#PopeinDC: This Evangelical’s Zacchaeus Moment

Image via Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners

Evangelicals don’t have a pope, or even a single spokesperson. We’re not a single denomination like the Catholic Church, so we lack a comparable hierarchical structure. Particular denominations have presidents or general secretaries, but no one human being serves as the representative figure of God on earth within the evangelical faith. Rather, following the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27, evangelicals believe all humanity bears the image of God. In fact, one of the functions of the early evangelical movement was to democratize the faith — to proclaim all humanity’s equal access to God through Jesus.

So, why did my heart shake with anticipation at the thought of being in this pope’s presence? Here’s why: More than any other person, since St. Francis of Assisi (his namesake), this pope has embodied the values and priorities of Jesus. He has shown us what it might have been like to walk the earth with Jesus himself — what it might have been like to watch him embrace the leper, to watch him defend the adulterous woman calling the Pharisees not to judge, to watch Jesus challenge the values and priorities of the religious establishment of his day. He has been a vision to watch.

On Rabbits and the Pill

trefalga / Shutterstock

trefalga / Shutterstock 

EARLIER THIS YEAR Pope Francis titillated the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics when he said we should not feel compelled to breed “like rabbits.” The Twitterverse resounded with commands to “hop to it.” The Italian press dubbed Francis’ speech the “Sermon of the Rabbit.”

In it, Pope Francis said, “Some think that—excuse the language—that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”

Was the pope changing Catholic teaching on birth control? On the contrary, Francis went on to underscore that “responsible parenthood” requires that couples regulate the births of their children, as Vatican teaching allows, using natural family planning methods.

What we think of as “the Catholic position” on contraception—“‘Every action which ... proposes to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil”—was actually codified as official teaching in 1930 under Pope Pius XI and was part of a larger conversation in Christendom. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference, for example, the Anglican bishops approved a resolution stating: “In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, other methods [of contraception] may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.”

In 1951, Pope Pius XII overtly accepted natural family planning as a moral form of regulating births, in limited circumstances, within Christian marriage. He also emphasized the importance of a mature and informed conscience in moral reasoning. “It is correctly argued,” he wrote, “that the true meaning of adult independence is not to be led like a little child.”

As part of the process around the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI oversaw a commission to examine the use of oral contraceptives in light of church teaching. The commission’s report—titled “Responsible Parenthood”—argued for the use of artificial contraception within Christian marriage. In the end, Pope Paul VI rejected the commission’s recommendation, and his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the church’s teaching against artificial contraception.

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3 Reasons Pope Francis' Visit Could Change America

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Pope Francis will be arriving in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, and we locals are getting ready for a huge celebration. Public officials have warned us to avoid travel for the next few days. We’re expecting the roads and public transportation to be flooded with thousands of pilgrims making their way to see the head of the world’s largest Christian communion. It’s gonna be a beautiful mess!

The pontiff's visit to the United States will be an enormous spectacle. I have no doubt that many will find it inspiring and uplifting. But what’s the ultimate impact? Could his time in the U.S. make waves that go beyond traffic delays and photo ops?

Here are three reasons that the pope’s arrival could mark a tipping point for American culture.

Majority of U.S. Catholics Accept 'Non-Traditional' Families

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

Most Americans Look So Kindly on Churches, They Might Even Go Sometime

Photo via Twenty20 Inc /

Photo via Twenty20 Inc /

The findings show that as many as 45 percent of Americans will look at the church brand on the sign out front — Catholic or Baptist or Methodist or whatever — and drive past, thinking it is “not for me.”

And yet, McConnell said, the survey reveals an openness in most people — if not a very theologically deep one — to stopping by, even if they declare no religious identity, the “nones.”

“Many people view a church like the ice cream parlor down the road. They think, ‘When I’m in the mood, I can go.’ Church leaders can take it as good news: People haven’t ruled them out. But they have to be a little unsettled at how little people are thinking about this,” said McConnell.

More Catholics, but Fewer Receiving Sacraments: New Report Maps Changing Church

Photo via beboy /

Photo via beboy /

A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released June 1 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world. It wraps the United States, Mexico, and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.

5 Faith Facts about Martin O’Malley: ‘A Pope Francis Democrat’

Photo via REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Martin O’Malley. Photo via REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Martin O’Malley, who just wrapped up his second term as Maryland governor, is loudly, proudly Catholic — even when some doctrine-devoted church followers hiss at his socially liberal views.

Here are five faith facts about O’Malley, 52, who is expected to announce his candidacy on May 30.

Five Faith Facts about Rick Santorum: Church-State Separation Makes Him Want to ‘Throw Up’

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum after formally declaring his candidacy on May 27, 2015.

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum after formally declaring his candidacy on May 27, 2015. Image via RNS/REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

He won 11 primaries in 2012 with his devoutly Catholic, homeschooling-dad culture-warrior campaign. On May 27, he declared for the 2016 race with his traditionalist moral views freshly sharpened.

Here are five faith facts about Santorum.

Meet the Gay Celibate Catholic Who's Shaking Up the Sexuality Debates

Image via Tarzhanova/

Image via Tarzhanova/

A few decades ago, there were two options for people who wanted to follow Jesus but were attracted to the same gender: They could either throw off religion and embrace their sexuality, or they could remain in the faith and hide their sexual orientations. Today, there are other options. Some — like Matthew Vines and David Gushee — are attempting to make a biblical case for same-sex relationships. Others — such as Julie Rodgers and Wesley Hill — are leading a movement of celibate gay Christians.

Among the second group, Eve Tushnet has risen to prominence. She has a popular blog hosted by the Patheos Catholic Channel and has created a stir with her book Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. We asked her why it is important to her to self-identify as a lesbian and whether she’s missing something about the uniqueness and importance of erotic intimacy.

Five Faith Facts About Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic Always a Catholic’

Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is expected to launch his presidential campaign April 13, often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, An American Son: A Memoir.

Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:

1. He was once a serious young Mormon.

Rubio’s parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon Church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents, and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.

2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Rubio and his wife Jeannette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C. and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received First Holy Communion.