A recent article on Buzzfeed Political reported that evangelicals are struggling with some of Pope Francis’ more liberal comments. Specifically, the ones about salvation and sexuality. In essence, Frankie said that salvation is possible for anyone who lives a moral life (that includes atheists). Not only that, he has made several (almost) accepting statements about people who are LGBT. For that, religious right culture warriors like Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, are concerned; Moore accused him of “severing the love of God from the holiness of God”. Of course, what’s really going on is Francis’ open and accepting tone threatens these gatekeepers of the religious right at a fundamental level: maintaining Christianity as an exclusive club requiring certain behaviors to belong is their raison d’être. If that’s gone, what will they do?
As interesting as that is, there are two other comments from the piece I want to look at. One is from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who said “Those that subscribe to Biblical orthodoxy know what the teachings are when it comes to sexual morality. You can’t change that unless you ignore or change the word of God.” The second was spoken by an attendee at the Values Voter Summit. Tracy Pyland, a Maryland mother of five, said “That’s infuriating. That man needs to read his Bible” and then added “I don’t mean any disrespect, but that man garners a lot respect and he should earn that respect. He should not have done that… He’s not doing the job he was given, which is to represent Christ in a positive light.”
Let’s take Perkins first. Tony’s idea that “biblical orthodoxy” is clear on sexual morality and anything that’s not in line with it ignores or changes the word of God is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. I say that for several reasons: 1) by referring to “biblical orthodoxy”, Perkins makes it sound like there is a firm consensus about how to interpret the Bible and what it says while nothing could be further from the truth; 2) the Bible is far from clear on many things and sexual morality is one of them. Sure, if you proof-text and take things out of context, it seems clear; but a responsible reading will show the exact opposite. 3) People change or ignore the word of God every day, including Perkins and his cohorts. Why does he hold to the Pope to a higher standard?
Now, for Ms. Pyland’s comments. Saying the Pope should read his Bible is like saying Albert Einstein should have taken a math class. One does not rise to the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world without at least being conversant with the Bible. And, how is he not “representing Christ in a positive light”? I’d say Francis’ words are more in line with Jesus’ teachings than anything that came out of the Values Voter Summit this year. Or, any other year, for that matter.
As I said earlier, Pope Francis’ words threaten the idea of Christianity as an exclusive club that only lets in a select few. Those select few see things changing and it scares the hell out of them. When people get scared, they say and do things that have little connection to their beliefs; it’s all about maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately, as bad as the previous comments sound, it’ll likely get worse before it gets better. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train. I just hope I’m here long enough to emerge into that light.