In the light of the recently released Papal Encyclical on global warming, a prominent presidential candidate, and Roman Catholic himself, is reported widely to have said: I don’t get economic policy from my bishops, or my cardinals, or my Pope, . . . I think religion ought to be about making us better people, and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” One wonders if this person has ever taken time to read his Bible. Or does he see all the teachings through the Bible through a lens of ‘spirituality’ that eliminates any reference to justice, or mercy, or the stewardship of creation, or the obligation to care of the poor, or provide for the homeless, or to take the wanderer (immigrant?) in, or provide for the hungry? Has he ever read the Beatitudes, or the Epistle of James?

If said candidate wants to be a better person, but wants to avoid anything that might get into the political realm, he has a much different definition of ‘better person’ than anything I find in scripture. This week we’ve looked in the newspapers and seen very disturbing news about violence, racism, poverty and declining income for so many, . . . and then comes the release of the new Papal Encyclical on global warming, which runs head-on into the denials of so many in the industrial and economic principalities and powers. It is more convenient then, to go to Mass, confess that: “we have done those things we ought not to have done and left undone those things we ought to have done. There is no health in us. I am most miserable offender. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Amen” . . . but then let’s not get too specific. Let’s keep it in the realm of safe religion; let’s become better persons in the abstract.

I, though out of a thoroughly orthodox Protestant tradition, never take the pastoral deliverances of the Roman Catholic bishops, or the papal encyclicals lightly. The North American bishops were light years ahead of the politicians on international armaments, and the necessity of peace agreements, and nuclear control. Politicians tend all too much to be in the pockets of those who finance them. The bishops, and cardinals, and the pope can say things that need to be said, and that local pastors and priests find too threatening because of the presence in their parishes, or congregations, of those such as the above quoted presidential candidate.

The Christian faith is very this worldly. “This is my Father’s world, he shines in all that’s fair” on one hand, but “ . . . and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” is also a present reality. The stewardship of creation, and the care of the environment, and a whole plethora of others pressing issues staring us in the face, are matters of our Christian calling to be one with our Lord Jesus Christ in “making all things new” and in working to cause the kingdom of God and will of God to be realized here and now, even as they are in heaven. In Jesus Christ the Age to Come has invaded this age, and God’s New Creation people are called to be agents of the gospel of peace, which is all-inclusive. And it does have, inescapably, political and economic and social—and often unpopular—implications.

The kind of “safe spirituality” that the above quoted politician is seeking is therefore sub-Christian, if not a downright denial of that for which Jesus suffered and bled and died on the cross, which cross was to reconcile heaven and earth. And to profess Christ, then, in its integrity is never safe . . .. and it will be fascinating to see how the members of congress who invited Pope Francis to address them cope with his moral message. Prophets come in unexpected forms.


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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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