Why Pope Francis Makes Me Miss Jerry Falwell

My good Southern Baptist momma would be dismayed, but it appears that the Pope and the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention agree on something: myopically focusing on culture war issues like homosexuality and abortion are destroying their respective Christian sects.

Pope Francis recently scolded his church for being “obsessed” with the divisive culture war issues.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. “We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Similarly, Russell Moore, the new Southern Baptist leader, is urging his followers to “tone down” their political and theological rhetoric against gays and lesbians and abortion.

… when the Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “Love your gay and lesbian neighbors,” Mr. Moore wrote in a flier, “How Should Your Church Respond,” sent to the convention’s estimated 45,000 churches. “They aren’t part of an evil conspiracy.” Marriage, he added, was a bond between a man and a woman, but shouldn’t be seen as a “‘culture war’ political issue.”

The pope’s words, especially, seemed to further the ever-growing pope crush that many liberal Catholics and some Protestants are developing over this man who eschews the lavish living that the Vatican tends to offer its leader in favor of more frugal digs and common vehicles.

Moore, for his part, is attracting a lot of ire from his more conservative counterparts who accuse him of touchy-feely, mealy-mouthed, lukewarm leadership in matters of morality that are of paramount importance to them.

To leaders like George Neumayr of The American Spectator, this “kinder, gentler” approach is simply proof that the evangelical movement has lost its spine.

This change-of-tactics, oh-so-strategic babble is very tiresome. I will take Jerry Falwell over Russell Moore and Ralph Reed any day. Falwell wasn’t perfect, but he never played these sorts of lame Big Tent games. He didn’t need a focus group to tell him whether or not to protect the unborn and God’s plan for marriage.

But, the focus groups and the polls hold dire warnings for both the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptists — they are losing the young people they need to perpetuate their respective Christian communities. A Barna survey earlier this year found that among Catholic adults aged 18-29, “60% said that the Church’s teachings on sexuality are outdated. Among active Catholics that figure was 37%.

Similarly, 57% of all respondents said that Mass could be ‘a boring obligation,’ and 40% of active Catholics.” The news for Southern Baptists isn’t good either. The Wall Street Journalarticle points out that its young people are leaving in droves.

Baptists are departing from the religious traditions of their childhood faster than any other Protestant group, according to statistics gathered by Pew Research, an independent polling organization. Adult baptisms within Southern Baptist churches, meanwhile, have slid 20% over the past decade, according to LifeWay Research, a polling firm tied to the Southern Baptist Convention. The firm projects the church’s membership will fall by half to 8.5 million by 2050, returning to the level of the mid-1950s.

Honestly, it’s no wonder that both Pope Francis and Moore are changing their tune. They know that the survival of their respective sects depends on bringing in the youth and keeping them.

It also depends, quite assuredly, on getting those young people to fully buy in to the doctrine, dogmas and traditions that are held by each. Which is why we are hearing a lot of pretty progressive talk about acceptance and loving of neighbors, and absolutely no actual movement toward reforming, revising or jettisoning the very exclusive and mean-spirited doctrines and dogmas that young people rejected in the first place.

Which leads me to agree with Neumayr on this: At least with Jerry Falwell you knew exactly where you stood.