The Greatest Blessing
As a committed evangelical Protestant, I feel a bit uncomfortable writing about the pope’s recent decision to allow Roman Catholic priests to bless same-sex unions. But Pope Francis’s “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”), his declaration on blessing same-sex couples issued on December 18, is far more than a kindly attempt to broaden his church’s reach.
The pope met with “a group of about 30 priests on the southern outskirts of Rome” a few days ago and told them that the new policy “does not involve the sacrament of marriage. It doesn’t change the sacrament.” As reported by journalist Justin McLellan, under the new rules, a “priest can bless a gay or other unmarried couple as long as it is not a formal liturgical blessing and does not give the impression that the Catholic Church is blessing the union as if it were a marriage.”
With every respect, this makes no sense. To what purpose is the blessing being offered, if not as a tacit endorsement of a union at clear odds with the teachings of Scripture and of the Church itself? The pope says Church teaching has not changed; in a strict doctrinal sense, this is true. Yet “Supplicans” seems deliberately to misstate the issue. Francis writes disparagingly of “doctrinal or disciplinary schemes [that] lead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others.”
Aside from the caustic hostility of this wordy (and intentionally unclear?) statement, does this mean that in evangelism, Christians should not call people to repent or that we minimize the gravity of sin? Or that calling sin what it is exhibits narcissism and “authoritarian elitism” (meaning what?).
“Supplicans” continues that “when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it.” In practical terms, this means that if information isn’t volunteered, you shouldn’t ask for it. So, using the pope’s reasoning, an adulterer could receive a blessing as long as he doesn’t tell his priest about his history of illicit affairs.
In the name of being welcoming and avoiding the dehumanization that results when we categorize people based solely on a behavior or self-identification, the pope seems unconcerned with truth. Yes, he affirms marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But he also tells us that turning from sin is not a precondition for receiving God’s blessings. Jesus said, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Why? Because repentance without faith means either prideful self-help or debasing self-flagellation, even as faith without repentance shows contempt for the holiness of God.
The pope is also missing another element of this larger theological discussion: The insatiability of the LGBTQ Left and its allies. “If [Francis is] hoping for a truce in the culture wars,” writes political analyst Ed Kilgore in “New York Magazine,” “he’ll be as disappointed as his biggest fans and critics will likely be at his position on same-sex unions.”
In the days since Kilgore wrote this, the remarks of LGBTQ movement leaders have already vindicated his prediction. For example, while praising the pope’s move, the head of the activist LGBTQ Catholic organization New Ways Ministry said “Supplicans” only brings people who identify as gays and lesbians “closer to being full and equal members of the Church.” David Klimnick of the New York LGBTQ Network says of the Catholic Church, “It still has a long way to go so that [LGBT-identifying persons have] the same access to celebrations [and] rituals as our heterosexual friends and family.” Put simply, many LGBTQ activists will not be satisfied until every religious body and leader fully affirms the moral validity of their behaviors and unions.
Everyone should be welcome in any church setting. Each person is made in God’s image and likeness and therefore deserves to be shown the same grace and mercy He offers to all who turn to His Son for forgiveness and new life. But there is no love in affirming something God has declared to be harmful to human flourishing, whatever that sin might be. The apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” He then catalogs as “unrighteous” idolatry, adultery, homosexual acts, theft, greed, drunkenness, and more (I Corinthians 6:9). Then he writes of the practitioners of such things, “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The verb is past tense: “were.” All of us sinners who have chosen to place our trust in Jesus Christ for the permanent cleansing from sin He alone can give are declared righteous in God’s sight and are thereafter called to pursue lives pleasing to Him. There can be no greater blessing than this.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.