What everyone missed about Pope Francis’ comment on gays

It’s become the pope quote heard around the world.

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

When Pope Francis uttered these words after World Youth Day, the media exploded. Liberals claimed that with one sentence the pope had overturned the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Conservatives reached for the catechism, pointing out that the Holy Father had simply called for compassion, not any change of doctrine.

Nobody really talked about what the pope actually said. If someone is gay, he said, and searches for the Lord and has goodwill.

Actually, let’s break that down even more:

If someone is gay and searches for the Lord.

In fact, let’s pare that down as well:

If someone searches for the Lord.

There are volumes of theology, years of prayer, and and a monumental struggle against the self in that sentence. Because when anyone, gay or straight, sets out in search of Jesus Christ, they are not only not to be judged, they are to be praised and admired.

I’m not talking about a liberal search for transcendence, which is usually a yoga class or hippie vision quest and always seem to result in the same thing, i.e. the validation of the prejudices and narcissism of those partaking. Furthermore, many liberal elites don’t even have the basic good will that Pope Francis referred to as a requisite for acceptance; trashing Christianity is just too valuable a tool to gain and maintain status in their social circles, and to actually read Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, with an open mind and heart would be a betrayal of their own secular faith. Bill Maher will never be bothered to read Mere Christianity. So if good will is required, you can instantly eliminate about half the population.

But the search for the Lord is also not, in my view, an evangelical born-again shot of love either. I don’t fully trust a conversion where in a matter of seconds a man goes from Anthony Weiner to Kirk Cameron. Such conversions are real, and the Holy Spirit may indeed be involved in many of them, but it tends to leave the believer in the platonic state of Forrest Gump: The Bible said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

No, the real quest to get to know Jesus is a journey that takes years, and once you think you’ve reached him you find there are greater depths — and depths beneath those depths. My own journey began over two decades ago, when began to ask the questions that are part of every human life. How did the universe come into being? What is consciousness? What happens when we die? Love is a tangible thing, a force that can take over your entire person. What is it, what is its purpose, and where does it come from?