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Dr. Albert Mohler Reflects On Pope Francis

Thursday, March 14, 2013

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HH: I’ve been talking almost exclusively with Catholics thus far, some Protestant callers. However, I’m joined now by Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, one of the country’s leading theologians. Dr. Mohler, welcome, thanks for taking some time tonight with me to talk about this.

AM: Hugh, it’s always great to be with you. Thank you.

HH: Please tell me your reactions upon hearing about the election of Pope Francis.

AM: Well, you know, for an Evangelical, this does put us in an interesting position, because we deny the legitimacy of the office, and yet recognize that in terms of the worldwide picture of religion today, the papacy still plays a very important role, and thus there is an inescapable influence that comes to the one who holds that office. And when it comes to the new Pope, Pope Francis, it’s going to be very interesting. I think at this point, it’s difficult to predict. There are some incredibly interesting contradictions and innovations in this Pope.

HH: Explain on those, because I think you’ve got a unique platform and a position on which to survey some of those contradictions and the surprise involved in naming a Jesuit pope.

AM: Well you know, Hugh, you just put your finger on the thing that to a Protestant, an Evangelical Protestant, I think is most surprising, far more surprising to me that they elected a Jesuit than that they elected someone from outside of Europe, and indeed the first Latin American pope. I mean, you’re talking about centuries of which the Jesuits said had grown to the point where they’re the largest order in Catholicism, and yet never one had been elected pope, and for some fairly understandable reasons. And one of those reasons is that the Jesuits, in many ways, had been very opposed to popes, and to, especially their politics and orders, and in particular, had been enamored with liberation theology for the better part of the last several decades.

HH: And of course, liberation theology emanated out of South America, as the new Pope does, but he is said to be an opponent of it, and a resister of it. What have you read thus far that has surprised you about him, Dr. Albert Mohler?

AM: Well, you know, other than the fact that he is a Jesuit, in spite of the fact that he is a native of Latin America, had been known as an opponent of liberation theology. That obviously caught the attention of John Paul II, who raised him to the cardinalate. It’s a very interesting development, because this is sort of like having a Marine in the White House, in one sense. It’s a different style of leadership than what we’ve expected in the past.

HH: Now Albert Mohler, as well, he has a very traditionalist approach to marriage and to life, and he has resisted the government ferociously. He has also lived under an evil junta, just as Benedict lived under the Nazis, and John Paul II lived under the Nazis and the Communists. That sort of first-hand experience with evil is a good thing, actually, in a religious leader, I think.

AM: Well, it certainly has helped him to understand what’s at stake in terms of the issue of religious liberty, which is going to be one of the most important issues that his Church, and my Church, and various others are going to face. You know, the reality is, Hugh, and this is something that’s interested you for a long time. You’ve had an incredible intersection of interest on so many of these issues, like abortion and the sanctity of human life, and the family, and sexuality, with Evangelical Christians and the last two Popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI. And it’s this odd thing that the people who are most likely to argue over issues of theology, because we believe them to be of ultimate importance, are the people who believe in truth, and thus are those who share those commitments to family and marriage and truth, and the sanctity of human life. And so it’s going to be the Protestants who are most Protestant who will actually appreciate that aspect of the Pope’s stance. In other words, it’s going to be the Protestants who have the least belief in the validity of his office who will agree with him more than liberal Protestants.

HH: Yeah, absolutely, liberal Catholics, too. Now Al Mohler, I don’t mean to embarrass you, but I really would not want to be the guy that succeeds you at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, because you are prolific, and you are tireless. And you’re outpouring, you’ve set a bar there or a mark that someone comes along, they’re just not going to produce the way that you produced in terms of output. Now this fellow has to follow Benedict XVI, who one of my very learned Catholic friends said will be a doctor of the Church. He’ll get that honorific down the road. And it’s reserved for truly the great intellectuals. What’s he do to follow that act?

AM: Well, that’s why I think being a Jesuit indicates a deliberate kind of activist distinction from that. John Paul II was a philosopher. Benedict was a true theologian. I mean, he was heart and soul committed to doctrinal theology as his focus. And I think what you’re going to find in Francis is probably going to be a more pastoral activism, which evidently the College of Cardinals thought that the Roman Catholic Church needed at this time.

HH: Do you see an era, given his background and his Jesuit training, of decreasing ecumenical work while we have increasing political alliances between Protestant and Catholic? Or vice versa?

AM: It’s going to be very interesting to see, because you know, Hugh, you raise a very interesting point. Neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI had functioned in a place where Catholics were losing members by the millions to Evangelical Christianity.

HH: Right.

AM: And that is exactly what Francis has faced as Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. So it’s going to be very interesting, but I fairly expect that you’re onto something. I think he’s likely to be less ecumenical in that sense.

HH: He is also coming out of a part of the world which may be least impacted by Islam’s rise and radical turn over the last 30 years. And that will be surprising, I just don’t think it presents the same sort of profile or challenge to the Church as it does, especially in persecution terms, in the Middle East and Africa. So that surprises me a little bit. Do you think he looks for Curial appointments that are from that part of the world as a result?

AM: You know, that’s, again, a very interesting point. The fact that he is a Jesuit may be the one thing that ties him to that issue, just given the role of the Jesuits in the fight against Islam in terms of their own history. So perhaps he has more of a memory from his order than he does from his geographical side.

HH: Last question, Albert Mohler, Cardinal Dolan, whom I know you know, came out and was ebullient and said this has got lots of gravy, meaning that there are add-ons here, they’re good things for the United States Church because of the Latino population. You think he’s right?

AM: Well, I would say that anyone who has an interest in the future of North America, and I say that as an Evangelical Christian, has to be very concerned and hopeful in the fact that as one columnist has put it, the future speaks Spanish. And you know, just from that vantage point, this is a very strategic move for the Roman Catholic Church.

HH: Dr. Albert Mohler of Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, thanks for joining me on short notice, staying up late back there in the East.

End of interview.

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