WAKE FOREST, N.C., September 22, 2013 — Pope Francis’s comments on the social and moral issues of homosexuality and abortion have been widely reported this week, often with the conclusion that the pope thinks the church should not concern itself with those issues.
The problem with news on-the-fly — that is, grabbing bits and pieces of a story — is that the conclusions drawn are often wrong. It is not unusual for the New York Times or Associated Press to bring the lead story, and other news outlets to repeat the condensed version of what they reported verbatim.
It was the initial understanding of this columnist that Pope Francis gave moral sanction to homosexuality and abortion, while chiding the Christian church for coming out against those issues.
It turns out that is not what the Pope said.
The pope’s comments were initially made in Italian, leaving non-Italian speakers to draw their conclusions from second-hand reports. They were also reported without reference to Catholic doctrine, which makes a difference to the way that they are interpreted. Here are some of the germane quotes by Francis, as reported by the British Broadcasting Company.
“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
The Pope is correct if he means that adamant insistence on following doctrine should only be aimed at those within the church, not to society as a whole. Saint Peter wrote about strict adherence to doctrine and judgment against those who have a life example, whether open or hidden, contrary to such doctrine.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NKJV)
According to Peter, doctrine is applicable to those within the household of faith, not to those who are without.
God’s Word, that is, the Bible, puts forth precepts that are unwavering and not subject to amendment, regardless of how often societal norms may change. Scriptural authority is settled, and its concepts, unlike subsequent versions of computer software, have no need for fixes, corrections or amendments. “Forever, O LORD, thy Word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89)
“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
“The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
Both of Francis’s comments have scriptural precedence and authority. It is imperative that those outside of the faith know that they can come to a place of refuge. Jesus Himself made it a point to mingle with and get to know those who were outside of traditional social and religious circles of His day.
But the religious, self-righteous crowd were condescending, and even criticized Jesus’ actions: “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9: 10-13, NKJV)
Most Christians would concur with the pope’s sentiments.
“This Church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal Church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
Francis may have missed the mark here. The Church is not universal in scope or all inclusive.
The Church is not intended to be overly restrictive “us-four-and-no-more.” But it is not only erroneous, but it is also dangerous to imply that all mankind is included in a universal church.
There are a plethora of religious views, but only one, Christianity, adheres to the doctrine of salvation through the atonement purchased through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of atonement is exclusively Christian, not embraced or taught by any other faith.
When it comes to matters of abortion, biblical scripture is clear in outlining that there is a human being, not a blob of tissue, that develops in the mother’s womb. This definition has nothing to do with viability outside of the womb.
None of us are viable stark naked in Antarctica. Humanity is not about viability.
With respect to homosexuality, scripture is clear in its outline of what God expects from His creation. But at the same time, we are free to choose.
Consider the explanation by Dr. Ravi Zacharias in this video on the practice of homosexual behavior as it relates to a professing Christian:
We should not be disillusioned to think that our ability to exercise this freedom to choose relieves us of any accountability to the God that holds our next breath in His hand. “The God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.” (Daniel 5:23b, NKJV)
Pope Francis got some of it right on the balance of the Church’s message between mercy and judgment.
It is incumbent upon each of us to search the scriptures to see if he rightly divided the Word in other areas. Let’s blow the dust off our Bibles and delve into what the Word says.
Bill Randall serves as a voluntary Community Chaplain in Wake Forest, NC.
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