Francis’ indictment of mafia violence and calling them to repentance with the threat of Hell, is a perfect model for some of my thoughts about navigating the space between the church and the world, especially when seen in the light of his responses to both atheists and the LGBTQ community.
Perhaps Francis has now fully played his hand with this move to chastise a criminal element within the Catholic Church. We have seen him offer the olive branch of peace to atheists, and to the LGBTQ community. Now, we have seen him go after the mafiaoso, who often present themselves as good patrons of the church. He has threatened them with Hell. Of course, the threat of Hell seems somewhat empty in the light of desiring justice here and now, but the Church is not in the business of dispensing temporal justice, and so his words yesterday add at most a strong political momentum upon which to build a stronger structure of social justice. But, here is the beauty of these separate incidents:
Francis has opened the doors of Christianity to the outsider, to the disenfranchised, to the neglected, to those who have been betrayed or demonized by the Church. Now in this most recent attack on the mafia, he has demanded change from those who say they are part of the church, yet by their actions have proven they are violators of all that Christ stands for. He is simultaneously opening the doors to his critics, and cleaning his own house. This is the model I see in Jesus, and what I expect of the spiritual leaders. Isn’t this reminiscent of Jesus critique of the Pharisees, and acceptance of the “sinners?” This is also why I have supported my friend Jim Henderson’s efforts to highlight the abuses occurring at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
This is how to turn the world upside down. This is the place of humility, and I hope it is a model of more things to come. I am anticipating stronger responses to the priest abuse scandal. I am expecting a more open policy, and less secrecy. These things may not come about, but this first year of Francis’ papal efforts leave me hopeful. We may truly have a world-class diplomat – exceeding anyone in any office of politics today – residing in the most powerful seat of Christendom. He seems to understand that taking the low road of humility, and the high road of correction within the Church itself are simultaneously necessary for a healthy Church.
This is the kind of Burning Religion I have a hope for. One that is willing to burn itself down for the sake of resurrecting something more authentic and simple.