Friday, September 25, 2015

Al Mohler Doubles Down on Pope Francis

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, conservative evangelicals and Catholics came together in 1994 to write "Evangelicals and Catholic Together."  It was an attempt to unite Catholics and Evangelicals in a common witness for Christianity and the public good. The document was endorsed on the evangelical side by Chuck Colson, Richard Land, J.I. Packer, Bill Bright, Os Guiness, Mark Noll, Richard Mouw, Pat Robertson, and Thomas Oden. At the time, this was a veritable evangelical all-star team.

Four years ago I participated in one of the final meetings of Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good at Georgetown University.  I gave a paper on the history of evangelical political engagement. (Not sure if it was ever published--plans were in the works).  On the evangelical side, this group included Ron Sider, Michael Gerson, Timothy Shah, Richard Cizik, Galen Carey, Bryan McGraw, Stephen Monsma, and Mark Rogers.  The Catholic side included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, John Borelli, Kathleen Caveny, and others.

In 2008, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom wrote a book titled Is the Reformation Over: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.  In the course of the book Noll and Nystrom showed how Evangelicals and Catholics have put aside their distrust of one another and have been working together on matters they could agree upon--moral issues that would advance the common good.

I am guessing that Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, would have some serious problems with these efforts at bridging the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  For Mohler, the Reformation is not over, it is alive and well and must be invoked with force to critique the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States.  Rather than seeking common ground on the issues that Southern Baptist evangelicals and Catholics have in common, Mohler has decided to be divisive.

Do evangelicals and Catholics differ theologically?  Of course they do.  Absolutely.  And these differences should not be ignored.  But my critique of Mohler is more related to his style and approach.  His default reaction is to promote differences at a time when evangelicals should be finding common with Catholics and Francis.  There is a time to talk about the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  This is not one of them.  For example, if you read this blog, Michael Gerson has offered a better way.

Over the course of the last two days, Mohler has argued the following points in his daily briefings:
  • Mohler believes that the  Pope is a leftist.  First, I have addressed the issue of using political categories to describe Catholic social teaching here and will have an op-ed at Fox News on this topic appear either later today or this weekend.  Second, I would advise Mohler to wait to judge the Pope's visit.until it is actually over.  For example, today at the UN the Pope noted that there are fundamental differences between men and women. I am predicting that we will get more on marriage and abortion this weekend in Philadelphia. 
  • Mohler is bothered by the fact that the Pope didn't mention the name of Jesus Christ in his speech to Congress.  I find this critique of Francis's speech before Congress to be rather silly.  Those who are upset about this fail to realize that the Pope's entire message to Congress was deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ.  
  • Mohler believes that the Pope is minimizing doctrine in favor of piety.  As a result, he thinks that Francis is avoiding a "direct confrontation with the secularizing culture."  First, Francis is not Benedict.XVIth.  He is a pastor and pastors are concerned with piety.  Church doctrine is important to Francis, but it is not his point of emphasis. He places more emphasis on living his faith in the world than debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  Don't get me wrong, doctrine is important, but so is practice. Second, I just don't understand how Mohler can think that Francis is not directly confronting the culture.  Both his speech in Congress and at the UN were prophetic.  He spoke Biblical truth to power. 
  • Mohler believes that the papacy is not biblical.  He is offended by people who believe that they will get "sacramental grace" by touching the Pope or his garments.  Fair enough.  Most Protestants are with Mohler here..  But some evangelicals see the Pope's visit as an opportunity, while others see it as an opportunity to be divisive.  Mohler has chosen the latter. 
  • Mohler thinks that the Pope is not really humble.  Why? Because he calls himself the "Vicar of Christ" and "Bishop of Rome."  He flies on a chartered plane.  And he lives on expensive real estate in the Vatican. In my opinion, this seems a bit below the belt, but I will let my readers decide.
  • Mohler believes that evangelicals are not criticizing the Pope's views because they are trapped in a "culture of civility." I am guessing that Mohler thinks I am trapped in that culture as well. 
So why have I been picking on Mohler this week?  Because he seems to speak for a lot of conservative evangelical Southern Baptists.  There are other evangelicals, like me, who are not comfortable with the way he is approaching Francis's visit.

Are you an evangelical Southern Baptist?  Does Mohler speak for you when he writes and talks about Francis?