And… here we go.
Not that long ago, I raised a question in another post regarding the implications of the Pope being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It’s a topic I’m interested in not only as a Protestant pastor, but also as a former Catholic. I once had a lot of baggage in transitioning out of the Catholic church, but now only seem to have a “carry-on” about it I can’t seem to get rid of.
Please forgive me for being honest about that.
Maybe it’s why I was personally saddened by a recent blog post a friend shared with me where Pope Francis denied the existence of hell, declared that “all religions are true,” and other provocative things. Saddened… and yet, I didn’t question it. It seemed to affirm some of my old-school Catholic baggage and fears about how people are just waiting to hear what they want to hear from a religious leader so they can check out of a real journey with God. Here’s a quote from that blog attributed to Pope Francis:
“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”
In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:
“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”
I came across the news when in the midst of a busy day a friend and congregation member sent me a Facebook note and asked me for my opinion on it. Wanting to honor his interest, I quickly read the article and became broken over it. I feel the tension all the time even as a pastor to honor they trust others put in me, and while I don’t have the corner market on Truth I believe God does and we need to figure out what that means:
- There is truth: It’s illogical to say “All religions are true.” It’s a lazy cultural concept that does more harm than good, mainly because we’re so concerned about making sure we don’t offend anyone that we fail to realize how offensive that ideal is. People should be offended – laws exist to offend people away from breaking them; homes are built with locks on them to offend potential criminals from invading where they do not belong; Truth exists so that lies do not become dominant.
- There is a truth about God: Either He exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, our opinions of Him don’t define Him; rather, His revelation about Himself is what matters most, beyond opinion. No individual (including a Pope) can have the definitive word on this. If you believe God does not exist, you may gain some insight from Pascal’s Wager as a starting point.
Again… not once did I wonder if what the Pope said was actually something he said. He confirmed my worst fears about his potential role in Christendom, just as he would have likely confirmed some people’s best dreams for something he might say.
That’s really what I’m writing about.
Twelve hours later, I realized that this was all a hoax. According to a Catholic media page as well as Snopes.com, the story was planted into internet circulation by the blogger of the Diversity Chronicle who claims (via a disclaimer) that his content is “largely satirical.”
“Twelve hours later.” Twelve hours. In that time, I’d shared it with my wife, formed conclusions about the Pope, replied by to my friend, entertained a Rob Bell reference, and tightened my resolve regarding what Christianity will look like in the immediate future based on the influence of one man. I had to go back and correct all of that.
I know I could have kept this a private matter, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
So I sincerely apologize, and I welcome your judgment – also, your prayers. As you prepare for that, I’d offer my motives:
- My previously confessed Catholic baggage. I won’t go down that road with you here, but will happily talk with you one-on-one if it’s of interest.
- The tension in Christendom of witnessing our heroes, frenemies and theological adversaries take a public nose dive that we’re left to sweep up the remnants of.
- A passage in the back of the Bible (and always somehow in the back of my mind) that “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
- An egotistical understanding that I am doing my best on a regular basis to be “theologically correct” in everything I do. Again… please note… an “egotistical understanding.” I so appreciate a Rich Mullins quote: “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing..”
The world is changing… and apparently so is the local church. My wife grew up within the care structure of Christianity (whereas I came into it as a teenager). She once observed how it used to feel like when she was in a church gathering that it was a chance to feel camaraderie with like-minded people. Even if it wasn’t true, it “felt” like people were trying to hold the same Christian worldview. Now in any given church service you might be sitting next to someone who lives/votes/loves/hates completely different than you do – and we truly have to figure out how to forge relationships through tension.
I’d also point out one more thing – someone is waiting for you to say something that affirms their criticisms, baggage or beliefs about you.
Maybe this isn’t about the Pope as much as it’s about all of us. His sound-bytes have a louder echo, but so do yours and mine in our circles. Maybe this isn’t just about my motives for my reaction, but your motives for whatever your reaction might be to that… or even this.
Moving forward, you will have to decide more than which dogmas or religious rock stars you will be inappropriately loyal to or get inappropriately steamed over. You have to decide how you will be loyal to Jesus while giving space for loving others through your own biases.
Again, I welcome your judgment.
I likewise also welcome your confession…
but just so there’s no confusion, I welcome your confession as a Protestant pastor… with a Catholic carry-on that I can’t seem to get rid of.