With Pope Francis set to visit Washington, D.C., this week, it’s a little disconcerting that a Republican member of Congress is planning to boycott his address to Congress — and a prominent conservative columnist is preemptively attacking him on the pages of the Washington Post. (Arizona Rep. Gosar is a Catholic, while George Will — whom I like a lot — is a self-described “amiable, low voltage atheist.”)
This is not to suggest most (or even many) conservatives are hostile to Francis on the eve of his visit, but we’re probably just one incident away from a trend — which would then become a media “narrative.”
Here’s the thing: We should never expect any Pope’s theology to perfectly align with any political ideology’s orthodoxy. In 2003, for example, Pope John Paul II — who helped win the Cold War — called the coming Iraq invasion a “defeat for humanity.” His proclamation sounds softer to Republican ears today than it might have a dozen years ago, when George W. Bush was making the case for intervention.
Likewise, we shouldn’t expect Pope Francis’s theology to perfectly align with today’s conservatism.
What we might do, however, is welcome the opportunity his visit presents. Culture is more important than politics, and Francis is a decidedly pop culture star. To put it in perspective, here’s what I mean: He’s not on the cover of National Review; he’s on the cover of People.
Americans who would never pay attention to what an American priest or preacher has to say — or what a political candidate says — will be exposed to a positive message about Christianity. What is more, he’s preaching a Christian message that is decidedly countercultural. In many respects (particularly, as it concerns our culture) his message is decidedly conservative.
Should political conservatives preemptively attack this man — just because he worries about climate change and doesn’t wholly embrace Austrian economics? For some, the answer is an unqualified “yes!” Francis is the most popular Christian leader in the world, so, of course, our instinct is to attack him. This is silly and counterproductive.
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Culture is more important than politics, but that doesn’t mean politics takes a rest this week. A friend of mine suggests that if embattled Speaker John Boehner sees the writing on the wall, then the perfect time for him to “retire” would be immediately after the Pope addresses Congress.
There is no “intel” — no leak to suggest this plan in the works — just a hunch that Boehner, a practicing Catholic, might have a narrow window of time to exit on his own terms — and go out on top.
I’m not predicting this, but it’s also not an absurd theory. Let’s put it at 15 percent likelihood.