In my last article, I begin the conversation of Pope Francis’ address to the United State Congress and ask what we Asian American can take away from his speech. This time, I would like to share with you the Pope’s own writing in the Papal Encyclicals and what practical lessons us as Asian American can apply.
Pope Francis has been making waves with his papal encyclicals, “Laudato Si,” Latin for “Praise be to you, my Lord.” When he published his encyclical on the environment and the impact of climate change on the global poor, some diehard Catholics and Christian politicians came out to denounce the Papal authority and involvement in political and environmental issues. Republican Catholic Congressman Paul Gosar boycotted Pope Francis’ speech to the Congress. Then after the Pope’s address, he further expressed his disappoint by saying, “This climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies.”[^1]
To the Pope’s defense, in his 200 pages documents, he argues that climate change is not a political issue but a moral and ethical issue. Regardless where you might stand on this issue or other issues that the Pope has brought up, there are several key practices that we, the Protestant Church can learn from Pope Francis.
20th century theologian Karl Barth was credited with this motto for the Protestant church, “ecclesia reformata semper reformanda,” the reformed church is always reforming. The idea is that we continue to examine and re-examine the church so to maintain purity and connectedness of the church doctrine and practice. One of the deadliest terms for churches today, “we always have done it this way,” is not the way we lead and be the church. Instead, it is by examining and re-examining ourselves and the church continually so that we can seek to be true to the gospel and God’s providential will.
As Asian Americans, many of us carry the burden of family guilt. It is wired in many of us that we are often our own worst critic. Re-examination is not from critical intent, but it is from the intent to seek for ways to improve against staying static.
We aren’t static. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I pout the ways of childhood behind me.” We are dynamic and always growing, so why not our theology and spiritual practice? Unless, we think our relationship with God is static and never changing.
Furthermore, who are we to think that we have the monopoly of truth for all people and all time? Should we be so arrogant that think that we alone holds the key to heaven and the doctrine of the church? Pope Francis doesn’t think so and he is leading his 1.2 billion followers to “ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.”
In addition, Pope Francis, in another 256 page document, known as an apostolic exhortation and titled “Amoris Laetita,” Latin for “The Joy of Love”, calls for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight people who are living together. He writes, “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” While he remained closed on same sex marriage, this document challenges the church to be inclusive and welcoming of people in real life situation. He calls on the local bishops and priests to lead people with empathy and comfort rather than judgement and condemnation. He even admits that the church has made mistakes in the past by alienating families that face challenging life situation from poverty, migration, drug abuse and violence.
The second lesson we can learn from Pope Francis is compassion. When faced with life situation or people with real life circumstances beyond our own sphere of experiences, we respond with compassion and not fear and judgement. We the Protestant Church have been guilty of alienation of people with real life challenges. It is time that we seek for forgiveness and act with compassion.
The current hot topic of the church and the state has been reduced to “bathroom law.” While one side feels that their religious liberty is being trampled on when society or the government forces them to accept behavior contrary to their religious belief, the other side feels that individual liberty to use the bathroom of their gender identification is being violated and politicized.
I wonder how the issue can be reframed with compassion and forgiveness together with the ideal of re-examining ourselves. I wonder how we can diffuse the tension first and look at what is the common good. I really wonder how Jesus who welcomes the people subjugated to sexual slavery, out casted by their illness, abandoned because their mental health struggle, unwelcomed due to their profession with the Roman government, and mocked for their impaired physical ability would welcome people struggling with gender identity.
Pope Francis has shown the Protestant church that the church built by Peter can rethink or try to rethink their 2000 years old ways. Then, why not us who challenged the Catholics for not being revolutionary enough? We can do well in examining ourselves with compassionate intents.
The Rev. David Shinn
Former Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Detroit
[^1]: Patricia Miller is the author of “Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church.” Her work on politics, sex and religion has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Huffington Post, and Ms. Magazine.
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