More and more, conservatives who should be fans of Pope Francis are expressing concern over his comments. For example, speaking of the Pontiff’s recent interview, Rod Dreher (a former Catholic) writes,
“I find this incoherent from a Christian perspective. I don’t see how one evangelizes on this. It seems that Francis deeply wants to “make the world a better place,” which is obviously commendable, but that he doesn’t have any interest in making converts.
… “This is the Social Gospel, is it not? It should be obvious why this sort of thing concerns people who worry that the transcendent nature of the faith, and its hard teachings, are at risk of being lost.”
In response, RedState co-founder Josh Trevino, posted a note on Facebook: “Since I disagreed with Rod Dreher last time, this time I’ll agree with him! I’m running out of apologetics for Pope Francis.”
In recent weeks, conservatives such as Ed Morrissey (who is a Catholic) and I, have defended the Pope’s comments. We weren’t alone, of course. In fact, until recently, conservative Catholics and Protestants, alike, have mostly attempted to argue that Francis was being taken out of context (or that the full context of his statements were not widely understood by the press.)
But the tide seems to be turning, and if this is a harbinger of things to come, it could be the end of an alliance that has lasted for more than three decades. Disagreements over theology and spiritual matters aside, conservatives of all faiths loved Pope John Paul II (even when he opposed the Iraq war), and should be rooting for Francis, too. Just as the former played an important role in winning the Cold War, you don’t have to be Catholic to believe the Pontiff’s moral authority can be a force for good in the natural world.
But there is a worry that Francis is now returning to a sort of pre-John Paul II, “Vatican II” brand of Catholicism which stressed non-judgmentalism. As Dreher noted at Time, this was an era when “Many American bishops deployed the priceless Christian language of love and forgiveness in an effort to cover their own foul nakedness in a cloak of cheap grace.”
The hope is that he finds a way to find some balance. That seems to be the advice of Russell D. Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (obviously not Catholic), who recently called Francis’ comments a “theological wreck.” He then elaborated with this:
“If Pope Francis wishes to reclaim the primacy of the gospel, he must simultaneously speak with kindness to those outside of its reach and speak of the need for good news. What these interviews seem continually to do is what evangelical theologian Carl Henry warned Protestants of in the 20th century, of severing the love of God from the holiness of God. God is, Henry said against both the liberal Social Gospel and obscurantist and angry fundamentalism, the God of both justice and justification.”
In recent years, the Church’s rhetoric may have come across as too judgmental, so there is still hope this is merely a rhetorical course correction, and not a theological shift.
Either way, the honeymoon is over.