It is great to hear senior religious figures around the world speak out against the discrimination and marginalization of gay people.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, speaking at a gay rights meeting in Cape Town last week, said that he would not worship a God who is homophobic. "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place," said Bishop Tutu.
Pope Francis said last week that he would not judge a gay person. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? They shouldn't be marginalized," said the Pope to a group of journalists on an airplane ride from Brazil to Rome.
Interestingly, while Pope Francis spoke in Italian during this interview, he used the English word "gay." According to James Martin, an editor at the Catholic magazine, America, this is the first time that he could recall a Catholic Pope using the word gay in public.
His comments were all the rage in America and around the world, where he received lots of praise for his "great compassion," according to Father Martin. "Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the Gospel message of compassion for everyone," Martin said.
I think religious and political fundamentalists in America are going to have a hard time with Pope Francis. I'm not sure that some of them know what the word compassion means anymore. With their attempts to cut health-care insurance to the uninsured, food stamps for the poor and Head Start programs for children, compassion is not a word most of us would associate with conservatives in American politics today.
Pope Francis had a few other interesting things to say during his visit to Brazil that, unfortunately, have been overshadowed by his comments about people who are gay. In a speech to a group of Brazilian bishops, he talked about the possible reasons why millions of Brazilians have left the Church. He seemed to put most of the blame on the Church itself. He called the Church "too distant and too cold," and referred to the Church's "overly rigid rules."
"Are we still a church capable of warming hearts?" Pope Francis asked. "We need a church capable of walking at people's side, of doing more than simply listening to them," he said. Pope Francis urged his bishops and priests to "shake up" the Church and "get out into the streets" in order to build the Church. "It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people," he said. "Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They too are invited to the table of the Lord."
Most of all - and I hope my conservative friends are paying attention - Pope Francis talked about social justice and "reaching out to the poor." Interestingly, he didn't say anything about cutting food stamps for millions of poor women and children. He also didn't advocate for the repeal of Obamacare so that 47 million Americans would remain without health-care insurance. He encouraged us to reach out to the poor and to be concerned about social justice for all.
Imagine that: a pope talking about social justice and serving the poor. It has been a long time since I've heard that message from any Christian religious leader.
These are old-fashioned Christian values, of course, and out of favor with the current group of Christian fundamentalists in America who seem to go out of their way to hurt the poor. Nevertheless, it is good to be reminded of these values, especially when they come in the voice of a new Pope.