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Pope-sized Sound Bytes… and a Confession

 —  March 3, 2014 — 13 Comments

The Pope.

And… here we go.

(ahem)

pope1Not that long ago, I raised a question in another post regarding the implications of the Pope being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It’s a topic I’m interested in not only as a Protestant pastor, but also as a former Catholic. I once had a lot of baggage in transitioning out of the Catholic church, but now only seem to have a “carry-on” about it I can’t seem to get rid of.

Please forgive me for being honest about that.

Maybe it’s why I was personally saddened by a recent blog post a friend shared with me where Pope Francis denied the existence of hell, declared that “all religions are true,” and other provocative things. Saddened… and yet, I didn’t question it. It seemed to affirm some of my old-school Catholic baggage and fears about how people are just waiting to hear what they want to hear from a religious leader so they can check out of a real journey with God. Here’s a quote from that blog attributed to Pope Francis:

pope3In his latest revelations, Pope Francis said:

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I came across the news when in the midst of a busy day a friend and congregation member sent me a Facebook note and asked me for my opinion on it. Wanting to honor his interest, I quickly read the article and became broken over it. I feel the tension all the time even as a pastor to honor they trust others put in me, and while I don’t have the corner market on Truth I believe God does and we need to figure out what that means:

  • There is truth: It’s illogical to say “All religions are true.” It’s a lazy cultural concept that does more harm than good, mainly because we’re so concerned about making sure we don’t offend anyone that we fail to realize how offensive that ideal is. People should be offended – laws exist to offend people away from breaking them; homes are built with locks on them to offend potential criminals from invading where they do not belong; Truth exists so that lies do not become dominant.
  • There is a truth about God: Either He exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, our opinions of Him don’t define Him; rather, His revelation about Himself is what matters most, beyond opinion. No individual (including a Pope) can have the definitive word on this. If you believe God does not exist, you may gain some insight from Pascal’s Wager as a starting point.

Again… not once did I wonder if what the Pope said was actually something he said. He confirmed my worst fears about his potential role in Christendom, just as he would have likely confirmed some people’s best dreams for something he might say.

That’s really what I’m writing about.

francismask-255x144Twelve hours later, I realized that this was all a hoax. According to a Catholic media page as well as Snopes.com, the story was planted into internet circulation by the blogger of the Diversity Chronicle who claims (via a disclaimer) that his content is “largely satirical.”

“Twelve hours later.” Twelve hours. In that time, I’d shared it with my wife, formed conclusions about the Pope, replied by to my friend, entertained a Rob Bell reference, and tightened my resolve regarding what Christianity will look like in the immediate future based on the influence of one man. I had to go back and correct all of that.

I know I could have kept this a private matter, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

So I sincerely apologize, and I welcome your judgment – also, your prayers. As you prepare for that, I’d offer my motives:

  • My previously confessed Catholic baggage. I won’t go down that road with you here, but will happily talk with you one-on-one if it’s of interest.
  • The tension in Christendom of witnessing our heroes, frenemies and theological adversaries take a public nose dive that we’re left to sweep up the remnants of.
  • A passage in the back of the Bible (and always somehow in the back of my mind) that “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
  • An egotistical understanding that I am doing my best on a regular basis to be “theologically correct” in everything I do. Again… please note… an “egotistical understanding.” I so appreciate a Rich Mullins quote: “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing..”

worldbrokenThe world is changing… and apparently so is the local church. My wife grew up within the care structure of Christianity (whereas I came into it as a teenager). She once observed how it used to feel like when she was in a church gathering that it was a chance to feel camaraderie with like-minded people. Even if it wasn’t true, it “felt” like people were trying to hold the same Christian worldview. Now in any given church service you might be sitting next to someone who lives/votes/loves/hates completely different than you do – and we truly have to figure out how to forge relationships through tension.

I’d also point out one more thing – someone is waiting for you to say something that affirms their criticisms, baggage or beliefs about you.

Maybe this isn’t about the Pope as much as it’s about all of us. His sound-bytes have a louder echo, but so do yours and mine in our circles. Maybe this isn’t just about my motives for my reaction, but your motives for whatever your reaction might be to that… or even this.

Moving forward, you will have to decide more than which dogmas or religious rock stars you will be inappropriately loyal to or get inappropriately steamed over. You have to decide how you will be loyal to Jesus while giving space for loving others through your own biases.

Again, I welcome your judgment.

I likewise also welcome your confession…

but just so there’s no confusion, I welcome your confession as a Protestant pastor… with a Catholic carry-on that I can’t seem to get rid of.

Tony Myles

Tony Myles

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Tony Myles is a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio... and he really likes smoothies.

13 responses to Pope-sized Sound Bytes… and a Confession

  1. Thank you for this honest piece, Tony. I’m a Catholic Youth Minister in my 20s and I came across a Facebook post this past weekend that led to an article quoting the quotes you have above. My first thought was, “NO way. So I’m supposed to disregard everything I’ve learned about objective truth? Just wait until my kids get ahold of this info and want to ream me in what we’ve been proposing to them as Truth in their catechesis. How is this possible? Where the heck are the sources for this article!?” And I couldn’t find any….. I’m grateful for your post to clear up the hoax. I’m continuing to discover how to “be loyal to Jesus” as the Christian church does indeed change and evolve right under our noses. Thanks again

    • Tony Myles

      Wow. I didn’t even consider that angle – how it must have sounded if you’re under that umbrella and feel like you’re now standing out in the rain. Hoping/praying something like this never does happen, and yet from every angle possible I sense we’ll see more of this sort of thing happening as time goes on. Maybe the difference is it won’t just be in the big names but among all of us. Praying we can keep a sober mind and fix our eyes on Christ somehow.

  2. Thank you for your honesty, it has cause me to do a self check if you will ( the proverbial log in my eye) I had to do a quick review of the account in Acts about the Berean church and follow their lead of basing my beliefs,thoughts, and opinions scriptural in a Spirit of Love. Thank you once again.

  3. Tony, as a Catholic youth minister and Christian I appreciate your transparency and courage to confess publicly. We’ve all gotten caught up in the moment and reacted poorly instead of prudently. Thanks.

  4. It’s too bad we live in a world with such a short attention span AND such a quick turnaround in the news cycle that hoaxes can get disseminated widely but the truthful explanations don’t get half the time that fairness would dictate.

    For some reason, as a society, we’re eager to debunk anything connected with traditional beliefs. And if you refuse to hop on that bandwagon, then you’re either close minded or living in an unenlightened state.

  5. Dear Tony,
    First greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. Tony, I would like to thank you for allowing yourself to be transparent and vulnerable for the sake of truth. I have work with young people for over 38 years. I was raised a Catholic but was poorly catechize because, I did not understand the truth of the teachings of the Catholic Church. I converted and became a Protestant Christian and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord at the age of 16.

    It wasn’t until 2001 sitting in a theological class at a baptist school in Pennsylvania studying “early church fathers” that the Spirit of God spoke to me about the truth of the Catholic Church. I reverted back to Catholicism. In all honesty this was the scariest journey I have ever embarked on.

    The Bible verse that really influences me and I mean all Scripture influences me, but, there are some that haunts me to live a holy life. 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Colossians 3:14, lastly the parable of the sheep and goats in the book of Luke.

    Therefore, I would encourage you to lay your baggage at the foot of the cross. And, know that this Catholic brother loves you with that unconditional love.

    In Christ,
    Anthony Seda

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ9Ssvs5cgY

    • Tony Myles

      This means a lot, Anthony (great name, by the way!). My hope is that we all end up seeing the same Christ just around different vantage points of the cross. Appreciate you sharing even just this big picture slice of your journey. Blessings!

  6. Hi there,
    I have to say I read your article with great interest as I am a Catholic youth minister who is very much inspired by Pope Francis.
    While I’m glad you set the record straight, the way you began the article leaves me concerned as the first portion is presented in a way that suggests the blog-post contained ACTUAL quotes from the Holy Father. The fact that your point was to show how quickly we can be fooled and even jump on the “gossip-train” about something untrue only came later into your post… I was even worried about the quotes and what this “new” theology would mean for me… But considering the short attention span of many readers, you may be continuing the cycle of people believing that Pope Francis actually said these things. Perhaps the title and opening paragraph could have been more reflective of your eventual point. That way, people would know right away that your reaction was to FALSE quotes.
    I write this with fraternal love for a fellow Christian… The baggage we (all of us) carry does affect more than just us, and the internet can make the effects of it far-reaching so we need to be mindful of how very subtly we can be driven to share our woundedness with others.
    And… in the end, I’m grateful for your confession! May we all be more discerning in what we hear and read.
    In Christ,
    Julie L.

    • Tony Myles

      Thanks, Julie. You make a great point – and it’s one I did consider. Ultimately, I ended up on a “Nathan rebuking King David” approach where the reader would go on their own journey before realizing the real punch line was our own internal heart/perspective on this. For that reason, I didn’t want to shortcut or sidestep what I hoped would be a real wrestling of this. I’d ask for your prayers on that – I hope that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the impact of this article in the same way (I believe) He guided me in forming it. It’s something I often wrestle with as a speaker (maybe we all do) – how much work do we put into doing the hard work for people, and how much do we let them do some heavy lifting to build some real faith muscle? Appreciate you adding to this!

  7. Hi, Tony,

    Thank you so much for your honesty and witnessing to so many others who are holding onto baggage whether carry on size, smaller or larger. Our journeys are to be examined and it is important to not assume that we have ever “arrived”.

    AND you might be pleasantly surprised that a recent homily by Pope Francis emphasized the existence of the devil. I will not quote or paraphrase so that others and myself will read and re-read and investigate in order to have our facts right BEFORE we share with others.

    And I am so grateful that Pope Francis appears to be authentic, is “house cleaning” and cautions all of us to avoid judgment and gossip. Thank you, Lord, for all ministers who encourage us to grow in faith.

    In His Peace,
    Rita

    And, hey, thanks for being human!

    • Tony Myles

      Appreciate that, Rita – especially the human part. I’ll dig around for that homily. Looking forward to keeping an eye out for God as He works through all of us, mistakes and all.

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