Al Mohler Doubles Down on Pope Francis

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, conservative evangelicals and Catholics came together in 1994 to write “Evangelicals and Catholic Together.”  It was an attempt to unite Catholics and Evangelicals in a common witness for Christianity and the public good. The document was endorsed on the evangelical side by Chuck Colson, Richard Land, J.I. Packer, Bill Bright, Os Guiness, Mark Noll, Richard Mouw, Pat Robertson, and Thomas Oden. At the time, this was a veritable evangelical all-star team.

Four years ago I participated in one of the final meetings of Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good at Georgetown University.  I gave a paper on the history of evangelical political engagement. (Not sure if it was ever published–plans were in the works).  On the evangelical side, this group included Ron Sider, Michael Gerson, Timothy Shah, Richard Cizik, Galen Carey, Bryan McGraw, Stephen Monsma, and Mark Rogers.  The Catholic side included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, John Borelli, Kathleen Caveny, and others.

In 2008, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom wrote a book titled Is the Reformation Over: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.  In the course of the book Noll and Nystrom showed how Evangelicals and Catholics have put aside their distrust of one another and have been working together on matters they could agree upon–moral issues that would advance the common good.

I am guessing that Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, would have some serious problems with these efforts at bridging the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  For Mohler, the Reformation is not over, it is alive and well and must be invoked with force to critique the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States.  Rather than seeking common ground on the issues that Southern Baptist evangelicals and Catholics have in common, Mohler has decided to be divisive.

Do evangelicals and Catholics differ theologically?  Of course they do.  Absolutely.  And these differences should not be ignored.  But my critique of Mohler is more related to his style and approach.  His default reaction is to promote differences at a time when evangelicals should be finding common with Catholics and Francis.  There is a time to talk about the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  This is not one of them.  For example, if you read this blog, Michael Gerson has offered a better way.

Over the course of the last two days, Mohler has argued the following points in his daily briefings:

  • Mohler believes that the  Pope is a leftist.  First, I have addressed the issue of using political categories to describe Catholic social teaching here and will have an op-ed at Fox News on this topic appear either later today or this weekend.  Second, I would advise Mohler to wait to judge the Pope’s visit.until it is actually over.  For example, today at the UN the Pope noted that there are fundamental differences between men and women. I am predicting that we will get more on marriage and abortion this weekend in Philadelphia. 
  • Mohler is bothered by the fact that the Pope didn’t mention the name of Jesus Christ in his speech to Congress.  I find this critique of Francis’s speech before Congress to be rather silly.  Those who are upset about this fail to realize that the Pope’s entire message to Congress was deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ.  
  • Mohler believes that the Pope is minimizing doctrine in favor of piety.  As a result, he thinks that Francis is avoiding a “direct confrontation with the secularizing culture.”  First, Francis is not Benedict.XVIth.  He is a pastor and pastors are concerned with piety.  Church doctrine is important to Francis, but it is not his point of emphasis. He places more emphasis on living his faith in the world than debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important, but so is practice. Second, I just don’t understand how Mohler can think that Francis is not directly confronting the culture.  Both his speech in Congress and at the UN were prophetic.  He spoke Biblical truth to power. 
  • Mohler believes that the papacy is not biblical.  He is offended by people who believe that they will get “sacramental grace” by touching the Pope or his garments.  Fair enough.  Most Protestants are with Mohler here..  But some evangelicals see the Pope’s visit as an opportunity, while others see it as an opportunity to be divisive.  Mohler has chosen the latter. 
  • Mohler thinks that the Pope is not really humble.  Why? Because he calls himself the “Vicar of Christ” and “Bishop of Rome.”  He flies on a chartered plane.  And he lives on expensive real estate in the Vatican. In my opinion, this seems a bit below the belt, but I will let my readers decide.
  • Mohler believes that evangelicals are not criticizing the Pope’s views because they are trapped in a “culture of civility.” I am guessing that Mohler thinks I am trapped in that culture as well. 
So why have I been picking on Mohler this week?  Because he seems to speak for a lot of conservative evangelical Southern Baptists.  There are other evangelicals, like me, who are not comfortable with the way he is approaching Francis’s visit.
Are you an evangelical Southern Baptist?  Does Mohler speak for you when he writes and talks about Francis?

7 thoughts on “Al Mohler Doubles Down on Pope Francis

  1. Are you an evangelical Southern Baptist?>>>>

    No.

    Does Mohler speak for you when he writes and talks about Francis?>>>>

    Brother Mohler would have spoken for me about a year ago. That was before, like Peter Kreeft, I fell in love with the Great Whore of Babylon. I like Mohler. Not sure that Brother Mohler’s views on church state separation would be so different from those of Francis. Baptists get uncomfortable when Jesus is not mentioned or, in the case of Mohler, the word “abortion.”

    See On Political Engagement if you haven’t already.

    http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1188

    I don’t think that Francis is here to take the baseball bat to the beehive. He seems to be more a speak softly kind of guy, and the stick is what the Catechism teaches.

    Just my observations as a Catholic newbie. Some say I have come under a spell. I say a spell was broken. Take your pick.

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  2. People like Al Mohler make me feel very comfortable with my choice to reject Baptist hypocrisy and to embrace Roman Catholicism. This Church is not Democratic or Republican. The Founders desired the separation of church and state. People like Mohler don't want the separation except when it benefits them.

    Pope Francis is speaking and Mohler doesn't want his flock to listen because it would cut into his power (money) base, so here comes the scare tactics and anti-Catholicism.

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  3. I think that's the nexus. I don't automatically assume he's unprincipled, and for the moment would expect him to refuse an invitation himself, and certainly to object to the Mormon president or some Grand Mufti on the same grounds.

    As for not emphasizing the Manhattan Declaration-type common ground between Catholics and evangelicals, I think you'll admit Francis didn't give him much to work with. In view of Mohler's over-the-top praise and admiration for the strongly orthodox JPII and Pope Ratzinger, it might be fair to say that if Francis isn't even going to come out for Manhattan issues, Mohler sees no redeeming value whatsoever in Francis and his church, so he's gonna bring the Reformation pain.

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  4. Tom: You may be right. The “silly” is probably over the top, but I don't know how else to describe this. It is a subtle attempt to show that the Pope is not a follower of Jesus just because he did not mention his name before Congress.

    Yes, Mohler is a Protestant writing to a Protestant constituency. Where I disagree with him is in his decision to dwell on differences precisely at the time Francis is here instead of trying to connect with the parts of the Pope's moral message that he can endorse. If he wants to use the Pope's visit to teach his people about Protestantism I have no objection, but why can't he balance that with the places where Protestants can find common ground with Francis. I guess I want more complexity and nuance here.

    Also, why is it that Baptists–especially conservative evangelical Baptists–appeal to their historic principles of separation of church and state when it is convenient. Why isn't Mohler lined up with Barry Lynn here? If Mohler or one of his faculty were asked to address Congress would he say “no” based on his Baptist principles? I don't know.

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  5. I think you're being unfair to Mohler, esp with the “silly.” Further, he's speaking as a pastor and theologian here, not to a general audience, but to Protestants as a Protestant leader. This is precisely the time to be speaking to Protestants to remind them of their deep theological objections to the papacy [esp to keep them on the reservation].

    I'd also add that many leftists would make many of Mohler's same criticisms about the Vatican's wealth and the fitness of the Pope to lecture the US government on morality if he weren't saying stuff so congenial to their worldview. If this were Benedict, the sides would be reversed.

    His Baptist objection seemed to be that Vatican City and its 100 acres isn't a real country, and it's only as a head of state–not as a religious leader–that Francis should even be addressing the US government. I don't think that argument holds, but by not even mentioning Jesus Christ, Francis is speaking as neither fish nor fowl.

    Mohler's objection is no different than convening a joint session of Congress to be lectured by the head of the Mormon church. Many on both left and right, believer or not, would validly question the propriety of that.

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