Pope Francis’ First Visit to the U.S.
“As Francis makes his first U.S. visit, his emphasis on serving the poor over enforcing doctrine has inspired joy and anxiety in Roman Catholics”—that is the subheading of an article on Pope Francis by Robert Draper in the August issue of National Geographic.
The new pope visited the United States for the first time in his life September 23-27, 2015. On the docket, according to the August 31 issue of Time, were two days in Washington D.C. to visit President Obama and discuss their shared values, such as responding to global warming and advancing economic opportunity for all. He was also invited to address a joint session of Congress. He spent one day in New York City to give a speech at the U.N. and hold an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial. Then Pope Francis was two days in Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families, “an interfaith celebration of family, community and faith” (37).
Let me introduce the current pope to you. Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013. He arrived at this summit of the Roman Catholic hierarchy after two decades of climbing. In his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he became bishop in 1992, archbishop in 1998, and cardinal in 2001. He is the first pope from South America and the first pope not born in Europe in over a thousand years. He was elected to the papacy after Benedict resigned suddenly, something unheard of in the past six centuries. He was chosen, writes Draper, at a time of “mounting sentiment among more progressive cardinals that the hoary and Eurocentric mind-set of the Holy See was rotting the Catholic Church from within” (NG, 39). He is the first Jesuit pope. He is also the first pope to take the name Francis as his papal moniker, after St. Francis of Assisi, a known advocate of the poor.
Here is a man who shows little interest in the culture wars, like the battle over same-sex marriage,1 but focuses instead on world poverty and climate change. His primary ambition: “How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor” (38). Draper concludes his article with these words: “This would appear to be the pope’s mission: to ignite a revolution inside the Vatican and beyond its walls, without overturning a host of long-held precepts. ‘He won’t change doctrine,’ insists de la Serna, his Argentine friend. ‘What he will do is return the church to its true doctrine—the one it has forgotten, the one that puts man back in the center. For too long, the church put sin in the center. But putting the suffering of man, and his relationship with God, back in the center, these harsh attitudes toward homosexuality, divorce, and other things will start to change” (59, emphasis added).
Here is a man who wants unity among world religions. While still a cardinal, he spoke at an ecumenical event between Roman Catholics and evangelicals in Buenos Aires. He asserted that the distinctions between Catholics and evangelicals do not matter to God: “How nice that brothers are united, that brothers pray together. How nice to see that nobody negotiates their history on the path of faith—that we are diverse but that we want to be, and are already beginning to be, a reconciled diversity” (36). Moreover, he embraced and prayed with a Muslim imam and a Jewish rabbi at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (51). Draper quotes the Jewish rabbi, Abraham Skorka, a personal friend of Francis, as saying that the pope “is changing religiosity throughout the world.” Draper comments that “Francis has kindled a spiritual spark among not only Catholics but also other Christians, those of other faiths, and even nonbelievers.” Even atheists like him. Draper also quotes Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, as saying:
Two years ago if you asked anybody on the street, “What’s the Catholic Church for and against?” you would’ve gotten, “It’s against gay marriage, against birth control”—all this stuff. Now if you ask people, they’ll say, “Oh, the pope—he’s the guy who loves the poor and doesn’t live in a palace.” That’s an extraordinary achievement for such an old institution. I jokingly say that Harvard Business School could use him to teach rebranding. And politicians in Washington would kill for his approval rating (56).
Are we watching for the rise of Antichrist? For both his political and religious aspects? For the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth? The second beast seen by John, also known as the false prophet,
had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast…. And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast…. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six ().
When the world unites around a single man, we should be paying attention. When that man focuses on solving world poverty, and says things like this, “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting” (Time, June 1)—we should be wondering what he thinks should be done to advance economic opportunity for all. Perhaps a mark in everyone’s right hand or forehead to level the playing field of buying and selling? When a man is admired in America both by Republicans and Democrats…. When a man speaks of a unified diversity not only within Christendom, but also among Christians, Muslims, and Jews…. We should be watching him closely.
The Ashley Madison Scandal
“Life is eternal. Don’t have an affair.” So wrote Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, in an August 25 blog entry responding to the hack of AshleyMadison. com, which leaked the data of over 30 million users of the adultery-promoting, marriage-destroying website last July.2 Stetzer’s choice of words was fitting. The motto of the Ashley Madison website is, “Life is short. Have an affair”—a wicked philosophy held by many who reject the truths of the resurrection, the final judgment, heaven and hell, saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (). Stetzer writes, “Ashley Madison was right. Life is short.” “But,” he quickly adds, “the proper response to the brevity of this life is to focus on those things that will last beyond it.”
Ashley Madison—the name of a website, not a real person—offers married people an opportunity for a secret adulterous affair by connecting them to other affair seekers. Ashley Madison has used modern technology to lead our sexually perverse culture from bad to worse, from the secretive and easily-accessible use of Internet pornography to the now secretive and easily accessible act of adultery itself. Ashley Madison has disregarded the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” and instead enticed married men to satisfy their sexual fantasies by entering a virtual temple to the sex-goddess Aphrodite.
Millions signed up. Most of them men. Also Christian men. Then last July their data was leaked on the worldwide web. And their secrets were revealed. Some government officials. Some pastors, like the renowned R. C. Sproul, Jr.3 Other famous persons, like Josh Duggar. That is not to say they all went through with it and had an affair. Many of them claim they did not. But many of them did. And for a few of them, the shame was so intense that they felt they could not go on, and they committed suicide.
The warning of the Word of God went unheeded. Solomon cries out to all married men in the covenant of grace, “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (). He also warns that “whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away” ( ).
Tim Challies, a Canadian pastor and co-founder of Cruciform Press, had this to say in his August 21 blog entry, “One of the great deceptions of the Internet is that it allows us to think there are two parts to us, the part who exists in real time and space, and the part who exists in cyberspace. But events like this ought to make us realize that when you go online you display and expose who and what you really are. And who you really are will eventually find you out. God will not be mocked.”4
His wife Aileen also wrote a blog entry, expressing her sadness over the whole thing: “Now there are more broken homes, more devastated churches, more weeping wives, more mocking of God. And I have to tell you, this week, today, I am struggling to find hope.” She spoke directly to Christian husbands involved in sexual sins: “I plead with you. I plead with you on behalf of your wives, on behalf of your future wives, on behalf of Christian women everywhere: Stop. Just stop.”5
All around us, the devil is attacking the Christian home. Are you, beloved reader, fighting hard and standing firm against these assaults? Of all Christians and churches, we who call homosexuality a sin and take a stand against God-defying homosexual marriage; we who maintain that marriage—an intimate relationship between one man and one woman for life—is a beautiful figure of the covenant of grace, the relationship between Christ and His church; we who repudiate divorce for any cause except adultery, and who say no to remarriage after divorce—we of all people ought to be fighting hard and standing firm against the allurements of the devil in this Internet age. Hypocrite is the word that correctly identifies one who speaks out loudly against all kinds of sexual perversion while privately indulging his lusts.
Have you, Christian man, become ensnared in the secretive sin of Internet pornography? Have you become bored with your life and discontent in your marriage? Do you feel the allure of a website like Ashley Madison?
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are the Lord’s” ().
Flee to Christ. The dirty, stinking, shameful sins of every repentant sinner are forgiven freely by the supremely glorious grace of God through the blood that Christ shed for us on the cross. Flee to Him and repent. Even if you have fallen a hundred thousand times. Repent in dust and ashes. Cry out to God, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness…. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (). Then resolve to put off your old man with his filthy, rotten, wicked deeds. Never let your eyes be diverted from Christ who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” ( ). Let us all be warned by the Ashley Madison episode that no sin is done in secret, “but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” ( ).
1 Although he does not seem to disagree with the Roman Catholic position that homosexual practice is a sin, or that homosexuals may not be ordained as priests, he is reported to have said, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” And his lack of interest in talking critically on this greatest socio-cultural issue of our day is a change from the previous popes.