I am not writing anything new here. Anyone who follows thoughtful conservative journals that have Catholic writers will hear a common theme. The difference here is that I am not Roman Catholic. I am, for what its worth, an Anglican of conservative traditional bent and active Pentecostal influence. (I fit in well with our African churches.)
More pertinent to this post, I am something of a C. S. Lewis “mere” Christian. I pray regularly our Lord’s garden prayer, that we as the church would be one, and I read widely from Christians of various backgrounds including great Catholic and Orthodox writers.
So, I am glad that many non-Catholics are taking the time to read from Pope Francis’ recent exhortation on evangelism. In fact, I would encourage you to read it here.
However, what I find discouraging is the number of soundbite hunters from various perspectives that seem to be commenting on this recent exhortation without really reading it.
Particularly, among evangelicals and post-evangelicals there are the conservative fearful and liberal ignorant. Both seem convinced by a few points out of context that Francis is promoting a church of Marxist socialism no longer concerned with traditional morality when nothing can be further from the truth.
If folks would actually read the document in total they would find his statements in line with centuries of Catholic teaching dating back through Aquinas to Augustine and packed with references to scripture. Furthermore he states plainly in many instances that everything here should be taken in the context of Catholic teaching. He quotes extensively from the three previous popes and, furthermore, sounds amazingly like he has been reading a great deal of G. K. Chesterton.
Conservative evangelical fear, to be fair, is rooted in a certain type of ignorance–the persistent conservative Christian naivete that the teachings of Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ are somehow reconcilable (read more about that here), as well as their ongoing ignorance of Catholic doctrine.
Still, of much greater interest, does it strike no one else as absolutely hilarious that liberals are excited about a document calling church members to a deeper commitment to evangelize the world for Jesus Christ; in fact, it steps far beyond the call to personal evangelism and leaps into the bold declaration of the church’s call to sweeping cultural evangelism.
The very reason for the focus on the poor in this document is that the gospel is “good news to the poor.” Pope Francis calls the church to remember that reality. But he also has a world-wide perspective. Part of his call to recognize the poor involves the recognition that wealthy internationalists in western cultures are destroying traditional cultures. Take for instance this point section 62:
In many countries globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated…This is often true also in the field of social communications which, being run by centres mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up [furthermore] the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family”
I could write pages on his rebuke of “entertainment industries.” The liberal post evangelical embrace of the corrupt and corrupting entertainment industry–the failure to recognize it as a mammon loving industry at all–is as brazenly hypocritical and contradictory as the conservative infatuation with Rand. But that would take us from our general track.
He proceeds from the discussion on traditional cultures to a discussion of secularization, which he says:
tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism. These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood which are so vulnerable to change. As the bishops of the United States of America have rightly pointed out, while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid for everyone, “there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights. Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom”.
We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all treated as being of equal importance– and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.
So, take heart my conservative friend. Pope Francis is no closet liberal Marxist set on selling out to moral relativism like so many church leaders have done. More importantly, take time to read it. It is a Faith, Hope, and Love filled pastoral letter that we would all do well to hear, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Particularly, we all need to hear the message of Joy and the call to reject “spiritual worldliness.”
And take thought, my liberal friend. This is not the liberal pope the media industries are trying to create. If you take the time to read his letter, you might be challenged by a pastoral call to absolute ethics that is rooted in love and joy and human dignity–an ethic that can save you from the spiritual wasteland of post-modern relativism.