I’m supposed to care about the new pope because…?

March 16, 2013

I guess I’m supposed to care—given the eruption of Facebook posts from fellow Methodist clergy this week—but I’m in Roger Olson’s camp, and I’m glad he said it: I’m mostly indifferent. What does the bishop of Rome have to do with me and my ministry?

(Actually, Benedict XVI had more influence over me than his long-serving predecessor because I read and thoroughly enjoyed his book on the infancy narratives of Jesus.)

As Olson said, many Protestants look to the pope as “some kind of universal Christian cheerleader and spokesman.” Why? I recognize him as a brother in Christ, but he has no authority over me. If I wanted a Christian leader to have that kind of authority over me, guess what? I’d become Roman Catholic! In the meantime, ask me what I think about papal infallibility—not to mention some of the other doctrines of the church that these supposedly infallible popes dogmatized!

I know it’s politically incorrect for clergy to say something negative about fellow Christians (unless they’re Southern Baptist or run Chick-Fil-A), but have you read John Wesley or the Articles of Religion that he adapted from the Church of England? We’re supposed to disagree with Catholics! I miss the days when we Protestants could actually protest a little bit and not view the Protestant Reformation as an irredeemably tragic event. We don’t have to act like we’re one big happy family. I’m not Roman Catholic because I believe that the Roman Catholic Church gets it wrong in many important ways, especially in regards to the authority of scripture.

By all means, let’s get together as Protestants and Catholics and talk about our differences and work to resolve them, where possible. But for heaven’s sake, theology matters! Let’s not act like it doesn’t.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong about all that, but no one should be surprised that I believe these things, right?

Olson wonders why there has been so much media attention given to the election of the pope over the past two cycles, but that’s easy: there’s a lot more media to give it attention. Cable news has to fill its airwaves with something.

I like this point from Olson:

What I would like to know is why the mass media make so much of the election of a new pope? They say he leads 1.2 billion Catholics. Well, I seriously doubt both “lead” and the number. How do they count Catholics? If it’s anything like the way the Southern Baptist Convention counts Southern Baptists, well, I’m doubtful of the number. (The SBC counts me as a Southern Baptist! I’ve never been one.)

I suspect that millions of Latin Americans are counted as Catholics just because they were baptized into the church even though they attend Pentecostal churches. The same is true, I believe, in places like the Philippines and many other traditionally Catholic  countries.

I offer my congratulations to my Catholic friends, but please don’t expect me to celebrate. I’m emotionally and spiritually indifferent about it—as I should be. I worry about Protestants who invest tremendous emotional and spiritual interest in the papacy.

2 Responses to “I’m supposed to care about the new pope because…?”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    I thought the same thing, Brent. I felt like yawning through the whole thing. I’m a convinced Protestant, too!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I only really became convinced after seminary, and then I wondered why it took me so long to come around. I simply didn’t get information on many of the things that separate Protestants from Catholics at the mainline Protestant seminary I went to. Except for the brief amount of time we spent studying the 16th century and the Reformation, we didn’t talk about it—as if the differences weren’t important. Misguided ecumenism, I’d say.


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