“Being homosexual isn’t a crime.” With these words spoken during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press (AP), Pope Francis made headlines this week.
According to AP, the pope “criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as ‘unjust,’ saying God loves all his children just as they are.” He then “called on Catholic bishops who support the law to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.” The article added: “Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people” and “attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds.”
“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he added, stating that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
The last 42 words
I am responding to the pope’s statements as I would if any Christian leader of any denomination made them. My purpose is not to focus on the issue of homosexuality per se, a subject I have discussed often in the past, but to reflect on the way AP covered the pope’s remarks.
Here’s why: at the very end of the article, AP reported, “On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality. . . . ‘It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin,’ he said. ‘Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.’”
It seems that Pope Francis believes either that same-sex sexual attraction or same-sex sexual activity is a “sin”—the AP quote does not distinguish between the two. And it seems that he distinguishes between sins and criminal behavior, as he should. Adultery is immoral by biblical standards, for example, but it is not illegal.
However, you had to read the first 621 words of the article to get to these final forty-two words.
Why did AP construct its article as it did?
“When you are the name caller”
Western culture has clearly decided that any and all LGBTQ activity between consensual adults is to be tolerated and even affirmed. If secular media can quote religious leaders in ways that appear to support this agenda, many will do so.
If they can construct their reporting in a way that makes the leader’s statement even more supportive of this agenda, some will apparently do this as well. Numerous other outlets have reported on the AP interview; most I have seen contain no reference whatever to the pope’s statement calling homosexuality a “sin.”
This strategy consequently makes it harder for Christians who support biblical morality to do so publicly. If the pope “supports” homosexuality, as the AP headline and 93 percent of its article suggest, who are we to disagree?
AP would no doubt respond that they have the right to report their interview with the pope in any way they wish. This is what First Amendment guarantees of free speech are all about. However, when Christians employ the same freedom, we are criticized and worse.
A perceptive friend responded to yesterday’s Daily Article by noting LGBTQ advocates’ “inability to see they demand from Christians the very thing they condemn us of. If we have no right to share our beliefs, why do they?” He added, “When you are the name caller, it is hard to find fault with the name calling.”
“The hermeneutics of suspicion”
French philosopher Paul Ricoeur made popular “the hermeneutics of suspicion” in which texts are read with skepticism to expose their purported repressed or hidden meanings. The underlying conviction is that all people are driven by the “will to power” and that “power motives” in their speech must therefore be unmasked and identified.
Postmodern skeptics have been doing this with Scripture and the writings of Christian leaders for many years. Christian philosophers can do the same with secular criticisms of our faith, an exercise I have employed in today’s Daily Article.
Here’s the good news: there is one authority figure whose motives are always pure and whose agendas are always for our best.
The Bible not only states that “God is love” (1 John 4:8): the Father proved his love for you when he sent his Son to die so you could live eternally. His Son proved his love for you when he chose to wait in the Garden of Gethsemane so he could be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed.
Homophobic or homophilic?
As a result, you can know that God’s guidance is always best for you, no matter the subject. The biblical prohibitions against same-sex sexual relationships, for example, are included in Scripture because such relationships are not God’s best for us.
I know such a statement will be condemned as homophobic (“the fear of homosexuals”) by many, but it is actually homophilic (an adjective that means “advocating or supportive of the welfare of gay people”).
Here’s the bottom line: when we declare and defend biblical morality, we are not imposing our personal beliefs on others—we are giving them a gift that has been given to us. Because our Father loves all of us, gay or straight, he wants what is best for all of us. You and I must now care enough about those we influence to offer his truth to them.
We are to do this not because we hate them but because we love them.
It would be far easier for evangelical Christians to bow to culture and thus escape the rising animosity we are facing. But the One who saved us from our sins calls us to share his amazing grace with humble courage by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Frederick Buechner said of “compassion”: “It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
Who will experience your compassion today?