The eventual complete polarization of America

The recent comments by Andrew Cuomo (see my previous post) bring home a truth that Christians need to be prepared for: That America, as a culture and as a society, cannot remain on its current path without becoming radically polarized. Since Christians cannot change their path, the only possible means for preventing a polarization of the American public that would threaten to eventually plunge our nation into a dark period of open, abject persecution and potentially even another form of civil war, is for Christians to get out an evangelize! Not that there aren't solid efforts at evangelization already underway, but the stakes and urgency of the mission are at a critical level.

Of course, the conditions in America are only starting down a path towards a persecution that continues to run rampant in many other parts of the world. But America has, for two hundered years, stood as a beacon of personal freedom that would allow the Church to flourish by simply giving the chance for the truth to be spoken openly and argued publicly. If America falls in this regard, it will impact the lives of Christians far beyond America's own borders.

Hatred and selfishness show themselves in New York

It is a recurring theme in history that hatred and selfishness cannot abide Christianity. The truth is, hatred and selfishness cannot abide dissent, dialog, or the free exchange of ideas, Christian or otherwise. Throughout history, the regimes most hostile to free speech, discussion, and the press have been those built on hatred.

Andrew Cuomo's governorship of New York is no exception, and he has revealed his alignment with the forces of hatred and selfishness in his recent interview Susan Arbetter on "The Capitol Pressroom," conducted on WCNY radio Friday morning. In the interview, drawing a distinction between so-called "moderate" and "conservative" Republicans, Andrew Cuomo stated:

Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

As history has shown, hatred always comes down on the side against Christianity and Christian moral teachings. Satan is the father of lies, and he will disguise his agenda of hatred as one of freedom. Governor Cuomo is dancing right along to that tune. Hatred for those who would burden society further with new life to care for; hatred for those who call society to sexual maturity and self discipline; hatred for those who want the goods of the world to be shared with more people and not concentrated among fewer people is couched in language that claims to be about freedom: Freedom to kill your unborn baby so that you can have a fully life for yourself; freedom to publicly proclaim a carnal relationship with whomever you want and call it "marriage"; freedom to spread the contraceptive mentality to third-world countries so that their populations will diminish and they will place a lesser burden on the rest of us.

Ultimately, this statement by the Governor is a show of selfishness. In reality, what Cuomo is doing is dividing Republicans between those who have supported his overall agenda and those who have not. Those who have opposed his agenda get labeled "extremist." Those who have cooperated with it are paid back with the label "moderate." So this statement is not really about New York, and it's not really about a particulare philosophy. Governor Cuomo's statement, hatred-filled thought it is, is really about Governor Cuomo.

But we already know that selfishness and hatred are two sides of the same coin.

The struggle with news accuracy

When it comes to the Catholic Church generally, and apparently the currently reigning pontiff specifically, all bets appear to be off regarding even a basic attempt at accuracy in the news. NBC is among the worst offenders, so I'll use their stories as an example.

When reporting on the interview Pope Francis gave to the Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica, the NBC report did something so subtle that one is tempted to think they were misreporting on purpose. In the main story text, NBC reports:

The pope acknowledged in the interview that he has been criticized for not speaking more about those three issues, but he said that the church must “talk about them in a context.”

...

“We have to find a new balance,” he said in the interview, published in Jesuit journals across the world. “Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

He added: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

This was accurate enough. However, in the sideline the article said contained this:

The Pope is making headlines once again for his candid interview with "America Magazine," where he said the Church must not be obsessed with issues related to gay marriage or contraceptives.

Very different from the mainline quote, and not at all what the Pope said. But you can see how they did that. They took the word "obsessed" in one part of the interview and transplanted it into the context of a different part of the interview. This is the part that would almost seem to indicate deliberate misreporting.

A Reuters report featured in NBC, on the Pope's State of the World address yesterday contains this:

Conservatives were alarmed when Francis told Italian Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica in September that the Church must shake off an "obsession" with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality

His stance favoring mercy over condemnation has disoriented conservative Catholics, notably in rich countries such as the United States, where the Catholic Church has become polarized on issues such as abortion.

Again, completely misreporting the facts. First, the pope never said the Church was obsessed with teachings on abortion, contraception, or homosexuality, much less that it needs to shake off such an obsession. Second, however, the Church is not polarized on issues like abortion in the United States or anywhere else. The Church everywhere in the world is fully single-minded on abortion.

Those are just a couple of examples. It can make it very frustrating to be a Catholic when the news sources so completely butcher the truth about your Church and your Pope. I'm not sure how, but it seems that there ought to be some way to publicly call out these aggregious acts of misreporting.

Grappling with Evangelii Gaudium

I am in the process of reading Evangelii Gaudium, the recent Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis. I have only just started--out of over 200 pages in the downloaded PDF, I am barely at page 50.

There is much in the document, so far, which is refreshing--even exciting. However, I am truly struggling with some of the ideas in the economic section. On their surface, the words of the Pope seem to be calling for structural changes to economies that can only be realized through heavy-handed political power structures. They also seem to consider the wealth of the world as a zero-sum game rather than as the ongoing productive work of individual people.

I know the Pope's primary concern in the document is how to bring the joy of the Gospel to a greater number of people so that more people are won into the life of grace. The brief interlude of economic discussion is really nothing more than a response to the truth that the message of the Gospel and our call to respond to it is inextricably linked to the poor and our resonse to poverty. Evangelii Gaudium is not an economic treatise; however, I think it's important to fully understand where the Pope is coming from and to what he's responding in the section that discusses economics. If we don't work to fully expound and understand it, the Pope's words will become a bully club, at least in the United States, for those who would continue to cede power over individual lives to a government that is increasingly hostile to the very faith to which we are supposed to be evangelizing.

Pope Francis to be the most hated pope?

Pope Francis has captured the attention of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, with his easy-going public style and his willingness to engage non-traditional venues of dialog. As Catholics, we pray that his approach to the public work of mission and evangelization wins lots of hearts to Jesus--something on which he seems to be very consienciously focused. However, there is good reason to believe that, among the approbates who are not willing to be won over for Christ, Pope Francis will come to be counted among the most hated and reviled of modern popes. This will happen because of the inaccurate way that some of his comments and actions are received by specific groups and by the greater media community at large.

Consider three of the reporting gaffs that have occured since Pope Francis took office. For each, there is the reported story and the associated expectation being set up for Pope Francis' papacy.

On July 29, 2013, USA Today reported

Pope Francis said Monday that he won't "judge" gay priests, which Vatican analysts say may be the opening for a more conciliatory attitude toward gay members of the church.

The expectations of many, following this report, have been that Pope Francis is going to pave the way for modifying Church teaching on homosexuality. In reality, the Pope is simply saying that, yes some men have managed to become priests, who struggle with same-sex attaction. He's not going to judge them for that struggle. This is the same position that the Church has expressed with constancy since its founding by Jesus. We judge actions, not men, and the temptation is not the same as the sin. This statement reflects neither a departure from traditional Church formulation nor an indication of softening Church teaching. The only thing new is the Pope's willingness to discuss it in a less filtered forum than recent popes have been willing to engage.

On September 19, 2013, BBC reported, in an article entitled "Pope Francis: Church too focused on gays and abortion"

Pope Francis has said the Catholic Church is too focused on preaching about abortion, gay people and contraception and needs to become more merciful.

Other reports have the Pope saying that the Church has been "obsessed" with these issues. The clear expectation among many is that this pontiff will be reigning in Catholics who are actively engaged in the political work of protecting marriage and the unborn. In reality, the Pope didn't even make the statement attributed to him. Just for the tally books, the actual translated quote is:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

There is nothing in the Pope's words about the Church being "obsessed." What he's actually saying is that, even in talking about the hard, critical issues of the age, we need to keep our center in Jesus and remain focused on the primary Gospel message, which is a message of salvation. In addressing the popular sins of the day and the popular movements of the time, it has to be with a call to something greater. Of course, that's always been the Church's message, even if it has been obscured from time to time in one place or another. But it's a mistake to think the Pope's comments are meant in any way to curb the intensity or urgency of our work to bring legal protection to the unborn or to protect the integrity of marriage in the modern age.

On November 5, 2013, NBCNews, reporting on the survey that the Pope sent around, asking how pastoral work dealing with those who marginalize themselves from Christian life is being accomplished in various diocese, says

The survey is the latest sign of Francis' willingness to engage ordinary Catholics and promote a less judgmental approach to hot-button social issues.

The take-away by many is that the Pope is preparing the Church to stop condemning life-style choices that are outside of the boundaries of Church teaching. Of course, as usual, the media at large have it wrong. What the Pope is looking for is a more organic way to lead people in the world away from sinful lifestyles than just, for example, making them illegal. The Pope looks at those who are outside of the Church because of these decisions they make, but who are closest to it, versus society at large, because they recognize the authentic call to be a part of the Body of Christ. He sees rightly that if we can reach out to them effectively and call them out of a life that is defined by their sinful choices and into something greater--that if we can lead them away from their situations of personal sinfulness--then we will have a much greater force for helping to prevent society at large from going down the path to destructive and sinful norms.

Of course, on all counts, when the Pope's words and actions are properly understood, with appropriate allowances given for the fact that some imprecision may be present and need subsequent clarification because of his willingness to engage in informal dialog, we can see that he is not deviating at all from traditional Church teachings or stances. Instead, he is attempting to find new ways of leading a greater number of people out from a life of sin and into the life of grace.

However, there are many who expect something different from this Pope. Over the course of his papacy, as he does not "come through" on these expectations, it will become clear that Pope Francis never had any inention of deviating from traditional Church teaching on any moral issue. It will become clear to all (as it already is to us "insiders"--that is, faithful Catholics) that his only intention is to find new ways to bring more people into the fold of the Church's moral wisdom. As this realization dawns on those who are enemies of what the Church stands for, they will feel betrayed and mislead. They will likely end up attacking Pope Francis with a hatred and vitriol that was not even shown for Pope Blessed John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope is, at least, in good company: Many who hailed Jesus' entry into Jerusalem turned on Him when they realized He was not going to do things their way, either.