Al Mohler Blasts Pope Again for Being Too Political

This is not Al Mohler

Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, does not seem to be very happy about the arrival of Pope Francis.  In his daily “briefing” he said the following. (I have paraphrased, but you can read the entire thing here).

  • He insists that Francis’s visit (he never calls him by name–he just calls him “Pope” or “the Pope.”) is purely political because Obama and Biden went to the airfield to meet him.
  • He finds the fact that Francis will be visiting Congress tomorrow to be “troubling,” but he does not seem to say why.  
  • He quotes from Wall Street Journal op-ed“Pope Francis arrives Tuesday on his first visit to the United States, and the welcome event illustrates his unique and paradoxical appeal. The Argentine pope is being celebrated more for his embrace of progressive economics than for the Catholic Church’s moral teachings.”
  • Mohler quotes the Wall Street Journal again: “Yet the pope will also visit the White House and speak to Congress, and this is where his tour takes on an extra-religious resonance. Pope Francis has overtly embraced the contemporary progressive political agenda of income redistribution and government economic control to reduce climate change.”
  • And another quote from the op-ed that Mohler uses: “Secular progressives who disdain the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce are ignoring all of that catechistic unpleasantness and claiming the pope as an evangelist for their agenda. You might call them cafeteria progressives, after the old line about Catholics who are selective in which church teachings they follow.” Mohler uses this quote to show that Francis is “overtly political” and is in the United States to “push” his “agenda.”
  • Drawing again on the Wall Street Journal op-ed, he latches on to the phrase “cafeteria progressives.”  Mohler writes: “In other words, they’re taking the parts of the Pope they like and they are rejecting the embarrassment of the parts of the Pope’s teaching that they certainly do not like.”
  • Then he defines “cafeteria Catholics” more fully:  “Cafeteria Catholics are those who approach the Catholic faith as if they’re going to a cafeteria, they’ll take this dish, but not that one. They want this but not that doctrine.”
Several observations come to mind here, some of which I addressed in a post yesterday:

1.  I find it very ironic that Al Mohler, of all people, is saying that the Pope’s message is too political. It is apparently OK for Mohler to provide a daily “briefing” in which he approaches contemporary issues from a “Christian world view,” but when the Pope responds to issues from his own “Christian world view” he is out of line and being too political.   Why doesn’t Mohler just say that he opposes the views of the Pope and move along?  His current approach makes him look hypocritical.  Catholics like Francis and Reformed Baptist evangelicals like Mohler both have fully-developed world views that explain every aspect of the world, including social issues, economic issues, and the world of politics.  How is Mohler’s criticism of abortion or support of traditional marriage any different than Francis’s criticism of abortion or capitalism?  Both men believe that theology speaks to every dimension of human life and the created order.

2.  Let’s see what Mohler has to say later in the week, especially if the Pope makes strong comments about abortion, marriage, or other conservative issues.  Will he praise the Pope for his defense of these things?  If he does, wouldn’t this be an example of a “cafeteria” approach to the Pope’s teaching. 

3.  I still think Mohler’s criticism of the Pope is a missed opportunity for Southern Baptist conservatives to find common ground with Catholics on a host of moral convictions that they share. This is a shame.  

4.  Mohler does not elaborate on why Francis’s visit to Congress is “troubling.”  If his comment is related to the “separation of church and state” it makes for an interesting argument.  Does this put put Mohler in the same camp here with Barry Lynn, the leader of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I would guess Mohler would reject such a comparison.  A quick Google search shows that Mohler is skeptical about the separation of church and state as it is defined by the 1947 Everson case.  (Despite the fact that Baptists have long been defenders of the separation of church and state).  In other words he does not seem to have a problem with religion in public and government life.  I wonder how he would respond if someone asked him to address Congress? Would he accept the invitation or would he argue that such an address would violate the separation of church and state? Has he now become a strict separationist?

But perhaps I am wrong about the reasons why Mohler is so “troubled” that the Pope is speaking in Congress. Maybe it has nothing to do with church and state issues.  Perhaps he just doesn’t want the Pope to speak because he disagrees with his views.