Pope Francis vs Conservatives: What’s at The Heart of His Message?

(photo of The Vatican courtesy of Wikimedia)

MUNCIE, Indiana – As we pointed out in Part I of our discussion about the writings of Pope Francis, he has shaken the core of the conservative party, or at least those who’ve been willing to share their thoughts about it. I refer to it as a spiritual smack down – based on the negative attitudes against the poor and our idolatry of money, a well deserved wake up call.

To remind everyone, 78% of U.S. citizens are Christians. Of those, only 23% claim to be Catholics. While the Pope represents the Catholic Church, in his Apostolic Exhortation, he makes no such distinction – he refers to everyone as Christians. This inclusive perspective is at the heart of his message.

He wants us to focus on the words of Christ – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” That’s Christianity, and Pope Francis is calling all Christians to serve the poor.

Needless to say, our track record this past decade has not been very good. For nearly 30 years, we have focused on shifting the world’s wealth into the hands of a few and set up corporations and policies which extract wealth out of communities into the same few bank accounts. This centralized wealth has been used to destroy our democracy, our planet, and our social and economic structures. Even attempts to give healthcare to the masses has been met with contempt and assaulted from every imaginable angle, and even some newly created ones.

Ken Langone, the billionaire founder of Home Depot took exception to Pope Francis’s comments about capitalism by claiming, “The Pope doesn’t understand the rich in America.”

Well, we’re pretty sure Pope Francis does understand the rich in America, but remember, the Pope is referring to  2000+ year old spiritual laws which were used by highly enlightened founders of this country when framing our constitution. Pope Francis is communicating Gods desire for us – we the people.

Turns out Langone is leading a capital campaign for a catholic cathedral and a targeted large dollar figure donor took exception to the Pope’s message against capitalism, so he was withholding his money. Langone, his rich donor, Rush Limbaugh, along with Fox News have all misunderstood his message – not surprising.

The idea of possessing significant wealth inherently makes it harder to behave morally is a bedrock of Christian ethical thought. In a well-known passage from the New Testament, a rich man asks Christ what he must do to fully follow God’s law. When Christ responds “sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor,” the man walks away dejected, prompting Christ to observe that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Any wonder why those who worship money would take offense to the Pope’s writings?

And for the protestants who would claim the Pope doesn’t speak for them, Pope Francis isn’t writing to Catholics – he’s specifically speaking to Christians. Furthermore, he clarifies spirit from religion or doctrine, ritual, places of worship, along with the dogma leading toward exclusion e.g. in order to belong here, you must do this, or can’t do that. As his opening statements explain, he is urging Christians to ignite their spiritual lights.

If you focus on the words of Jesus, there is no dogma. Pope Francis is putting Christ and the Holy Spirit back into Christianity. He’s talking about unity, not a religion that excludes. He’s talking about taking this message to the poor, as Jesus did. He’s talking about the absolute necessity for us to take care of the poor, to do something for them. We are our brothers keeper…the “Christian” message.

If you don’t have that, you’re not talking about Christianity, you’re talking about something else.

This is one of the reasons conservatives are upset over the Pope’s visit and exhortation. He’s identified what we knew was at the center of conflict. How can you call yourself a Christian when there is so much hate for your fellow-man? You cannot despise and love a man at the same time. When you hear someone quote scripture to justify excluding someone, then you’re not talking about Christianity – it’s something else.

These conflicting messages within conservatives, or more specifically, the “political right”, and the “religious right”, have raised eyebrows from politicians within the GOP ranks. Some public servants have declared new party affiliation as a democrat because of the extreme behaviors coming within the GOP.

The past five years have been extremely harsh for the poor and working poor in this country. We’ve seen politicos signing policies intentionally hurting the poor in this country – even Governor Mike Pence plays along to garner votes from the “evangelicals” by insisting the poor have skin in the game by paying a tax on their healthcare via a mandatory health savings account.

Pope Francis is moving away from orthodoxy or official doctrine to the spiritual side of the church where we “walk and talk like Jesus”. We live the Golden Rule, not just preach it. Jesus is the one who reached out to the prostitute to say, “Your sins are forgiven you.”

Jesus was the great evangelizer, a reformer of a wealth centered ecclesiastical system, and our new Pope wants us to walk with this spirit.

Read and ponder the words of Pope Francis taken directly from his exhortation:

With this newness he is always able to renew our lives and our communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new”.

Pope Francis is taking us on a path of spiritual renewal where we look on old systems with a new set of eyes e.g. our economical, political, educational, social and religious systems.

He’s going to lead by example. He is making the changes he wants to see in the world. He’s instructing us to renew our commitment through a ‘personal encounter’ with God or an enlightened being, then use the inspiration to create new forms of expressing spirituality in our harsh material world. Our role is not to make life harder for people – it’s about making life easier for everyone.

As he does this, he’s challenging old beliefs, old dogma, old systems that may have worked at one time, but are failing us under the world we now live in. Deep down inside all of us, we know the uprisings across the globe is evidence that something is not right. It’s a sign of dis-ease with our human condition. The Pope is telling us this manifestation we see as political and economic unrest is a spiritual disease. It’s not the leaders who are failing, but the systems themselves are flawed.

People are weak…we make mistakes. Jesus is forgiveness, joy and love. We’re not seeing these traits across the globe. I’m not sure what sort of spirituality is being spouted by many from the far right – in fact, those who follow Ayn Rand don’t even believe in Christianity since Ayn herself was an atheist. She espoused the “rugged individualism” creed we see from Tea Party leadership. It in no way resembles Christianity or the concept of “we” for which this country was founded.

By challenging our rigid belief systems (it must be done this way), it creates fear within the ranks of the status quo. Those who have prospered under a system of privilege will not like this message. Those who benefit from an economic and political structure where money so easily influences our government (democracy) to serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many will not like this message. Those politicians who are paid handsomely and receive outlandish benefits for carrying out the will of monied interests will definitely not like the message of Pope Francis.

From the Pope’s exhortation:

Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer”. In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that “he has loved us first” (1 Jn 4:19) and that he alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.

It doesn’t take much effort to see how this will drive some people crazy. They’ll claim the Pope is trying to influence the political discussion. The Pope examined our spiritual condition, and the exhortation are his findings.

Author Thomas Cahill was on Bill Moyers talking about the Pope this week as I was writing this piece. He commented about those people who cannot let go of their rigid ideological beliefs. I was smiling throughout most the discussion as I thought of family members who are like this, co-workers, colleagues and even neighbors. The transformational process of “letting go and letting God” is THEE greatest struggle of mind over faith or spirit. Our way might not be working, but turning over the outcome to something we cannot encounter with our senses (faith)

Our country is going through this now – our entire global community is going through this, but those most resistant to change are struggling the most. Thomas Cahill said this:

And it’s driving the– it’s not just driving conservatives crazy, it’s driving crazy the people who can only see things one way. You know, they’re more than a political conservative. They’re psychological types. And they’re psychological types within the religion. Anybody who grew up in any religion knows these people. They’re the people who everything must be this way. It can never be that way.

And he rhetorically responds, “Guess what? It can.

So, before we can move into the economic discussion, let’s understand that Pope Francis is analyzing our spiritual condition and is telling us our organizations are flawed, including the church. We’ve lost our focus on what is important, and the unrest from people around the globe show it’s time for change. He’s calling on our institutional leaders to focus on aligning our will to Gods will. He wants us focusing on unity and inclusion, not on using ancient doctrine to exclude one another or to justify our excesses at others expense.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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