Pope Francis is quickly becoming my favorite Pope. I did not grow up Catholic but did grow up seeing Pope John Paul II in the news. I always liked John Paul. But when Pope Benedict came into the position I saw much of the rigid thinking that is often associated with religion. Then in a stunning move the Roman Catholic Church got a new pope without a funeral. Pope Francis came onto the scene and from the choice of his name to his welcoming style he is quickly becoming the people’s pope.
This Pope doesn’t want the splendor of the office. He lives more humble. He has embraced the outcast and he has refused to close doors and live up to his name.
I’m not Catholic so there are differences that I would have with Pope Francis’ theology but I really like this man. I do wish he would open the priesthood to women and married priests. Still he is a breath of fresh air that is showing the world that the gospel is about love. He is bearing witness in a way that we have not seen from many religious leaders in a long time.
This Pope calls regular folks up out of the blue to chat. He embraces folks with obvious genuine compassion. He refuses to continue the rhetoric that pushes so many away. And it is obvious to those watching he is not doing this to make a statement or politics but because he believes in mercy. He has described the church as a hospital helping the hurting. He is showing skeptics and unbelievers something different and of course he is sure to anger the powers that be.
I would love to see a Pope Francis figure rise up in Protestant circles in the US. Imagine someone in those places doing what Pope Francis is doing in his own religious circles. Imagine if American denominations looking to build bridges, work together despite differences, and returning to the radical call of serving the least of these.
Imagine a spirit of Francis sweeping in Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other circles. Maybe it is time to remind ourselves of the simple call of the gospel.
Imagine this interview after a Baptist meeting in the US.
“Tell us Reverend are you going to address the women calling for ordination in your denomination? And what will you do about the gay question? And how will your denomination relate to American politics?” A reporter asks while eagerly awaiting some sound bites to fill the evening news.
“Who am I judge the call of women? And why should we continue arguing about those issues that divide so many? I prefer to see our body become a force of love and grace and help the hungry, needy, and hurting in our nation.” This new denominational president replies with a smile.
If only we had a Francis during the Baptist battles in the South! But it isn’t too late. Perhaps all the denominational divides going on in other denominations could stop if those bodies could catch that spirit and no longer argue about the differences and come together on what unites us.
While we don’t have Popes I do appreciate our new coordinator at the CBF. Suzii Paynter conveys a passion and energy that I believe just might be a fresh wind for our small tribe of Baptists. Perhaps in this new time with Baptists who no longer have a connection to the old SBC are coming into leadership roles we just might be able to show some of that Francis spirit. We need to agree that in our own movement, the CBF, there is much diversity and folks are not going to agree (nor do they need too) on every issue but we can get to work in a world that needs some love.
I pray the spirit of Francis blows upon all of us who lead religious bodies small or great. Hopefully we can agree that the world isn’t going to listen to those angry voices of the past and embracing those in pain is what the world will notice.
And the truth is Francis didn’t create this attitude. I believe it goes back to the son of Carpenter who spoke on a mountain 2000 years ago.