I don’t know whether to call it “Pope Power” or “Francis Frenzy,” but whatever it was, I wasn’t impressed.
You’d think that I would be. After all, I like what the guy has to say about capitalism, global warming, and international conflict. Hey, anybody who channels his namesake, Francis of Assisi, and calls money “dung” has at least a few points coming.
But what I can’t get past is that, for all his quasi-neo-liberation theology, His Holiness Francis I is also the latest supreme earthly embodiment of an institution that has at its heart a sacralized, hierarchical, and authoritarian doctrine that spins in a direct line from the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.
As a friend pointed out earlier this week, it was hard to listen to the Pope’s homilies with appropriate concentration when they were delivered in the context of an ornate church filled with the representatives of power both political and supernatural. Too much gold, too much brocade, and too much incense for washing the feet of one homeless person to overcome.
And then, speaking of feet, the other shoe dropped.
We now know that Francis had a private meeting with anti-gay, pro-Jesus Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. Davis reports that the Pope thanked her for her courage, told her to stay strong, and asked her to pray for him.
He asks everyone he meets to pray for him — but not everyone he meets went to jail denying legal and human rights to loving Kentucky couples with whose definition of love her interpretation of God disagrees.
Make no mistake, Davis is not a hero or a martyr.
She didn’t suffer indignity and punishment in the name of something she believes that she must do, or be. She went to jail because she wanted to stop other people from exercising the very freedom to act and to believe that she claims underlay her refusal to follow the law.
This is an important point, and it bears repeating.
If I go to jail to express my beliefs, that is a very, very different thing than if I defy the law as a means of preventing others from expressing their own beliefs.
According to Kim Davis and people like her, some beliefs are better than others. And guess who gets to decide which ones those are?
When an individual claims to be doing God’s work or witnessing for the true faith, that person assumes an unjustified mantle of arbitrary political power. Because I believe this or that, I have authority over you. I am morally and (if you believe in such things) spiritually superior.
Isn’t that what popes claim, too?