[NOTE: Most of the following thoughts were written before I wrote my post FRANCIS & CHARLIE. In that post I strongly disagreed with Pope Francis on a particular issue, but that disagreement does not negate what I have to say here.]
Pope Francis is undoubtedly the most popular living human in the world. Just being the head man of the Roman Catholic Church would automatically qualify him for that label, but his popularity goes way beyond that granted to him by those of his church. He seems to be a man who takes his position seriously - who is striving to be the representative of Jesus on earth. And he is admired for that.
A few years ago I could not have imagined myself saying the above words. After all I'm a Protestant - and from a "Fundamentalist" background.
My mother's side of the family was Roman Catholic. She had come to this country from Austria as a child with her parents and older siblings. Roman Catholicism was part of their culture, even though most members of her family were non-practicing. So it had little religious influence on me. I had never considered myself a Catholic.
When I committed my life to Christ it was in a fundamentalist Baptist church. In this sphere, Roman Catholics were not consider "saved"; the Catholic church was "apostate" and my early attempts at witness were often aimed at refuting Catholic doctrine. In my studies of the Scripture and theology, I came to even greater disagreement with Roman Catholicism. I found the doctrine of transubstantiation to be not only unbiblical but logically bizarre. Putting tradition on the same level as Scripture, the exaltation of Mary and the saints were also problematic. I still believe these are incorrect teachings.
Gradually, however, as I grew as a follower of Christ I began to realize two things. The first was that while correct theology is important, the theology I had been taught was often laced with rigid legalism and not all those who were properly "saved" were living out their salvation as Jesus and the Bible taught. Second I found that many whose theology was in my understanding, deficient were living out their salvation in Christ-like fashion often more so than many of my fundamentalist friends. So my fellowship with brothers and sisters became less bound by theological or denominational restrictions.
Then along came the "Religious Right" - a political movement. At first it consisted of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals opposed to various perceived moral evils in society - primarily abortion and homosexuality - but soon this movement was joined by other groups of similar moral persuasions - Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons and others. To some, myself included, this was puzzling; how could these groups, often at each other's throats, unite without compromising some basic theological convictions?
Though many of the issues with which the Religious Right were concerned were certainly serious moral issues, their big mistake was in assuming these moral issues could be dealt with through political means. In order to achieve their goals politically they united themselves with the political right and in doing so found themselves wed to other issues - the issues the Republican party holds sacred. (See: SHE'S A GOOD HEARTED WOMAN.)
So now the Roman Catholic Church has a pope whose moral pronouncements are sometimes opposed by many American Catholics. He still holds to the essential Catholic doctrines; he is still opposed to abortion; he apparently still believes that homosexual behavior is sin. So why is he opposed by many American Catholics even while he is beloved by most other Catholics and is accepted by many non-Catholics?
Well, for starters, he extends the forgiveness of Christ toward sinners - even homosexuals, divorced persons and others. If that's not discomforting enough, he speaks against the death penalty, he speaks against the evils of capitalism (not capitalism itself); he speaks against the imbalance of wealth; he preaches responsibility in caring for the environment in the face of global warming. This flies in the face of the positions held by the right.
And so he is opposed by American Catholics as well as Evangelical Protestants, though not on theological grounds or moral or ethical grounds based on Christian teaching. He is rather opposed by those who base their morality and ethics on the tenets of the Republican Party.
However, I suspect that those of the secular (and religious) left will soon grow weary of Pope Francis as well. He has already shown himself extremely conservative on many moral issues. As I mentioned above he still opposes abortion and homosexual behavior. Extending grace and forgiveness to those one considers sinners is not the same thing as endorsing their behavior. He has not ex cathedra begun to revise the Roman Catholic Church's position on divorce or birth control. I doubt he has a desire to do so even if we'd like him to. He is not as many on the left seem to want to believe, one of them.
And so I find myself, while still theologically an Evangelical and still in disagreement with many Roman Catholic teachings, siding more and more with the Pope than with many Evangelicals and Catholics. He wants to be like Jesus. I think I do too.