As I was driving yesterday, I found myself in one of those rural areas where the only radio stations I could pick up were the six NPR stations on the far left of the dial (I know, ironic isn’t it?). It was the top of the hour and I wanted to listen to the news, so NPR had to suffice. The lead-in was a recording of words that had been declared just moments before to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide: “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a Pope!”).
I listened for a half hour or so as one commentator after another gushed over this Pope. He is a Jesuit, not a Franciscan, and yet he chose the name Francis. Not only did he bless the people in St. Peter’s Square, but stood silently to allow the people to ask God for a blessing upon him. As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, he apparently shunned some of the luxuries that could have been his, choosing a simple apartment instead of more regal accommodations and foregoing a chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation. These were all touted as indicators of his extraordinary personal humility.
As the news coverage ended, so did my travels. I had to get back to work.
When I slowed down again last night, I checked my Facebook page. Interestingly, the perspective I found there was not so effusive.
I have Facebook friends from different walks of life. I have friends on the left and on the right, socially, politically and spiritually. I was interested to read their various takes on the election of Pope Francis.
My gay friends derided this Pope for his traditional values. He opposes gay marriage and adoption by gay people. Some of the comments ran along the lines of calling him an oblivious old man who has no idea of the lives of ordinary people. Some were considerably more acerbic than that. I have to say that I was struck by the irony of the intolerance of those who claim to be champions of tolerance, by the prejudice of those who don’t want others to judge them, and by the anti-Christian bigotry of those who consider anyone who disagrees with them to be a bigot.
Just as I was making those observations, I encountered the comments of my more conservative and religious friends. They, too, were decrying the election. To sum up their view: millions of deluded and superstitious Catholics were now celebrating the election of the newest Antichrist.
I just can’t go there. With any of them.
To my gay friends I say this: Any behavior which separates us from the God who made us is sin. God has expressly identified those behaviors (e.g., the Ten Commandments). Part of the Christian life is yielding to God’s prerogative to determine right from wrong. The idea that we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong is the original lie. Christians are not being judgmental or intolerant to assert that homosexuality is morally wrong, any more than when we assert that idolatry, blasphemy, dishonoring parents, murder, theft, lying or coveting is wrong. God says we must not do these things, lest we alienate ourselves from our very Source of life. I must turn away from any behavior that separates me from God, ask His forgiveness, and seek His grace to love Him better. And so must you. We can help one another in this journey if we will each put down our rocks long enough to join hands.
To my Christian friends on the right I say this: Really?!? Do you think anyone is going to read your Facebook comments and change their views because you called Catholicism “witchcraft” or the Pope the “Antichrist?” Do you think you are helping the Kingdom of God by displaying such contempt? I, too, am a child of the Reformation. As surely as Luther and Calvin, I reject the excesses of the Roman Church. But have you never read that Jesus wishes His disciples to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves?
And to my Roman Catholic friends, I say this: May you be like the Christians of Berea, who were more noble than others in that they searched the Scriptures every day to see if what was being taught to them was true. Cling to what is good, reject what is not.
Father, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner. I have done, and still do, so many things that cause tension in my relationship to You or to those You’ve made in Your image, even when I know better. I am sorry. I am determined to do better and I ask for Your power to work in me. I have been hateful toward others when You have shown incomprehensible love. So many times I have opted for what pleased me over what pleased You, for my own way over Your way. Please forgive me. You are my Father. Please help me to reflect Your character and nature.