Thursday, September 24, 2015

What can we Learn about the State of American Christianity from the Pope?

The visit of Pope Francis to the United States encourages me because of the overwhelmingly positive reception he is receiving, even from those with no affinity for organized religion.  How people are responding reminds me that a "God-shaped hole" exists in all of us.

An AT&T vice president said the papal visit is equivalent to 15 Super Bowls.  All the cellular carriers are upgrading their system capacities in New York, Philadelphia and Washington where the pope is visiting.  Six thousand additional police officers will be deployed when he arrives in New York City tonight.  Two million are expected to gather to hear the pope in Philadelphia Saturday.
 
Perhaps faith is not dead in the United States after all?

Pope Francis, in remarks to President Obama yesterday, said Catholics are committed to building a tolerant and inclusive society.  But the pope then gave a warning:

"With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.  That freedom remains one of America's most precious freedoms."

In that moment, the pope articulated the concerns of many.  In the name of tolerance, religious liberty is under attack; it is being redefined by lawmakers and justices.  Do we have the liberty to practice our faith outside the church walls?  Will we retain the liberty to worship through our daily work in our everyday workplaces? 

In Christian higher education, we seek religious liberty and respect.  We ask for freedom to make hiring decisions consistent with our faith.  We seek to create a Christ-centered community of voluntary membership that teaches Christian virtue along with the arts, humanities and sciences.  We ask government to honor our concerns for offering only those employee benefits consistent with our faith.

In a nation built on the shrine of individual liberty, I should acknowledge two freedoms that people of Christ do not enjoy.  We are not free to react with fear and disregard when others around us are disagreeable.  Instead, we are called to relationships built on love, even when that love is unearned.  Likewise, Christ followers do not have the liberty to ignore the Holy Bible and the ancient wisdom of our faith.

I pray that many in the crowds attracted to Pope Francis this week are seeking hope and meaning in their lives - hope that we know is only available from God through Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we have good news for those who seek.