Say this for President Obama: His troll game is strong. During his opening remarks welcoming Pope Francis, he abandoned his “freedom to worship” language and instead said: “People are only free when they can practice their faith freely.” And that, “We in the United States cherish our religious liberty.” The Little Sisters of the Poor surely appreciated this.
For his part, Pope Francis opened with an oblique argument for religious liberty, too:
Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
The other half of Francis’s remarks were spent on climate change, which were not oblique at all—but rather close to endorsement of a specific policy initiative. There’s some handwringing today from conservative Catholics upset about the pope being politicized, out of context, by people who can't understand the deep spiritual workings of the pontiff. This is the pope choosing to use his opening remarks to make common cause with a specific political policy initiative:
Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed . . .
And so on.
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By the by, on further reflection, the pope’s dismissal of questions yesterday about his refusal to meet with Cuban dissidents is even worse that it sounded at first. Ben Domenech observes that Francis didn’t sound like a pope; he sounded like a politician trying to get out of an uncomfortable question:
If you have not read it, I would encourage you all to read this full transcript of the Pope’s interview on the plane from Cuba to America. It does not read like an interview with a faith leader, but with a politician. He is leaving a meeting with an explicitly anti-Christian Communist dictator, and he is being asked why he would glad-hand with a dying tyrant while ignoring the many dissidents who wanted to meet with him. He even suggests that those who accuse him of political idiocy are extremists who assess him on the basis of his shoes instead of his ideas. The interview reads like one of a cornered politician, defensive and old, not crafty enough to work around the not very clever questions from journalists. The part where he offers “Hey, maybe one of the wheelchair guys was a dissident?” reads like a line from Veep. They are the answers of somebody embarrassed by the real answer.
But what’s really damning is when Domenech contrasts Francis in Cuba with John Paul II in Poland:
This is not always the way it was. Contrast with John Paul II, on 2 June 1979, in Warsaw. He was 59 to Francis’s 78, a young Pope, a Polish Pope, speaking less than a year after his selection. He was speaking in the heart of Soviet military power in Eastern Europe, an occupied capital, under the guns. Over a million people turn out to see him. It is perhaps the largest Mass in the history of the Catholic Church… until the following week in Krakow, when two million will turn out. He is standing in a city run by a government dedicated to atheistic Communism, to subservience to Soviet power, to the rejection of faith and the domination of every thought to the service of the collective.
In the context of the Washington Post asking possible Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker whether President Obama's a Christian, it's worth remembering when Hillary Clinton was asked if Obama was a Muslim. She "inject[ed] a note of ambivalence," as ABC wrote at the time.
As the theological undercurrents of the present Middle East turmoil roil ever closer to the surface, well-meaning observers in the West have increasingly looked toward a common biblical ancestor to heal conflict among Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
It is often claimed that conservative religious voters, especially white evangelicals, are going the way of the dinosaur, consigned to demographic irrelevance. But they were a key component of the Republicans’ 2014 midterm victories. According to exit polls, Conservative religious voters made up as big a percentage of the electorate as ever, and they backed Republicans at least as strongly as ever.
Islamic State terrorists, formerly known as ISIS, have killed at least 500 members of Iraq’s Yezidi religious minority in and around the city of Sinjar and taken hundreds of women as slaves. Some of the victims were buried alive. Their only crime: not being Muslims.
The anti-Christian violence in Egypt is "a modern pogrom," David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, says in a statement.
"Events in Egypt this week highlight yet again the tragedy facing the Christians of the Middle East. Once again, Christians are being targeted for murder. Once again Christian schools, businesses and churches are being attacked. And once again, the world is largely silent," Brog says.
A band of Muslim raiders sacked Rome in 846 a.d., plundering the city’s churches and getting clean away with their loot. They had come from Palermo, in Sicily, which had been in Muslim hands for 15 years. Sicily was then on its way to becoming a predominantly Islamic and Arabic-speaking island, and it remained under Muslim rule for over two centuries, until the Normans conquered it in the late 11th century.
In an interview that aired this morning, President Obama was asked whether he'd have too much influence over an American pope. He didn't answer the question, but he did say he hopes the next pope carries the "central message of the Gospel":
Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts has banned a Christian group from campus because the group requires student leaders to adhere to "basic biblical truths of Christianity." The decision to ban the group, called the Tufts Christian Fellowship, was made by officials from the university's student government, specifically the Tufts Community Union Judiciary.
Just in time for the nearly 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly this week, which will consider anti-Israel divestment, some prominent Christian activists have released a new anti-Israel salvo, called Kairos USA.