by Stephen Foster
By Stephen Foster, February 6, 2014
Let me begin with an unfortunately necessary disclaimer, especially on what is a site dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and information related to topics of contemporary interest to Adventists of every ideological stripe: I know that some may conceivably be uncomfortable discussing certain issues, and/or would rather discuss issues of their choosing or interest. If this, in any way, describes you, you may want to skip this blog post.
Our brother Clifford Goldstein wrote a book a while back entitled Day of the Dragon, in which he parallels contemporary events with historical or conventional SDA eschatological doctrine.
In one passage I recall him imagining that (the late) Mother Theresa might be profiled on a 60 Minutes-type of program in which her selfless and charitable acts toward the poor and infirmed are highlighted in juxtaposition to the caricatured SDA characterization of Roman Catholicism (as some bogeyman organization). This would, of course, have positioned Adventists as sort of kooky on national television, bringing subsequent wide-scale embarrassment to its membership.
This nightmarish public relations scenario has not occurred to this point. Or has it? I recall cringing in embarrassment any time David Koresh or the cultists in Waco, TX, were mentioned in connection to any previous SDA associations or memberships.
Now of course, suddenly there is a new pope, who is suddenly very popular. I use the word “suddenly” advisedly because the previous pope suddenly abdicated his position.
The circumstances that afforded this pope the opportunity to ascend to his position were historically rare and therefore cannot be discounted, but we only have the reported reasons provided for his predecessor’s abdication and perhaps really shouldn’t speculate beyond those official reasons.
In any case, Pope Francis I is suddenly much more popular—particularly with those of liberal persuasions with regard to economic and political issues—than was his predecessor.
This is significant because (as with Seventh-day Adventists?) it was largely liberals who were somewhat disgruntled with much of the official doctrinal and policy approaches of Roman Catholicism. (Interestingly enough, however, with Adventists in America the disaffected liberals are often politically conservative—although this is undoubtedly due largely to ethnic, sociological, and historical differences in perspectives.)
With Roman Catholics in America, there appears to be less of a political/theological dichotomy. Politically liberal Catholics seem to also be relatively liberal in their approaches to traditional Catholic teachings on such things as married priests, contraception, abortion, evolution, and gay rights. On the other hand, politically conservative Catholics appear to be equally as religiously conservative, at least in terms of Catholic doctrine.
But it is in the sense of unifying these ideological wings of Roman Catholicism (and Catholics) that this pope appears ingenious.
Liberal Catholics in the (so-called liberal) media have been particularly impressed and even enamored by Pope Francis I’s statements and stances. It is these liberal Catholics, who have recently championed family planning, abortion, and gay rights, and who have been most at odds with traditional Catholic teaching and stances on these issues, and are in some cases estranged from Catholicism, who may be returning.
These Catholics, and even President Obama, have been so impressed and happy with Francis’s statements relative to poverty and wealth in society that they can hardly contain themselves. MSNBC’s Chris Hays, host of All In with Chris Hays, has raised the possibility that Pope Francis I is perhaps the “best pope ever.” Check it out. If by chance you think Mr. Hays is alone in his thinking, think again.
Actually, many would consider the pope’s “enlightened” (“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”) position regarding Catholic priests who have a homosexual orientation to be more accepting, less judgmental, and more “Christ-like” than was that of his predecessor, whose attitudes toward gay priests and homosexuality generally (especially in the wake of a widespread scandal) was never nearly as forthcoming. Furthermore, the pope's approach may be more accepting than the attitudes of conservative Protestants, including those of Seventh-day Adventists (including mine?). This alone is winning the pope popularity.
As has been indicated in our preceding blog (https://atoday.org/article/2198/opinion/foster-stephen/2013/undeniable-plausibility), the President of the United States is clearly among the smitten, and he is scheduled to meet the new pope next month to cap off his next European trip. This is not unusual, as American Presidents routinely meet Catholic popes. (Indeed, President Obama had of course met with Pope Benedict XVI early in his first term.)
What is unusual is the willingness or eagerness of the U.S. President to cite or quote the pope as an authority in seeking (or bolstering) support of his policy and programmatic approaches to alleviate poverty.
“The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality” reported White Press secretary Jay Carney in a prepared statement.
We are now to understand that the new pope’s approach is actually strategic, at least according to an actual papal voter, and perhaps the most influential American cardinal, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York City. In a recent Meet the Press interview, he says that the new pope has not only instituted a change in tone, but also “a change in strategy. A pope by his nature cannot make doctrinal changes. He can make a lot of changes in the way, the style, the manner in which it’s presented.”
Earlier in this interview, regarding what we’ve termed this pope’s pope-ularity, Cardinal Dolan had said that “I can’t walk down the streets of New York, which I do a lot, without people stopping me and saying, ‘Cardinal, I’m not even a Catholic, I’m not even a believer, but I love Pope Francis, and thanks a lot for voting for him.’ Because they love him; you put the finger on it I think when you spoke about the humanity—his simplicity, his sincerity, his genuiness, his humility. We as Catholics believe God came to us through the Person, through the humanity of His Son Jesus; and I think Jesus is coming to us as Catholics, and again to the world, through the humanity, the simplicity, the sincerity, of Pope Francis.” That’s saying something.
However, what Time magazine managing editor Nancy Gibbs wrote in explaining “The Choice” of Francis as the magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year, says something too. Gibbs writes, “…in a very short time, a vast global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him.” Need anyone say more?