As Pope Francis visits the U.S., Southern Baptist leaders say they stand with his statements of biblical morality but urge Catholics to reject the Vatican's official teaching on salvation in favor of a personal relationship with Christ by faith alone.
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hopes Francis will speak to key moral concerns being debated in the public square during his Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit.
"I hope the pope speaks with clarity about the dignity of all human life, including that of the unborn; the stability of the family, including the necessity of mothers and fathers for children; and religious liberty for all," Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. "I also hope he speaks directly as he has before to our responsibility for the most vulnerable among us, the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant, and the orphan."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees and wants Francis to clarify his "decidedly mixed signals" regarding multiple issues, including human sexuality.
"This pope's method is to speak to the theological left and the theological right with two different sets of messages," Mohler told BP. "As he'll be speaking to a largely disillusioned Catholic population and a very skeptical secular population, I don't expect him to be any clearer on the issues" during the U.S. visit.
Yet Francis' trip could provide an opportunity for American archbishops and members of the press to request clarification regarding the tension between popular perceptions of Francis' progressivism and his professed support of traditional Catholic doctrines, Mohler said. He cited unique tension between progressives' hope that Francis will change Catholic teaching on homosexuality and the pope's position that "all homosexual behavior and relationships" are "objectively disordered."
Mohler called Francis' Sept. 24 address to a joint session of Congress "problematic."
"No Roman Catholic pope has ever been invited to address a joint session of Congress," Mohler said. "And Baptists historically have been very opposed to the United States government recognizing any religion or religious leader in such a way."
Retention and recruitment of Catholic church members is expected to be another focus of the pope's visit, with the Pew Forum reporting earlier this year that six U.S. Catholics leave the church for every one new Catholic convert.
But Baptist pastors who have seen numerous Catholics come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior say Francis poses no threat to Protestant evangelism. Chris Goeppner, pastor of Riverbank Church in White River Junction, Vt., has seen 150-200 Catholics profess faith in Christ since 2010.
Catholics "who haven't been to church for a long time come to [our] church and hear a message that has some familiar verbiage," Goeppner said. "... But now they've connected it to a relationship, and it's been really cool to see when the light bulb goes on."
To read the rest of the story, click here.