What's up with the Pope, y'all?
Now, I know you can't talk about religion or sex or politics without creating controversy and offending somebody - and I suppose the same could be said of barbecue and college football. I also know that I have already offended some people by using the official Southern contraction for "all who are within the sound of my voice" in the same sentence with the word Pope. But still.
What's up with the Pope?
I was driving down the highway one afternoon last week - way far out of the reach of Buck and Kincade - just minding my own business and wishing I had sprung for a satellite radio in the rental car. A man can only listen to Brad Paisley sing "I want to check you for ticks" so many times in a 12-hour period.
At one point, I heard a news bulletin that said His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, had approved a decree stating that - and I am trying to quote verbatim here, since I don't want to put words in the Pope's mouth - that "other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches." The statement also said that "Catholicism provides the only path to true salvation."
To be perfectly honest, my first thought was, "The hell you say!"
Then I wondered aloud who died and left Pope Benedict XVI boss.
My daughter, Jenna, quickly informed me that Pope John Paul II did.
I said, "Oh," because I couldn't think of anything else to say.
Then I got to thinking about what he had said. Honesty compels me to admit that I was more than a little disturbed by the Pope's statements.
I guess just about anybody would be a bit taken aback when someone in such an important position in the world of religion starts calling his church and a lifetime of spiritual beliefs defective.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know there are problems in every church in every community - but defective? Or false churches?
Let me tell you a thing or two about the church where I was raised. It was a Methodist church in Porterdale, and it is obvious that Benedict XVI - or whatever his given name was - has never been to Sunday morning service at Julia A. Porter. If he had, he would be humming a different tune.
Julia A. Porter was full of sinners when I was coming up - and still is. The same sinners that Jesus came to save. And they love the Lord and read their Bibles and pay close attention to the red words, and when they sing "amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me," they mean it.
There ain't nothing defective about the beliefs of the folks at Julia A. Porter, nor is there anything false about that church. They are big on loving their neighbors and forgiving their enemies, and they avoid casting stones at every opportunity.
I am sure that the same can be said of Methodist and Baptist and Episcopal and all manner and denominations of Protestant churches around the world.
When I was a little boy, we said the Apostle's Creed in church every week and in it we pledged our belief in the catholic church - with a little "c" - and I was taught that it referred to the universal church, the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ - and now the big guy in the Vatican says, "Nope. Nothing doing."
According to him, we are all lost souls on the road to eternal damnation. That's not a very comforting thought, is it?
Apparently, I wasn't the only one taken aback by the Pontiff's remarks. Protestant leaders around the world have questioned the validity of his statements, as well as the timing. Leaders of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, who represent more than 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries, issued a statement questioning the sincerity of the Roman Catholic Church in its dialogues with other Christians.
The Pope, according to what I could gather, says the main problem we Protestants have is that we don't have a single leader with what he called "Apostolic ancestry." We can't trace our bishops back to Simon Peter in other words.
The Pope obviously never met Bishop Bevel Jones of the United Methodist Church. I heard him trace his ancestry back to Adam and Eve one time. And what about Billy Graham? I've been listening to him preach all my life, and you'll never convince me that there is anything flawed or false about the doctrine he preaches.
At a time when the world is in such turmoil and so full of hatred and violence, much of it focused on religious differences, it seems like an odd time for issuing such a decree - or "stirring up something," as folks where I come from would say.
Oh, well. I won't be too hard on the Vatican. I go to a Baptist church now, and I've heard a lot of Baptists say the same thing.
But I do wish the Pope would come out and join us at Salem Campground near Covington for camp meeting this week. If he could hear Marshall Edwards preach the Gospel, he might issue a different decree.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.