By what he says, more so by what he does, and to a yet greater extent by who he is, Pope Francis is winning the admiration of both Catholics and Protestants, write Presbyterians Pastor Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus.
“Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar,” the attention-grabbing title of their little, 96-page paperback, includes the accurately written subtitle that captures the book’s essence: “Lessons for the Christian Church.”
“This is a pope,” they write, “who is reminding people that the primary work of the church is to be an instrument of Christ’s reconciling grace and love.”
Pastor Rock sees Francis as a leader who is bringing Christians back to basic principles, noting, “I believe that through this humble pope, Christ is nudging Catholic and Protestants to stop focusing on all that we’re against and instead celebrate and advance all that we are for.”
The Westminster John Knox Press book captures a seven-part series of sermons delivered by Pastor Rock and his colleagues at the Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. It includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter to help readers explore Catholic-Protestant common ground, and, the publishers intend, the book invites ecumenical dialogue and improved interfaith and interpersonal relations.
Rather than the arrogant type of leadership style of those who capture a disproportionate percentage of the media spotlight through sensationalism, Francis is appreciated for his style, the choices he makes and the type of leader he has chosen to be. Both as citizens and leaders, Pastor Rock writes, “We are thirsty for an example of authority that speaks and lives out and models ideals we know are right even if they are hard to hear.”
Referring to the Gospel stories, the authors see similarities in the styles of Jesus and Pope Francis, being present to people, listening and then sharing helpful advice.
“The more we think about Francis and the things he stands for and the reasons people are talking about him,” Pastor Rock writes, “the more I begin to realize that the part of me that is drawn to Pope Francis is the part of me that is drawn to Jesus.
“Catholics and Protestants together, who are shaped by the gospel values of the kingdom, are reminded in Francis that they have much more in common than whatever differences might have been important years ago.”
The authors invite both Protestants and Catholic to widen the circle of those they invite to their communities with a list of “next steps,” practical ideas to inform ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. As the authors note, “Sincerity counts, but it’s not enough. It must be coupled with wisdom and an appreciation for how ideas might be received.”
For Catholic readers, there is one caveat: Pastor Rock acknowledges that he disagrees with “boundaries” found in Catholic teaching, first, that the Church Pope Francis leads is the one true Church; second, that the priesthood is reserved to men; and third, that homosexual tendencies are objectively disordered.