way) asks ‘is the Pope liberal?’ it is like they are asking ‘do you beat your wife before you start drinking or after?’ The question is loaded. They assume the Pope is only responsible to culture’s morality and ethics and not Jesus Christ. There is a time and place for the church to listen to culture. Indeed, the Catholic Church has erred huge on not listening to the voice of those sexually abused by priest. They should have caught it on their own. Fail.
But the universal church does not have a culture, ethic or Bible that teaches or even suggests it normative to abuse others, or ignore the voiceless, or think “saving souls” is more important than “feeding the poor” (Matthew 7:22-24 – ‘…I never knew you’). On the contrary, compassion and sacrifice are our values, morals, and ethic. Jesus dies on the cross for all. This cruciform love IS the gospel (note Philippians 2:5-11 – ‘he emptied himself’).
Our morals are not determined by the media or any other secular moralism. Christians are free from fear of immigrants, refugees, human identity issues, economics, and politics. We are free in Christ. We too can take up our cross and die to self and others. This is our history. Heroes may conquer kingdoms and rights, but Saints die for the sake of others, and usually at the hands of power. (Yes, I’m still on my Hero v Saint kick).
With respect to this cruciform love is the Pope liberal or conservative? I won’t say because I think the question is loaded wrong by culture’s definition of the terms. But I would say Pope Francis is lavish with compassion. He is not afraid. And neither should we be afraid.
Rather, I want to ask a different question: “Is Pope Francis on his way to being a Hero or a Saint?” Talk amongst yourselves.