Last week, Pope Francis I walked to the back of his Papal Airplane on his way back from dancing on the beach in Brazil and surprised all the reporters with his statements about gay priests. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Surely, Francis was joking. The pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church always judges; that’s his job. For 2,000 years, the man who wears the papal tiara has always been the supreme judge of good and evil, and surely he knows that all these “gay priests” are evil. Why, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, called homosexuality “an intrinsic moral evil” and the Church has always made gay men and women feel like outsiders. Catholic bishops have even confused homosexuality with pedophilia and condemned both as if they were the same. No, the judgment has been made, believe me. And yet here we have Francis saying: “Who am I to judge?”
I feel like I’m standing on top of a snow-capped mountain in Colorado, breathing in the fresh cool air of a new day. Pope Francis has brought new life to a stagnant church; new thinking to a smug infallible theology; new hope for millions. I know all you Baptists can’t appreciate the significance of this event, but let me give you an example. It’s like Dr. Kirby Godsey when he was the President of Mercer, publishing a book entitled: “When We Talk About God, Let’s Be Honest.” Or his recent one: “Is God a Christian?” Francis and Godsey would be great friends; both of them are absolutely fearless.
Of course, the Vatican newspapers launched an immediate “explanation” of the pope’s words: “Well, he didn’t really veer away from the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, he just struck a more compassionate tone.” And the Italian daily La Repubblica said: “Francis would probably agree with Benedict’s writings on homosexuality -- but they really don’t interest him.” I doubt that Francis would agree with Benedict, but I do agree that those old shaggy ideas do not interest him in the least.
What does interest Francis is something that will shock many of the men who are walking around in black cassocks. Francis is interested in helping people to live in “the light of God.” It reminds me of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., quote: Let’s judge each other by the “content of our character,” not by the color of our skin or our sexual preferences.
Francis also told those reporters on the plane that while Pope John Paul II had closed the door to female priests, he, Francis, sought a “theology of women” and a greater role for them in Catholic life. This “feminine theology” has nowhere to go if it doesn’t open up that John Paul door. If Francis is not going to “judge against” gay priests, he certainly is not going to “judge against” women priests.
I’m sure many critics will jump on Francis and wave a copy of the Bible in his face. “Look at Leviticus 20:13” they will scream, “God judges gays.” And sure enough, it says: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death.” It’s the death penalty for homosexuality. But let’s not skip verse 10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife -- both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Whoops! Let’s not get carried away with all this Old Testament stuff; remember: Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.
I think there is too much “stone-casting.” We judge -- as bad -- everyone who does not look like us. Race, religion and politics. We are a divided country and a divided community. The Russian Communists taught us during the Cold War in the ’50s and ’60s that this was quickest way to kill the enemy. They spent millions infiltrating our universities and our government trying to generate distrust and hatred of the “other guy.” They preached: “Judge that guy!”
Francis preaches: “Who am I to judge? Search for the Lord and have goodwill.” This could just be a change “in tone” as some are saying, but I have a strong feeling that before long, this tone will become substance, and --like the Brazilians at Copacabana last Sunday -- Catholics all over the world will be dancing on the beach.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.