A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how blown away I have been by the response to Pope Francis, particularly by those who have no faith and those who are typically hostile towards religion.
I pointed out that the comment sections of the articles and blogs about Pope Francis, which typically are filled with vile, hateful words, were instead overflowing with support. But I also mentioned that I feared drawing attention to the unprecedented support he was receiving would probably backfire.
I closed the post by saying, “I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Well, it didn’t take long for my wish to be granted and my fears to be realized.
Earlier this weekend Pope Francis shared his thoughts on so-called “trickle down economics,” the economic philosophy that believes the success of the wealthy will trickle down and eventually benefit everyone else. To say the Pope isn’t a fan of this economic theory in which the rich are flooded with wealth while the middle class and poor must settle for only a trickle (if that) would be an understatement. Of course, why anyone in the middle or lower class would support such a policy is itself beyond baffling, but that’s an argument for another day.
The Pope let his displeasure at the current state of the global economy be known in no uncertain terms using phrases like “idolatry of money” and “a new tyranny.”
To anyone paying any attention to Pope Francis since he took office or during his tenure as Archbishop, his disillusionment with an economic structure that overwhelming favors the wealthy shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This is, after all, the pope who has gone out of his way to identify with and support the poor and oppressed. From his insistence on living a modest lifestyle to his literal embracing of the marginalized to his secret habit of sneaking out of the office at night to break bread with the homeless, Pope Francis’ love and support of the poor have made headlines throughout the world.
So, to hear him utter critical words of an economic structure that only offers a trickle to those most in need shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Unless, of course, you’re a member of the Tea Party or some other right wing branch of the Republican Party who, inexplicably shocked that the pope isn’t an ardent capitalist, have come out to denounce Pope Francis as an extreme liberal. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Jesus was a capitalist and is now “weeping in heaven” over the pope’s words.
As I said before, I knew, well we all knew, it was only a matter of time before the honeymoon period was over for Pope Francis.
What I didn’t expect was that it would end like this – with the pope being labeled too liberal and denounced for his support of the poor.
Look, if you’re branding the leader of one the most conservative organizations on earth as too liberal and claiming Jesus was a capitalist, then you’ve jumped the shark.
That’s not to say you’re not entitled to your political beliefs – conservative, liberal, or otherwise.
But spewing vitriol against the pope, or anyone else, for defending the poor just makes you sound ridiculous. Actually, it makes you sound anti-Christ.
Now, to be clear, Jesus was no more a capitalist than he was a socialist as both economic policies were centuries away from creation.
However, what is not up for debate is Jesus unconditional love and support for the poor and his deep skepticism, to put it nicely, of wealth and the wealthy. You might recall phrases like “Blessed are the poor,” “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven,” or “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” It was Jesus who said those things and they’re not exactly slogans for capitalism, let alone trickle down economics.
And that’s to say nothing of the early church who took Jesus seriously and claimed nothing as their own, sharing everything in common, and giving to the poor as they had need.
In other words, biblical Christianity may not be antithetically opposed to free market capitalism, but it’s not its biggest supporter either.
Which means you can rant all you want about how these were individual mandates and not government ones, but you’re grasping at straws. When Jesus asks “I was hungry, did you feed me?” he doesn’t put conditions on it. He’s not asking about the manner in which it was accomplished as if it mattered whether the poor are fed through a private sector non-profit or a taxpayer funded program like food stamps. All Jesus cares about about is whether or not they get fed.
And besides, in both cases it is individuals doing the work because as much as we might like to pontificate otherwise our government is made up of people. It’s a collection of individuals. It is as Abraham Lincoln once said a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Again, that’s not to say Jesus stood for any particular economic policy or political structure.
It just means that as a church we have a calling in no uncertain terms to take care of the poor and defend the oppressed in whatever way we can – individually in small ways or collectively in big ways.
Pope Francis gets this.
It’s why he lives the sort of life he lives, does the sorts of things he does, and says the sorts of things he says.
So, if you find yourself in shock and angry that he would have the audacity to question the free market, call attention to the injustices inflicted upon the poor, and demand that more be done to care for the least of these, then you need to stop and honestly ask yourself….
Is it Jesus I’m following or Ayn Rand?
Grace and Peace,