All around the world the media has reported on Pope Francis’ recent comment in a popular Jesuit publication that it was a time for a “new balance” in regards to the church’s stance on same sex marriage, contraception and abortion. This is what the Pope said which has caused such a global stir: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. We have to talk about them in context.” This was widely reported in the media as a major softening of the traditional Roman Catholic views regarding these issues. However, this would be a Protestant reading of the interview, not a Roman Catholic one. Because Protestants are famous for separating such issues out from their larger theological context, we immediately assume that this is a sign of a change in the Roman Catholic position. It would certainly signal precisely that from a Protestant leader. But, notice that the three topics he mentioned (abortion, same sex marriage and contraception) are all related to the larger doctrines of creation and anthropology in Roman Catholic thought. For Protestants, these are issues related to civil rights and individual autonomy and, only rarely, are they discussed within any larger theological context.
My own read on this is that Pope Francis was resisting the popular Protestantizing of these issues which turns them into political issues and endless popular pronouncements which are filled with endless logical fallacies and, more importantly, shockingly shallow theological argumentation. The Pope is signaling that it is time to place these issues within the larger context of who we are as Christians and how we relate to society as a whole. Pope Francis wants the church to not forget its mission to serve the poor, whether they are believers or unbelievers. This has absolutely nothing to do with changing the church’s position on these issues. Rather, it is a call to more sober and mature reflection on these issues within the larger context of who we are as God’s children in the midst of a broken world. Notice how the Pope said, “we have to talk about them (these issues) in context.” I think this is good advice for all of us. The church must fiercely resist the politicization of these issues which turns them into “causes” and, in the process, miss God’s creational design for men and women who are bearers of his image and, through marriage and child-bearing, become co-creators with God.