In the last few weeks several news articles about religious responses to social justice issues have caught my eye in a way, that, for the first time in a long time, led me to believe that there may be some hope for the Church. Pope Francis’s speeches on poverty and social justice issues that were the matched by his actions during the recent visit to Brazil also caught my attention. Suddenly, the voices preaching the message of the entire Bible have begun to rise above those that limit their message to the passages that provide a theological basis to match their views.
The Belief Blog on the CNN website recently gave voice to one who explained why many were leaving the church from anecdotal and survey data. While the article focused on millennials, the author recognized that it applied to people across generations.
Changes within the Church do not happen rapidly, but the theological foundation of the worldwide church has historically swung between extremes. When the the pendulum goes too far, the ideas are rejected and it goes back the other way. The political involvement of some of the most extreme religious leaders backing legislation that violate contemporary ideas of justice may have been the tipping point.
As a lifelong protestant from a conservative denomination, I have rarely paid attention to the Pope. The things he does did not affect me beyond the way his words and actions, as the most prominent face of Christianity to the world, shape the world’s view of the faith. When Pope Francis was elected earlier this year, the stories of his humility fascinated me, but the skeptic in me doubted it would continue into the papacy.
So far, the Pope’s actions - rejecting the elaborate attire worn by most pontiffs, rejecting the lavish papal apartment have lived up to the stories of his piety. The tone of his messages reflect a shift from social conservativism to social justice. The content may be largely the same, but the tone indicates he views scripture from a different side of the verse than his predecessors. Whether protestant or Catholic, the tone makes a difference.
Protestants deny the authority of the Pope, but the reality is that his voice carries authority to almost twice as many people as all the protestant denominations combined. When that many people begin to shift their thinking in the faith, it influences the thinking of others. Not only does it shape the thinking of others, it also gives weight to other religious groups who share a similar message.
Pope Francis has only been Pope a few months and broader media coverage focusing on Christian groups that promote social justice has only emerged more prominently in recent weeks. The restrictive voices of faith have not gone away but there has been enough shift that my hope for the Church has begun to flicker. I see signs that the Church is becoming Christian again, accepting the big message of the Bible, rather than focusing on small messages found in various passages.
We are not there yet, but I am looking forward to the day when I can again say, “I am a Christian” without feeling the need to add an explanation of my beliefs.