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.
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.”