I would like to compare two leaders of the Christian community: Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. First I would like to establish some facts about their outlooks on homosexuality. There is controversy surrounding Pope Francis’ opinions about the sinfulness of the homosexuality due to actions before and after his election to the papacy.
In 2010 (as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio), he worked against an Argentine bill allowing same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. But in a post-election interview with Antonio Sparado, SJ of America, he remembers his response to a question about homosexuality as this: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.” Clearly, the pope’s opinion on the sinfulness of homosexuality is not cut and dry.
Phil Robertson does not mince any words regarding his opinion. In the now-renowned interview with GQ, he claimed that sin started with homosexuality and spreads from there to drunks and terrorists. Now, due to the confusion surrounding the pope and my personal desire for a constructive debate, I am not going to talk about the sinfulness of homosexuality, I am going to talk about the presentation of the Christian faith.
Currently, the Catholic Church is going through what many have described as an identity crisis. There are two issues at hand – maintaining traditional beliefs and adjusting viewpoints to appeal to the new generation. Appealing to the youth was part of the reason that Pope Francis was elected – he has striven to place an emphasis on youth and advancing the Church into the future. Robertson would represent the other belief, sticking to the Bible and traditional teachings instead of adopting “new-age” beliefs. Now, both positions (changing vs. maintaining tradition) have merit, but the way that people present their opinions makes all the difference. And that is why there was such uproar about Robertson’s comments and subsequent suspension.
His attitude was one of superiority, spreading the Lord’s truth to these people who sin and need to remedy their bad habits. This is by no means an accurate description of his goals, but this is an interpretation of his comments that is too easy to make.
On the other hand, Pope Francis presents a more passive idea of traditionalism, claiming that the one known truth about Christianity is that Christ is God and that we are all searching for God. He admits the possibility of mistakes within tradition and claims that a true religious leader needs to have doubt, to “leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.” Some may interpret this doubt as weakness in the face of heathenism that is becoming rampant in the modern age; but Pope Francis describes it perfectly as humility. Francis acknowledges that humans are human and can make mistakes, even mistakes that may have been included in the Magisterium or the Bible. That doesn’t mean that these spiritual sources are incorrect entirely, just that certain parts of the Bible or the teachings of the Church may be wrong. Francis presents a humble openness whereas Robertson presents a harsh certitude.
I may not be a follower of Buddhism, but I want to be able to listen to any Buddhist who may have something to say to me. This isn’t about selling out on my faith in God, but it’s about being willing to communicate and recognize the goodness in other religions and other people, and I think that is a large part of being a good human being. That is why I draw solace from Pope Francis’ example. He shows me how to be a good person, whereas Robertson simply tells me how to be good from his perspective. In this day and age, I have thousands of people telling me that I am wrong and that I should change. It’s a relief to have a different spiritual icon be willing to say that he, and God, accepts me as a person who is trying, even though I am not perfect and I am full of sin.