One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit. I feel that it is a misuse of power to use influence from the pulpit to promote exclusion or put down another’s religion. Two religious leaders made the news yesterday about statements they made online or in public. They show the good and bad side of religion. It is my belief when religion is inclusive it is at its best; when it excludes it is at its absolute worst.
On the good side, Pope Francis continued to show that he is a new kind of pope. His interest in addressing the needs of the impoverished and disenfranchised and promoting peace are exemplary. He is slowly turning the battleship in the harbor which is the Catholic Church. He noted that freedom of speech is important, but he cautioned that when one speaks of religion they need to tread more thoughtfully. He is not condoning terroristic actions by extremists, but he is just sharing the counsel of wisdom. The old rule of thumb for peaceful family dinners is you don’t talk about religion or politics at the table comes to mind. The same can be said on a broader scale.
Freedom of speech is valued, but it is not fully understood around the globe what that entails. I remember the line from one of my favorite movies “The American President” when Michael Douglas noted America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real badly. You have to tolerate someone shouting at their lungs against what you have been shouting at your lungs in favor of. Many around the world are not ready for that. So, when you add the extra passion of faith and someone makes fun of that faith, it is hard to swallow and extremists can be influenced to do unreasonable things. This is a different way of saying there is great power in freedom of speech, so you may want to use it more judiciously at times. You can still indict unenviable and unreasonable actions, but tread a little more cautiously when speaking of a religion.
On the negative side, Reverend Franklin Graham is at it again with his vitriol condemning the entire religion of Islam rather than the extremists. His organization, Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical organization do so much good around the world, that he only detracts from these efforts when he espouses condemning language. The fact he has 70,000 likes on his comments is also disturbing, which validates my argument. When a faith leader espouses bigotry from the pulpit or from his website, he is misusing his influence to divide. He is actually doing the exact opposite of what I would prefer a religious leader to do. And, to be brutally frank, when I think of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), I do not think the Jesus from my bible would condone denigrating others. In fact, Jesus was consistently more irritated with the religious leaders of the day, who in His mind misused the church power and resources.
In my simple mind, it is pretty straightforward. Treat others like you want to be treated. That is Jesus’ advice to the world and echoes that of other religious leaders. The Pope gets this. Even though I am not Catholic, I feel Pope Francis is one of the most important leaders in the world right now. Previous popes had forgotten this power and focused on less important things which diminished the focus on helping people. This Pope is walking the talk and I hope other leaders follow his lead down the better path forward.