Back in the dark days of AIDs, when a diagnosis of HIV positive was a death sentence, someone I loved dearly got the bad word that this killer virus was crawling through his immune system.
He cried. I cried. We both believed his doctor who said that in three years he would be terribly ill, and within five years, he would be dead. We struggled to fit our understanding around this reality.
My friend called me one day during this coming-to-terms time. He had heard some flat-liner preacher on the radio saying that AIDS was God’s punishment to the gays, and that they were getting what they deserved. I still remember the anguish in his voice.
My friend was not religious, yet this diatribe from a radio preacher cut him to the bone. It is a terrible thing to tell people that God hates them. It is also, always, untrue. This preacher who said that AIDS was God’s punishment on the gays and that they deserved what they got was misrepresenting God.
“That’s why I’m a Christian,” I told my friend. “So that I don’t get what I deserve.”
This statement was, admittedly, the most sparse theological statement possible. But it did reflect the baseline of salvation. God will accept you, even if all you are doing is running to Him to get away from going to hell. If that’s where you are, He will meet you there, and if you turn to Him in honesty, He will lead you into deeper faith from there.
Flash forward three decades, and we arrive at Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ for a radically changed time. These days, anyone who said what my friend heard would be rightfully denounced. The pendulum has swung the other way. We hedge around the obvious truth that two men or two women aren’t the same as a man and woman. We get slapped in the court of public opinion for saying that First Amendment rights belong to individual Americans.
Previous popes had to stand against the hippie flower god of the 60s. Pope Francis has the job of reminding us that, yes Virginia, Jesus meant it when He preached the Sermon on the Mount. But they all teach the same things. They just emphasize imperatives of their time.
God is a God of justice. Sin is so terrible that He had to become human and die on a cross to redeem us from it. But — and here’s Pope Francis’ message — He did become human and die on a cross to redeem us. He did it because His mercy is greater than any sin we can commit.
American Christians are close to selling their souls to what I call the “Political Heresy.” The Political Heresy tailors the Gospels to fit our politics and equates political party membership with righteousness. Too many Americans interpret Pope Francis’ message in light of the Republicans and Democrats. An article in this morning’s Washington Post is an example.
The article gives us a dose of the “Francis is changing the Church to be more like the Democrats” claptrap. According to the article, Pope Francis has abandoned pro life and traditional marriage teaching and is now leading the Church into the heart of the Democratic platform.
If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn and some land in Florida we need to talk about. Pope Francis has not and will not change one line of Church dogma. He is simply restoring the balance. He is simply reminding us that the Catholic Church teaches and preaches the whole Gospel of Christ and not some politically edited sidebar of it.
Abortion is murder. Euthanasia is murder. Gay marriage is not and never can be actual marriage.
We are called to have dominion over the earth, to care for it and hand it forward to future generations intact. It is a sin against God to rape the Earth and impoverish untold millions in a quest for mammon. That is in the whole of Scripture, from the first chapters of Genesis onward. The Bible talks over and again about the poor, the weak, the helpless — the Least of These. Jesus tells us flat-out that we will be judged based on how we treat them.
The Washington Post article is a near-perfect example of the left side of the political heresy. I could show you equally compelling examples of the right side of this same heresy. The bottom line is simple: If you are looking for God in a political party, you need a new road map.
Pope Francis, and indeed the whole of Catholic Teaching, is here to give us that map.