Pope Francis, the Conservative Liberal

We are used to Popes who transcend categories like “liberal” and “conservative.”  (It almost happens naturally.) Pope Francis seems a little bit different. He seems positively liberal in many of his actions and he seems hardcore conservative in many of his statements.

He’s a conservative liberal.

I hope he will unite the best of both.

Donofrionist Flickr

photo: Donofrionist

The best thing about conservatives is that they hold on to important principles and won’t let got. The right to life is absolute, for everyone and for always. It must not be compromised. The definition of marriage is the bedrock of society. Don’t change it. Jesus Christ is the one way to the Father. We may like that or it may bug us; in either case it’s true.

The best thing about liberals is that they embrace all people. They accept the world bent and broken and they embrace its inhabitants:  Strange people from strange cultures, people who are gay, Catholics who are getting divorced, lovers living together out of wedlock. The good liberal loves them all (and the really good ones even love conservatives, too).

Now consider the soundbites being used to define Pope Francis.

“In Argentina we have the death penalty. A child conceived by the rape of a mentally ill or retarded woman can be condemned to death.”

You can’t get any more hardcore liberal — accepting of all — or more hardcore conservative — holding fast to a principle — than that.

Likewise, when he opposes homosexual marriage he attaches the principle of the thing to the people the principle protects.

“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Pope Francis presents a challenge to both conservatives and liberals. The challenge for conservatives is to change their hearts. The challenge for liberals is to change their minds.

Both need to unite devotion to principles with devotion to people, and to unite hardcore morality with hardcore charity.

That’s hard to do. Conservatives like their principles clean and clear; real people’s lives tend to muddy them. Conservatives like their morality uncompromising; charity for all can feel like a compromise.

Liberals don’t see the point in putting a principle in the way of the people. They want a Christian charity that doesn’t discriminate; Christian morality can feel like discrimination.

Pope Francis tells us us how to unite them: “profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”

Christ on the cross is a hero for both conservatives and liberals.  He is dying for a principle; but at the same time he is saying “Forgive them for they know not what to do.”  He is dying for morality, for sin; but he is also dying for love.

The cross tells conservatives that love means to suffer for others — not to make them suffer to satisfy a principle.  And the cross tells liberals that moral principles really are important. Important enough that the Son of God would die for them.

It’s the cross that unites conservatives and liberals, using the best of both of them for Christ. It’s the absence of the cross that politicizes us and pushes us apart.

“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord,” said Pope Francis. “We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”



Categories:Politics Pope Francis Theology

  • http:gulagbound.com Arlen Williams

    I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I have seen that surveys indicate that people who tend to call themselves consistently conservative on a variety of issues give far more to charity than those who apply the word liberal to themselves.

  • Alice Roddy

    For insight into conservative love, compassion and charity, check out Dr Ben Carson’s address to CPAC – CONSERVATVE Political Action Conference. Notice what the crowd cheers for and then tell me conservatives are heartless, if you can.

  • Alice Roddy

    Tom, You break my heart. I cannot believe that you know very many conservatives, or know them very well. There are numerous studies showing, doubtless to the surprise of the social scientists conducting them, that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. One book that comes to mind immediately is “Who Really Cares” and there are others. I believe that you have fallen for an unfortunate stereotype. To my mind the difference between Ls and Cs in extending loving help is that Ls think more in terms of giving cash and Cs in terms of giving a job. As a conservative I believe everyone is important and has a contribution to make; income redistribution too often misses the mark, making people dependent rather than empowered.

  • mom

    Double ditto, Polly. I agree with you wholeheartidly, as Pope Francis seems to be a “lover,” of all of mankind, not just those who agree with him.

  • Rich Ketter

    I would take issue with your definitions of both Conservative and Liberal, although I do appreciate your more than ususal kindness in this blog. I can see that the life of the new Pope is already impacting you in positive ways. Maybe Francis I will be a great unifying force in many of our lives.
    Both Liberals and Conservatives are people of principle, although both labels can be applied to unprincipled people, groupings and issues. Both Conservatives and Liberals are embracing people, loving and caring for others, even those who are in needs, in want, and may not be easy to love and care about.
    Unfortunately, many want to use the issues as divisive terminology, and not as positions statments related to fiscal, political or social topics. Not all liberals hate the conservative principles within our Church, and not all Conservatives hate liberals embrace of our LGBT brothers and sisters, nor disdain thier cry for greater acceptance in both the Church and society.
    True conservativism would not impose greater govermental and legal obstacles in their search, and true liberalism can be closely aligned with historical and traditional spirituality and Catholic thought and teaching.
    Benedctine, Franciscan and Jesuit thought and spirituality are all great examples of the marriage of Conservative and Liberal Catholicism.
    What is great about being Catholic is the great diversity in our radical Church with a long tradition.
    Pax et Bonum

    • Peggy

      I am a lifelong Catholic. I am not a liberal. The problem is, as I see it, the church has teachings. If you don’t believe them, go elsewhere. However, if communism infiltrates the church (as it has), ignore it until you can get rid of it. If the pope and the bishops do not stand by the values and principles of the church, the church will die. It is in deep trouble now.

  • Polly

    Your definition of a liberal needs to take into account liberals from where? A liberal in the US is very different from a liberal in another Country. Hard Core Liberal is a US term. A liberal in the US is not accepting of all. They only accept those who agree with them. If you don’t agree, they HATE you. They would accept a gay person, only until they found out they were conservative in their principals. Mother Theresa was liberal, when used in a general term, but she certainly was not for abortion/gay lifestyles etc. Pope Francis may be liberal, but not per the definition of the US liberal. BIG DIFFERENCE! Don’t confuse liberal with love!

    • Rich Ketter

      Thank you for illustrating Tom’s point that “Conservatives” have a difficulty with Charity (love)
      Your mean spirited attack is a bit hypocritical when you accuse your “Enemies” (actually your brothers and sisters) of being unaccepting.
      This is not a good way to celebrate the election and installation of Pope Francis I.

      • DanF

        I am sorry Mr. Ketter, but you are very naïve to say that. Polly is right, in America to Liberals it is “My way or you are evil right-winger that deserves to die.” Tolerance and acceptance is only going to cause your side to lose, and at best you will only be ostracized. At worst they will use social pressure and/or the government to force their beliefs on you.

      • Bill

        Mr. Ketter, exactly where does anyone but you use the term “enemies?” Polly sure did not. Nor is there any rancor in her words for any but those intolerant of beliefs. It seems you and the writer of this article both have some more work to do to actually determine what it means to be a conservative. It is quite obvious that, to this point, enlightenment is eluding you.

    • Angela

      I agree Polly, US liberals are ALOT different than anywhere else in the world and no, they do not have any tolerance for anyone who does not believe EXACTLY like they do. Conservatives do hold fast to prncipals and morals…it’s our guiding light, our test to measure our own actions. How can I love everyone if I’m willing to kill an unborn child? Do I love the child more than the mother or father? No, there are other alternatives for an “un-wanted pregnancy” – Adoption comes to mind… A true liberal would want that baby to feel loved as much as they profess to love the woman who murdered her baby. Remember John 8:1-11? Christ loved the adulterous woman, but hated the adultry. Judgemental conservatives need to learn to seperate the two. Judgemental conservatives need to learn to see beyond the obvious.



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