If you've read more than one of my books, you know that religion in one form or another is always present. Whether examining a religious "ex-gay" camp in Thinking Straight or comparing Christianity and Paganism in Throwing Stones, it's in there. I see religion—its presence, its absence, its interpretation and contradictions—as key to how individual people (and groups of people) live their lives and how we treat each other.
The pope-ification of America has been a study in contrasts, with both sides of the political scene embracing the things they like and ignoring the rest. It's a lot like reading the Bible, where interpretation is often in the mind of the reader and where cherry-picking is a strategy each side of an issue will use to prove itself right. Conservative and liberal politicians alike have even pounced on some of the same perceived papal positions and claimed them for their own. It seems to me that LGBT rights is foremost of these.
There has been some criticism of the pope from the conservatives. Joy Pullman, managing editor of The Federalist and education research fellow at The Heartland Institute (a climate change denial think tank), things the pope is out of line, that his purview is religion and that he should stop endangering the economy by calling for us to combat climate disruption. Marco Rubio thinks the pope should stick to his job as a pastor and stay out of politics. Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum say he should steer clear of the economy and energy policy.
And yet, Santorum seems to think the pope is on his side: "I don't think he's coming across as lenient at all. He's actually given speeches very much staying with the line. What he's doing is the right thing." And this: "...he isn't here to scold." Conservatives also claim he’s on their side when it comes to LGBT rights.
What about liberal politicians? They seem to like what Pope Francis has said about prison reform, immigration, and climate change (even though he won’t admit population control would help). They hear him scolding Republicans about capitalism. And they point to a few comments about not judging, and the demotion of the hateful Cardinal Burke (whose demotion has now been shown to have been temporary), to try and pretend that the pope wouldn't like to stop LGBT rights in their tracks, and even reverse them.
"The pope agrees with us," cry Republicans. "He hates abortion and gay rights. He just needs to stay out of politics." They ignore that he's also against divorce and capitalism.
"The pope agrees with us," cry Democrats. "He denounces climate change and accepts gays." They ignore that he supports church policies that deny a woman's right to choose and keep women in a second-class state. And, when it comes to LGBT rights, they’re ignoring a lot more than that.
The pope says he won't judge people who are gay, and last year he told an assembly of Catholic bishops, "God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways." And yet he's spoken out against marriage equality for gay people. He rejected the ambassador France wanted to send to the Vatican because the candidate is gay. He's horrified that Malta might allow gays to adopt children. And how about this one: He supports Kim Davis.
That’s right. Kim Davis. The law-denying Kentucky county clerk who refuses to do the job she was elected to do and says it's her religious right, in her public service role, to discriminate against gays. It seems Pope Francis might agree with her. Pink News quotes him as saying, “…conscientious objection is a right, even for government officials.” ThinkProgess is a little more circumspect, and the well-known gay Evangelical Brandan Robertson thinks an uninformed pope was duped into the meeting with Davis by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops out to politicize religion. But wherever it's coming from, there's definitely smoke here.
Notably, the Human Rights Campaign reports that Pope Francis declined to meet with a group of 100+ LGBT Catholics who wanted to welcome him, waiting across the street from a prayer service he'd joined. So he'll give a little girl with a prepared, canned speech his love (and his media attention), but not people who have been ostracized for millennia?
The point Davis wants to make is that her religion trumps her country’s laws. If Pope Francis agrees with her. I suggest they both move to a country where religion is the law. Oh—wait. That’s where the Pope lives now. Then I suggest Davis join him in the Vatican. Or perhaps they should both relocate to Saudi Arabia.
Maybe Pope Francis doesn't judge, but he expects God to do so. And for all his expressions of love and inclusiveness—or perhaps because of them—it’s time we started judging him.