Nothing explicitly Christian about Pope’s speech

by Denny Burk on September 25, 2015 in Christianity, Politics

I just finished listening to the Pope’s speech to Congress from earlier today (watch below). There is no question that the occasion was historic—the first time ever that a Pope has delivered such an address. Indeed, it would have been impossible to imagine such an invitation being extended just fifty years ago. But the times have changed, and now the United States Congress has done something unprecedented.

Nevertheless, even though the speech was historic, it was also a disappointment—not so much for what he did say but for what he didn’t say. For example:

1. The Pope didn’t mention Jesus. Not even in passing. He moralized and polticized, but he rooted none of it in anything explicitly Christian. He stands before the United States Congress—a platform that commands the attention of the world—and he says nothing about the heart of the Christian gospel. Nothing about Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners. Nothing about the Kingdom of God and the renewal of all things in Christ. Nothing about forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and the summing up of all things in Christ. It seems to me that a man who is supposed to be God’s apostle on earth might speak with a little more clarity about the author and perfecter of our faith. As it is, his speech could have been uttered in good conscience by a Jew or a Muslim. There literally was nothing distinctively Christian about it.

2. The Pope didn’t speak prophetically but politically. The Pope spoke clearly and at length in support of liberal political priorities—climate change, immigration, abolishing the death penalty. He spoke vaguely and briefly (if at all) about the most contested social issues of our time—abortion, marriage, and religious liberty.

3. The Pope didn’t mention abortion explicitly. He did say this: “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” That was it. After that, he had nothing specific to say about abortion. Nothing. He spoke specifically to defend the lives of the guilty from the death penalty. But he said nothing specific to defend the lives of the innocent millions who have been killed legally in our country since 1973. Over 56 million people have been killed legally in our country under the regime of Roe v. Wade. To put that number in perspective, that is the holocaust times nine. There is no question that abortion-on-demand is the greatest human rights crisis of our time, and the Pope said nothing about it. He said nothing about our federal government’s funding of Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills. He said nothing about the culture of death being fostered in America.

4. The Pope didn’t mention anything explicit about the challenge of gay marriage. He did say this:

I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

If he meant to address marriage at all, he only did so in the most indirect way—with a vague passive sentence: “Fundamental relationships are being called into question.” That was it. Nothing about the redefinition of marriage or our Supreme Court’s recent ruling. At best, his defense of traditional marriage is inferential and implicit. It’s certainly neither clear nor explicit.

I don’t have high expectations of this Pope. Why not? First, the papacy itself is an unbiblical office. Second, he hails from the most liberal order within Catholic life—the Jesuits—and his political priorities reflect that. As a result, there was nothing explicitly Christian about the speech.

There is more that I might quibble with about this speech, but the items above are the heart of my concerns. What are yours?