As I queued up outside The White House at 6am yesterday morning, I couldn't help ask again and again “Why is this queer, pro-choice, Protestant showing up to see the Pope?”
Looking around at my companions snaking our way toward the entrance as the sun rose over the District, I knew why I was there. Men and women in uniform, priests in cassocks and collars, Sikh men wearing turbans, school children and young adults, and LBGTQ political and religious leaders – all of us together to make our way to the South Lawn for such an historic moment. In that moment of epiphany the differences among us, while important, melted for just a few moments of awe and reverence. And in some small way, it wasn't about us seeing the Pope, but the Pope seeing us.
From the moment he emerged from his Fiat (Latin nerds, I know you get the inside joke here) until he waved to onlookers from The White House balcony, Francis embodied to humility we have come to know during his time as Pope. In a few brief moments, he spoke of inclusion and justice, religious freedom, safeguarding the poor, caring for the Earth. Francis framed his comments in theological terms, calling for common values to pervade the public sphere and to see one another as created in the image of God. While my experience and perspective might bring me to a different conclusion on major theological concerns (specifically LGBTQ and reproductive justice), Pope Francis’ grounding in the concept of imago Dei is one that crosses boundaries.
This isn't to say that the Pope’s visit to America isn't fraught with concern. From the canonization of Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary who led the genocide of Native tribes in 18th century California, to the displacement of hundreds of homeless persons along Philadelphia’s Parkway, the Pope’s message of justice and compassion come with complex messages. This morning, I'll be joining other faithful people (and those of no faith at all) for a Moral Rally on Climate Change. And I'm clear that concerns about climate change must also intersect with concerns about poverty, war, racism, colonialism, and reproductive health, choice, and justice. I'm also clear that Pope Francis is a strong voice for justice and mercy to Catholics and non-Catholics alike– both in America and across the globe. I look forward to hearing his remarks to Congress, not because I believe he will impart some political zinger, but because he seeks to be pastoral to other spiritual and temporal leaders. Such pastoral care breaks through the dichotomies of Catholic vs. Protestant, Christian vs. non-Christian, Conservative v. Liberal, and creates a space where faith and values undergird how we engage lives of public service.
As Pope Francis continues his time in DC and the remainder of his time in North America, I pray continued safety, clarity, and boldness. And I pray the same for each of us, created in the imago Dei, as well.
Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.