Pope Francis made an amazing statement on the state of the Catholic Church on Monday, but his assessment of the problem extends to all faith communities.
In his criticizing conservative Catholics, he said, “They have replaced faith with ideology.” He said that being “conservative” is looking “backwards” and “When you go backwards,” he said, “You make something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church, which then has a devasting effect on morality.” He sees conservatism as moral decay.
He said the correct understanding of doctrine is to recognize its changing with times. There are some who make foolish claims that the “olden days” had better morality. However, they forget that the olden days had slavery, concubines, harems, legalized prostitution, polygamy, no recourse for spousal abuse, legalized child abuse, no women’s justice for rape, no women’s right to vote, no women’s right to education, no women’s ability to own property, no women’s rights to choose whom they will marry, child brides, women’s genital mutilation, shame killing, caste system, racism, child sacrifice, killing of LGBT community members, and more.
While I had listed them to create an impression that the list was referring to history, they are all that is happening today. They are a reality in areas where there is religious rigidity controlled by backward conservatism. They are happening in all culturally “third world countries,” including the U.S. By claiming religious purity, they hang on to ancient ideas that were meant for ancient society when people lived by superstitions and were controlled by fear. By putting their ideology or ancient superstitions as their authority, conservatism has no room for God. They do not need God; they have made themselves their own gods.
By relying on their ideology, the conservatives have given up faith. To believe in God means we have to acknowledge the presence of God in this time and space. God is here and now. God is with us, you and me. God moves with people and changes with time, or some would say God is changing the world.
We have to recognize that whenever God intervened in human history, God brought changes. With Noah, he brought flood; with Moses, freedom from slavery; with Abraham, the creation of a new nation; with Josiah, new sacred texts; and with Jesus, new life. As we look at the history, the women’s suffrage movement, the abolitionist movement, the anti-colonialist movement of the modern era, Civil Rights, Affirmative Action, women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights, same-sex sex marriage, and now Repair and Reparation.
We must not go “backwards” and close ourselves off from the movement of God, but we must be open to the ways God is calling us to be faithful.