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

  • Marc

    I don’t know who defined your “boxes” but they are wrong!

    The “conservative” box is not the hands-off, only the liturgy matters box. The “conservatives” I’ve known through the years are genuinely Catholic – recognizing the Mass for what it is and keeping the traditions that have sustained us and pass on the beauty of the faith from generation to generation. “Conservatives” also believe that we are called to get OUR own hands dirty when it comes to helping the poor.
    The “liberals” I have known are the opposite, discounting any of the traditions of the faith and calling on us to help the poor, primarily through use of the government programs available to all. This is not Catholic, nor is it Christian. It is worship of the state.
    And another thing. The cross does not unite the two boxes. “Conservatives” see a cross with the corpus on it as we are called to do by Pope Francis. “Liberals” like the cross plain or with the risen Christ. In my experience, “Liberals” would prefer the Church changes to fit what they want. “Conservatives” understand that they have to change so they can be part of Christ’s Church.

  • ireneadler

    liberals hate people who don’t agree with them? that’s a sweeping generalization, and stereotypically emotional reaction. there are many people who believe the same thing about all conservatives, by the way. theological conservatives are the ones sending everyone to hell, which seems a little more hateful than just not being your facebook friend anymore. oh, that’s right–hell isn’t hateful because god can’t be hateful. gotta love that sophistry! lucky for us, being a jesuit himself, pope francis is quite well versed in sophistry i’m sure.

    liberals are more concerned about the poor, the wars, and the environment than gay marriage or abortion. fix society, expose all the corruption, and the rest will fall in line. for example, it’s a statistical fact that there are more abortions under republican administrations than democratic ones as a direct result of their policies toward the poor. and if conservatives are so concerned with promiscurity, then why are they so lax on prosecuting rapists when there is an empirical correlation between the two?

    it’s difficult to take conservatives seriously sometimes. conservativism does not have the appearance of rationality. just becaue i accept a certain moral standard for my family does not mean that i should expect the same thing from the average man on the street. maybe that makes me an elitist, but i’d rather my tax dollars go toward schools and hospitals for my family than prisons for other people’s.

  • Maria

    True Christians are NOT conservative nor liberal. They are faithful followers of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
    NO division, NO rejection of anyone, NO political views, but neither acceptance of sin or sinful conduct. The way is fairness and sacrifice, the truth is justice, love and mercy for all, the life is protecting the poor, the innocent, the weak, and above all, the freedom to practice what we believe, the word of God and His Church. Jesus said, “Give to Cesar what belongs to Cesar and to God what is God’s.” Let’s give our lives to God who created us and, by obeying His Precepts and Commandments, be good citizens of our country. +

  • http://CatholicVote Jacy Aspito

    The definitions of conservative n liberal are totally incorrect. Someone needs to understand what conservative believes, we’re not anti gay, but don’ think they need to push their life style on those not. Civil unions, but not marriage, which is a sacrament between man n woman. Not always perfect, but the way God set it up! Conservatives r more giving of their wea,lath than liberals who want government to do everything! People need to be responsible for self, not lazy people who just take n live immoral lives!

  • Natalie

    It is counter intuitive to me that a group of people like Liberals who say they are concerned about human rights believe it is okay to abort a living baby. And, incidentally, a Pope, priest, bishop, should not be conservative or liberal. Simply, he is a Catholic. He follows the Catholic way of life, rules and regulations. He encourages his flock to do so as well. You don’t have to be a liberal to realize that the poor are in need of help, all people should be treated justly, and Jesus Christ was a true example of love, goodness and charity. These are not liberal or conservative issues. They are Catholic, Christian issues!

  • http://kathleen.asa@gmail.com Kathy

    Why must we try to categorize and classify the pontiff in political terms? If you are looking for connections for understanding, then look at the majority of people who at times align themselves with political parties because of the way these political facets present themselves. The rules and guidelines for these secular organizations have changed throughout time. Even conservatives have been remiss in withstanding some basic principles challenged throughout a growing America. Liberals often come across as humanitarian, but have also become known for accepting whatever “feels” right..and those things have changed as well.
    When we talk about our Church, we include all those who believe in laws that have been there for all time as we know it for the beginning was with God. Those who believe will follow and uphold. Those who do not will oppose and demoralize. The political concern is whether it is right or wrong based upon the fundamentals of what is already given, the word of God.



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