Liberals do not understand Pope Francis. Conservatives don’t understand him either. Yet both liberals and conservatives (and the media – especially the media) love to use Pope Francis for their political ends.
Today as I reviewed the daily headlines on RealClearPolitics.com, I noticed an ever growing number of headlines regarding his impending visit (Pope Francis will arrive in the US on Tuesday). Buried in each of those headlines is the attempt, or maybe just the perspective, of each writer using Francis’s sometimes vague or confusing language to twist for their own ends.
The fact is, despite the efforts of the media and of politicians, Francis is surprisingly non-political. He is religious. If we take his comments out of a religious context, we’ll inevitibly conclude that Francis said something that he actually didn’t say.
How Conseratives and Liberals Use Pope Francis
The New York Times featured an article today that contains a quote from an Obama advisor which demonstrates how this administration hopes to use Pope Francis:
“We are fully expecting that there will be some messages with which we may respectfully disagree or have differences, but that on many of the big-ticket items” the pope’s “essential messages will resonate very much with the president’s agenda,” said Charles Kupchan, an adviser to Mr. Obama. “And in that respect, we are hoping that his moral authority helps us advance many of the items that we take to be very high on our policy agenda.
To the end of “hoping that his moral authority helps us advance many of the items”, the Obama administration is rolling out the red carpet and trying to flatter the Pope into speaking about their issues.
Using religion for a political purpose is not a new political tactic. Since Christianity was first legalized in Rome, emporers, kings, parliaments, insurgents, and revolutionaries have looked to the various churches as weapons of political warfare.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis will make some utterance, some statement that will rankle conservatives and will be used by liberals to advance their agenda, just as they did with Francis’s often misquoted “Who am I to judge?” proclamation.
Conservatives Use Pope Francis As Well
Looking to the Pope to gain the moral high ground in a political debate is not just the territory of liberals – conservatives are just as guilty. As conservatives fight (and rightfully so) to defund Planned Parenthood, they hope to get a boost from a Pope that seemingly will wade into whatever waters he chooses. From CNN:
Still, the Pope also espouses social views that are in line with the GOP, chief among them opposition to abortion.
With his huge perch this week, some Republicans hope that Francis will reiterate the church’s objections to the procedure — an issue that is now paralyzing progress on a funding bill on Capitol Hill — though that could spark protests from congressional Democrats.
“I think he will solidly be on the side of those of us who want to restrict tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood,” said John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
“I have no thought that the Pope is going to be weak on the issue of protecting the unborn,” said Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican.
So while the liberals hope Pope Francis says something to advance their agenda, conservatives think that the Pope will be “on their side”.
In the end, both conservatives and liberals look to the Pope as an object of use: find something he’s proclaimed and use it to gain moral authority for your position.
Is the Pope Liberal or Conservative? He’s Actually Neither
As liberals claim this pope as their own and conservatives struggle with Pope Francis’s sometimes shocking statements against capitalism or in protection of the environment, it’s important to remember that the Pope is actually neither liberal nor conservative: he’s religious.
When Pope Francis talks about the evils of capitalism and the idolatry of money, his focus – and the focus he wants us to take – is on the poor and on our own tendencies to keep the poor at arm’s length. Conservatives can do a better job here, and we need to do a better job, of taking care of the poor in our own neighborhoods.
This call to help the poor is not necessarily a call to socialism. Helping the poor does not require government interference, it requires individuals taking their focus off their own gain and placing their focus on the gain of those around us. This isn’t a socialist message – it’s a human message.
And when Pope Francis talks about protecting the environment, this isn’t necessarily a call to strict government restrictions (even though he may personally believe in them), but once again a focus from all humanity on the gift that is our planet and natural resources. This doesn’t have to be construed as being aligned with a liberal agenda.
Conservatives Need to Make Francis’s Aim Their Own
Where liberals gain an advantage by using Pope Francis is that they take Francis’s aim and adopt his language as their own. Pope Francis says we should be concerned about the poor? Well that’s what liberals have been saying for years! Pope Francis decries the adoration of money? So do liberals! Pope Francis wants to protect the environment? Another win for the Pope!
But are conservatives guilty of having the opposing views? Do conservatives hate the poor? Do conservatives encourage greed? Do conservatives want us to be wasteful with natural resources?
Of course not.
The difference between liberals and conservatives over the past 80 years has not been our end goals – it’s been our language. While liberals talk about their end goals of helping the individual, conservatives talk about the process of how we want to help the individual.
What gets lost (or distorted) while we talk about the process is who the process is for. Conservatives need to take note and understand that our message needs to focus on the end result: opportunity and dignity for all humanity.