Catholic Republicans are developing a pope problem. Earlier this month, Francis recognized Palestinian statehood. This summer, he’s going to issue an encyclical condemning environmental degradation. And in September, just as the GOP primary race heats up, Francis will travel to Washington to address Congress on climate change.
Francis may be popular with the general public, but key Republican primary constituencies — hawks, climate-change skeptics and religious conservatives, including some Catholics, are wary of the pope’s progressivism. Some, pronouncing themselves “Republicans first and Catholics second,” even say they would look askance at a candidate perceived to hew too closely to the bishop of Rome. This internal conflict flips a familiar script, in which Democrats like John Kerry and Joe Biden were labeled “cafeteria Catholics” when their stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage differed from those of the church.
“In northwest Iowa, we are discussing this a great deal, and sometimes it’s hard for us to reconcile the pronouncements we read from the Holy Father with our conservative principles,” said Sam Clovis, a Catholic and political activist who’s run for U.S. Senate and state treasurer in Iowa. – from this article.
This article points out a major problem in the USA. We do not truly believe in hierarchical authority. We pay lip service to it. We use it to back up our personal beliefs. We quote it freely when it enables us to slam our theological or political enemies. But, when there is a conflict, the hierarchical authority is wrong. The problem is found not only among Roman Catholics, but also among the Eastern Orthodox. The Patriarch of Constantinople is very strong on ecological issues. I have heard at least one priest commenting about how the Patriarch has been “taken in” by European liberalism.
I can remember when Metropolitan Philip, of blessed memory, invited special speakers to a clergy conference to explain why President Assad of Syria was not as bad as many Americans thought. The American convert priests were particularly angry and pushed back. I heard more than one comment about how Metropolitan Philip was wrong and had been unduly influenced by his upbringing in Syrian schools. I heard more than one comment that was even more negative. That was several years ago. Now, with the ISIS caliphate already partially established, it turns out that our hierarchical leader was fully correct. There are options much worse than President Assad, and our foolish Americanism opened the doors for the current mess.
But, please do not think that this is a political article. It is not, although it may seem like that from its beginning words. This is about a serious cultural problem that those of us have who belong to hierarchical Churches. We are a nation that was born from the Dissidents who could not even stomach the growing freedom of Great Britain (along with some French Huguenots, some Swiss Anabaptists, etc.). I have had more than one British friend who commented that the Elizabethan Settlement of the mid-1500’s was ultimately successful slightly over 100 years later precisely because in the interim they lost their radicals by way of emigration before and after the regicidal dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.
But, we got their radicals, and some radicals from other countries. As a result we inherited many attitudes that are neither helpful nor Christian. Among them, is the attitude that my personal interpretation is more important than anyone else’s, even if the other person is an expert or even if we supposedly owe a certain degree of covenant loyalty to them. Christian Americans all too often believe that if their opinion differs from that of their hierarchical leaders, then the Holy Spirit must be speaking to them rather than to their hierarchical leader.
This does not mean that we are to have a slavish obedience to our leaders. That is not true even in the European and Middle Eastern countries out of which Christianity came. The Early Church certainly had plenty of arguments. From the Council of Jerusalem through the Ecumenical Councils, Christians often had robust debate. But, what is true is that after the final decision was made, all were called to obedience. They could continue to differ about those things which were not finally decided. However, even then, they were expected to obey their hierarchical leaders, should those leaders make a local synodical decision.
But, that is not the American style. We believe that we are individually correct. Moreover, culturally, we believe that there is no problem with our being members of a Church and disagreeing with some, and maybe all, of its doctrines. Our willingness to disobey is even viewed as a virtue which somehow God will reward. The same Roman Catholics, who used to pressure liberals to obey Pope Benedict XVI, will quickly set up a sedevacantista opposition to Pope Francis, should he express any opinions contrary to them.
I suppose my only question in the midst of all this is, “What will you do when the King arrives?” Frankly, for all that we say that we would obey every word that Jesus would say to us in that future, our current behavior says that Americans would quickly become rebels against the new heavens and the new Earth. I strongly suspect that when Our Lord returns, he will have to perform some wholesale surgery on us in order to make us fit for the Kingdom of God, otherwise we will regard it as the Democracy of God, or even the Libertarian Confederacy of God. We had better hope that the Roman Catholic purgatory is indeed not the way it will be and that the tollhouses of Orthodox theology will be very forgiving. Otherwise, we may either end up centuries in purgatory or may get knocked completely off of the Ladder of Ascent.
Lord, have mercy on us.