With his approval numbers hovering in low 40s, President Obama probably hopes that his first visit with Pope Francis will redound to his benefit. It very well may, but perhaps not like the President was expecting. For the first time in person, the Pope and the President met earlier today at the Vatican. In a week where the religious liberty rights of all Americans — both Catholic and non-Catholic — were argued before the United States Supreme Court, Pope Francis took the opportunity to speak truth to power.
I don’t often like to use that phrase, but I believe that Pope Francis, as did Pope Benedict XVI, shared truth with President Obama. Whether or not the President — a confessed admirer of the Pope — actually listens and acts that truth will be anyone’s guess. Personally, I highly doubt that President Obama, whose policies have been described as “progressively more hostile to Christianity,” will make any substantive changes that might make his political rhetoric (“a great admirer”) line up with his actions. It is one thing to say something. It is quite altogether different to actually do it. As the book of James in the New Testament puts it, “Faith without works is dead.”
For Pope Francis, faith takes center stage. And, regardless of the differences that some Protestants might have with certain aspects of the Catholic Church (which is not the subject of this post), when it comes to speaking for Christians in the world, Pope Francis speaks with a moral clarity that cannot be ignored by President Obama. Well, I guess it can be ignored, but it would not be wise. As a Southern Baptist, I recognize that Pope Francis, just as Pope John Paul II before him, can influence world leaders and lay folks alike:
However, as part of the greater Christian community worldwide (and yes, I do believe that Catholics are part of that community while Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not), Pope Francis I is “our Pope.” Now, before some of my Baptist brethren become unhinged, let me explain. I do not believe that any Pope, including this Pope, is infallible. Only Scripture is inerrant and only Jesus Christ was perfect. I also do not believe that Peter was the first Pope. When Jesus told Peter “on this rock I will build My Church,” I believe that Jesus was telling Peter (and us) that the Church would be built upon the rock of Peter’s confession of faith, “You (Jesus) are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and not upon Peter himself.
That being said, I believe that Pope Francis will be the symbol of Christianity for a watching world. What he says and does will not only affect the Roman Catholic Church, but Pope Francis’ words and actions will speak for all of Christendom, whether we like it or not. Of course, there will be some things that non-Catholics will not like when it comes to certain doctrinal issues that continue to differentiate Catholicism from other Christian groups (i.e., the importance of the Virgin Mary, the veneration of saints, and the ultimate meaning of the Gospel and Salvation to name but a few). But, it seems that on the major moral issues confronting not just American culture, but cultures the world over — abortion, euthanasia, and sexual ethics, including same-sex marriage/gay rights — that Pope Francis will continue to speak Biblical truth. Regardless of what actions the new Pope takes to confront poverty, his Biblical stance on the sanctity of human life (from conception to natural death) and marriage (one man and one woman) will not endear him to the liberal, anti-Catholic elements within the Catholic Church itself, much less to those outside the RCC.” (Pope Francis & non-Catholics: Is He Our Pope, Too?)
While we may never know all that was spoken between Pope Francis and President Obama, we can be fairly confident that the Pope did not neglect to share with President Obama a few things that the Lord requires off all people, including Pontiffs and Presidents:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)
What does that mean for President Obama and his policies? It means not just being concerned about those issues he thinks that Pope Francis would agree with him on, like immigration and poverty. That’s too politically expedient.. It doesn’t strike me that Pope Francis would let Mr. Obama off the hook that easily. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. If President Obama wants to be a sincere (as opposed to a fake) admirer of Pope Francis, then perhaps he might try making changes when it comes to his Administration’s policies on “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life (i.e., abortion) and conscientious objection (i.e., the contraceptive mandate for Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor).” I don’t think there is much hope for changing President Obama, but meeting with Pope Francis was a good place to start!