We Shouldn’t Be Surprised Francis Met with Kim Davis

When Pope Francis came to New York last week traffic came to a standstill. But traffic on social media was brisk, with many of my friends from the social justice world celebrating the Pope’s “liberal” (read: barely modern and centrist in the overall scheme of things) take on hot-button domestic issues. The Pope believes in climate change! He cares if people are starving! He’s willing to let priests forgive women for abortions, at least for a single year of “mercy” (normally, you see, abortion is such a grave sin that a bishop has to be entreated for forgiveness).

And then the news leaked that the Pope had met with Kim Davis, and suddenly all that changed: My Facebook feed was filled with anger, vitriol, and even a sense of betrayal that the Pope was supporting religious exemptions.

Now on one level, this just seems bizarre. Of course the Pope supports religious exemptions. He’s the POPE. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops pays fancy lobbyists every year to push for broad readings of religious exemptions laws. And who’s their boss? The Pope. Many of the non-profit organizations objecting to even signing the form to take advantage of the accommodation from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement are Catholic organizations. So why is it so surprising that the Pope would support Kim Davis and her attempt to claim a religious exemption to performing same-sex marriages—or even appearing to validate them in her official capacity?

I think the answer is that this strange disjunct is a result of the enormously divided and recalcitrant split between America’s political parties. This Pope believes in global warming, he clearly cares about the poor and disenfranchised, he seems to genuinely be committed to humility and relieving the suffering of his flock. And in America, if you believe in the science of climate change, truly care about poverty, and want amnesty for undocumented immigrants, you’re a liberal. In fact, liberals have adopted this Pope as their mascot so ardently that last week my social media feeds were filled with people reposting the fake quote in the picture below. It appeals to social-justice oriented American liberals because it echoes their beliefs.

francis_fake

Hence the betrayal when the Pope met with Kim Davis and encouraged her to continue her martyrdom. Liberals felt let down and deceived, as though the Pope had misled them about his politics.

But in fact it’s a strange and artificial aspect of American politics—not the Pope’s politics—that understands concern for the disenfranchised and the marginalized to be incompatible with a deeply conservative view of religion’s place in the secular world and a commitment to a paramount religious authority.

In America, conservatives want broad religious exemptions, tax breaks and policies that clearly benefit the wealthy, and border control. But those ideas aren’t necessarily related; they’re just an accidental cluster created by various political dynamics that are, globally-speaking, regional.

This matters because the Pope is not a liberal. If you’re a liberal, the Pope is not your friend (unless you’re Kim Davis). The Pope’s celebrity has somehow, in the American liberal imagination, separated him from the politics of his institutions to the extent that while people realize that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes any regulation of religious exemptions, they remain surprised to see the Pope take that same position. Many people were sharing the fake quote pictured above; no one was sharing the fact that after the Pope made much milder comments in a 2013 homily that seemed to suggest openness to non-believers, the Vatican rushed to clarify that those who are aware of the Church need to “enter” her to find salvation.

Now, I’m all for a feel-good Facebook meme. And there are certainly things about Pope Francis that are refreshing compared to his predecessor. But it’s dangerous to gloss over the deeply conservative nature of the Catholic Church, or to assume that because the Pope believes in (some) science or lifts up some of the Church’s longstanding teachings on poverty it means the Church is entering the modern era of progressive politics.

Contrary to the argument I often hear when I raise these points, I’m not persuaded that it’s “important” for us to lavish the Pope with accolades and adoration for being, in so many words, not as terrible a Pope as the last one. The Pope doesn’t need our support. He’s got the biggest constituency in the world, and it’s provincial of us to think that the approval of American liberals is somehow going to help guide him over to “our side.” The Catholic Church is a deeply culturally conservative institution with a global reach, and its politics have not proven malleable on the core culture-war issues of our day—in other words, the full legal and political equality of LGBT individuals and women.

And don’t even get me started on the idea that only a Bishop can normally pardon an abortion. That’s a whole other post.

  • cranefly

    Kim Davis is not asking for a religious exemption. She’s demanding religious tyranny at the expense of the rights of others. I agree that the pope’s faint hint of non-hatred towards LGBT has been widely misunderstood, misquoted, and exaggerated (the only gays he claimed to not judge were celibate gay priests in the closet). And I agree that it’s naive for anyone to think that he’s truly progressive or even understands the extent of the guilt of the Catholic Church in the injustice that he pays lip service to. But he still gets up every morning and pretends to champion social justice, and has stated goals to change the pastoral climate of the Church, which needs more than a little of that. Whatever your political label, he can’t be taken seriously as a pastoral reformer if he passes up the opportunity to reach out to actual gay Catholics (e.g. any of the many believing LGBT Catholics – celibate or not – who have suffered injustice, hostility, and unwelcome at the hands of their church), in favor of a bigoted, tyrannical media circus clown like Kim Davis.

  • Camera Obscura

    This post just about certainly misrepresents what happened in the meeting, how it came about and what Pope Francis knew about the case and what it means. I think the speculations that the meeting was set up by someone in the Vatican embassy who is opposed to Pope Francis, wishing that Benedict XV had stayed in office, makes a lot more sense than anything said in this piece.

    This is just anti-Catholic diatribe not all that different from the anti-Francis diatribes in the right-wing online media slamming him from having a gay man as lector as the public papal mass, certainly a far more significant act in any political context than a private meeting which was requested to not be made public during the visit.

  • Jim Reed

    Are you suggesting Pope Francis came to the US and had a meeting with Kim Davis, and it was supposed to be private and not made public?

  • Camera Obscura

    How many of the other, many, people who Pope Francis met with on his trip have you heard about? This meeting was sought by Mat Staver, Davis’s lawyer and a right-wing political hack, it was set up by the Vatican Embassy in DC where it, along with lots of other such “meetings” happened. I can guarantee you that Pope Francis was a lot more focused on his speech to Congress than with the Kim Davis issue. In the magnifying glass on the ephemeral and unimportant that the internet seems to actually be, she has been a lot bigger issue than she is even nationally, never mind internationally.

    I doubt Pope Francis was told much about the case and, from everything I’ve read, there was a request that it be kept in confidence during the visit BECAUSE HIS PEOPLE DIDN’T WANT IT TO BECOME A POLITICAL SIDE SHOW.

    Charlie Pierce’s scenario at his blog of how it happened and what it means makes more sense to me than this article does or anything that the anti-Catholic, anti-religion gaggle online has said about it. This article, written by an accomplished lawyer, is a travesty of false factoids.

  • Jim Reed

    Everything about Kim Davis is a travesty of false factoids, and every visit with her is a political side show. The pope came here to dig in the mud of Republican politics, and the fastest way to dig in is the Kim Davis issue. The pope somehow dodged a bullet after meeting with Little Sisters of the Poor, but now he can’t avoid getting covered in Kim Davis shit. The best thing you could have done for the pope would be to just keep quiet about it, because the more you try to clean things up, the more you just spread around the shit.

  • Camera Obscura

    Your comment is obviously and blatantly false, as shown by his address to Congress. Even the line that got the Republicans applause, immediately went into his call to abolish the death penalty. On almost all of the issues Pope Francis spoke on, he is to the left of Barack Obama, on a lot of them he was to the left of Bernie Sanders as we can reliably know because Bernie Sanders made that point not long ago.

    Atheists lie, that’s what I’ve come to conclude from reading the online comments and articles written by atheists.

  • Jim Reed

    I didn’t say he was pro Republican. I said he is getting into Republican issues, like greed of the wealthy and the environment. He might be putting Republicans in their place on these issues Still, he is doing nothing but messing himself by meeting with Kim Davis. He is also showing real stupidity if he is saying government employees don’t have to follow the law. If he wants to encourage her, he should have told her to quit, then in her private life she can discriminate as much as she wants.

  • The Vatican today stated that they did not support Ms. Davis in her actions. In fact, they downplayed the meeting as being one among many of those squeezed into a short time period at the Vatican facilities in DC. The Pope’s response to news media on the flight to Rome clearly showed that he had little knowledge of what this woman was doing or even who she was. Once they had a better understanding, they disavowed any support for her in her legal battles. I suspect she was just another face among many who sought blessings, and that he had no idea of the media storm she was creating or that she was in violation of court orders.

    I also suspect that this meeting was staged by her lawyer and a Catholic bishop who wanted to embarrass the Pope for his stand on LGBT issues, and then revealed as something it was not, in order to give her more clout with the media, which was losing interest, and with the KY governor and legislature in January. I suspect that within the Vatican today, the Pope has more than a few questions about that meeting, especially about why, considering the publicity she was getting, it was even allowed since he strove so strongly to stay out of political confrontations, and why it is being portrayed as something it was not. Conscientious objection is one thing, but this is political opportunism and grandstanding on the part of Davis and her lawyer.

    As for the author’s contention that this Pope should be considered dangerous to liberals, I find that cynical and somewhat short-sighted. Yes, he adheres to cultural doctrines within the church and that is to be expected, but he is also someone who can begin to cause a shift in this church’s doctrines more effectively if he moves gradually. I am reminded of Eisenhower talking to a group of African-American leaders in the 1950s who were working for civil rights. He told them that they had a long fight ahead of them because they were not just changing laws, they were trying to change the minds of an entire society.

    The same is true of this Pope who has taken over at a time when the church was mired in scandals (both financial and sexual), losing followers because of its antiquated and anti-female doctrines, and because its Bishops had become just as extreme in their behaviors and practices as the most rigid of fundamentalists and corporate profiteers. And, the faithful were seeing the Bishops as the church as a whole. This Pope is working to change minds, gradually, because he realizes that like the civil rights movement, upheaval accomplishes very little in the long run, but gradual changes allows followers and outsiders to accept greater changes over time. He may not be the most liberal of people personally, but as a liberal , I find him far more Christian than any American Bishop or any of his predecessors, and if that means I attribute him with liberal political ideals it is merely because Christianity is far more liberal than the likes of a Huckabee or Cruz or a bigot like Kim Davis would have us believe.

  • Rmj

    More logical to say he was “putting Republicans in their place” by meeting with prisoners in prison. Or did that actually mean he approved of their crimes?

  • Jim Reed

    The important issues are the environment and the greed of capitalism, and he might help our country to grow up on those. Everything else is mostly for show, which is fine, but they really blew it by meeting with Kim Davis, and not the Vatican is doing damage control by saying they didn’t mean anything by it.

  • Jim Reed

    I also suspect that this meeting was staged by her lawyer and a Catholic bishop who wanted to embarrass the Pope for his stand on LGBT issues, and then revealed as something it was not, in order to give her more clout with the media,

    If true, that makes this story much more important and newsworthy.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    As a pastor I don’t find that atheists lie anymore than theists do 🙂

  • Camera Obscura

    You must not encounter as many atheists as I do.

  • Jim Reed

    There are differences of opinion. We know what you call lies by atheists in comments here, but others might not see them as lies.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    It meant he sees them as human beings, something the GOP would rather forget.

  • Camera Obscura

    When I say something is a lie it is because it is contrary to fact and almost certainly told to convince people of something other than fact. “Opinion is a fleeting thing but truth outlasts the sun” So said E.D. and it is, as well, the truth.

  • Jim Reed

    Of course everything gets screwed up when religion gets involved because people look to religious sources as truth and then everyone starts accusing all the others of telling lies.

    I guess the basic problem is nothing in Christianity is true, but the religious approach is to accept it as true.

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, so you don’t believe you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

    You are a fountain of silly statements about religion, especially Christianity.

  • Jim Reed

    I think this is another way of stating the big question about Christianity, which was what is progressive Christianity? Another way to ask it would be what is true about Christianity? Another question that can’t be answered because if you try to answer it, you are just digging Christianity into a deeper hole.

  • Camera Obscura

    You aren’t interested in the truth, you’re interested in your ideological hatred of Christianity and, so, Christians. That’s all neo-atheism consists of except when it’s hating on Islam or Judaism or some other religion.

  • Jim Reed

    That is kind of the point. You can’t say what is true about Christianity without opening up to having it turn out that it is not really true. Christianity needs to accuse others faults because it can’t speak truth.

  • Rmj

    According to the Vatican the Pope “met with her” in a roomful of people. According to her lawyers, he met with her privately. Her lawyers also claimed 100,000 people gathered in Peru to pray for Ms. Davis; they finally had to admit that never happened. They have no proof for their story she had a private audience with the Pope, and all they claim is he addressed two sentences to her: “Stay strong” and “Pray for me.” Then he handed her some rosary beads.

    Her lawyers say the visit took 15 minutes. That took 15 minutes to accomplish? Why don’t they say what else happened? Or could it be they are lying? Again?

    I have better cause to trust the Vatican on this matter than her lawyers.

  • Jim Reed

    So I should change my last sentence:

    they really blew it by meeting with Kim Davis, and now the Vatican is doing damage control by saying they didn’t mean anything by it, which is true.

  • Camera Obscura

    You know, I stopped taking anything you said seriously quite a while ago, you also seem to believe that all you have to to is say something for it to gain ground when it is just spinning tires in the mud.

  • Jim Reed

    You have to look at it from a longer perspective. Look how much RD has evolved in the last 5 or 6 years.

  • Camera Obscura

    I don’t have to look at it from any framing you choose, I can look at any particular piece, any particular comment on its own to judge it on what it says.

  • Jim Reed

    That’s true, it is your choice how to frame it, but we have made a lot of progress in many areas here on RD. It has often seemed like a major effort dragging RD along, but by sticking with it I think we have done a great job.

  • Camera Obscura

    I think what you mean is that the atheist trolls have diminished the discussion to the extent that a lot of people who know what they’re talking about don’t bother. That’s generally what the neo-atheists mean by “progress”. They’re a lot like all other fundamentalists in that.

  • Jim Reed

    That is the basic disagreement on judgment of the conversation. I think the more religious people have learned when they post comments here, they are not preaching to the choir, and they will be questioned. When you are speaking religiously and are challenged by non-believers, you don’t have many options other than blind faith which doesn’t work in discussions here. Often the believers who are left have to resort to insults, and if the non-believers can resist returning insults and stick to the facts, it is a fascinating discussion.

  • Rmj

    Change it as you wish. I consider it a tempest in a teapot, at worst. At best, it’s a fine example of how the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    Popes, especially, are criticized for not being “Christ-like,” and yet when they are, as in meeting with “sinners” and those we don’t approve of, they emulate the historic Jesus of Nazareth and follow his teachings; and get the same response he did.

    So it goes.

  • Jim Reed

    If Jesus was real I am sure we would all like to listen in on his meeting with Kim Davis.

  • Will Thompson

    I like the brief statement “change the pastoral climate of the Church” A pastoral climate has both the priestly and prophetic. It cannot compromise of it’s ultimate duty and responsibility to proclaim both the love and power of Christ to change. What many are doing in the larger CLIMATE of humanity is pushing for their behavior or orientation. The role of the Church, which according to the Scriptures is to be a community of faith centered upon Jesus Christ who came to save, calling men and women to repentance. People love Christ’s call to love one another, His priestly imperatives, and His challenging as it appears when we read our English Translations of the religious hypocrites. Jesus was only prophetic towards those with religious robes and their doom (at least that is how it sounds when I hear anything about Jesus coming from certain communities in our day). Christ’s Ministry (which exists just as much today as then when He walked the shores of Galilee healing the sick and making the blind to see as High Priest) still calls men and .women to repent regardless of their background, race, sex and even orientation. His standard for relations between the sexes was clear “have ye not read…? (Matthew 19:4-6). His pastoral work set the climate for the church both priestly and prophetically on what and how the church should respond when conflicts arise whether within or without the professing body of believers. And His peace and power or lack thereof will be or not be manifested when believers stand or compromise on issues first within the community of faith. Example, the religious leaders of Christ day even claimed that Jesus healed, albeit by demons, but according to their own admission, Jesus Healed! Healings should take place in vibrant Christian Communities for it was and is a sign of God’s coming Kingdom! If they are not taking place all we are are culture clubs masquerading as Christian Communities embracing what is popular for expediency with the souls of multitudes at stake! I only have one word for that…leave! And when once one is healed they should see far beyond that miracle to the One that healed, His Name is Jesus! If all we have become is a culture club with no more than boy george leading us, then we have missed our guess in what the church was and is supposed to be. A vibrant community of faith pointing men and women to the One who came to save and deliver men and women from sin and sexual immorality, His Name is Jesus (John 3:16). One more point, many attack Kim Davis with all their might. Even Saturday Night Live recently with out of all people, Miley Cyrus! And that’s fine. But if you think about it objectively, what was one of the greatest stories of the Bible? Jesus ministering to and later through a woman with an questionable past..(read Johns gospel chapter 4)! Isn’t that what the Bible is about, God using and showing concern to the least of us to point us to Him? Doe’s Mrs Davis past make her the least likely to be used of God in our…CLIMATE? In her story their is a greater truth to be learned and sadly many are missing it for expediency! God uses the least of us. And Mrs Davis does not have to fit in some civil rights heroes box whether to be accepted or rejected in my thinking. Dr King said he “heard the voice of Jesus” saying stand for justice and truth in an often left out quote by those who embraced his message. So who is to say Mrs Davis hasn’t heard the voice of Jesus?

  • Jim Reed

    We are not so concerned about Kim Davis’ past as much as about her today.