Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar
Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 89
The title of the book sounds like the beginning of a joke, and it is. However, you will have to get the book, as I will not give away the punch line here. The book itself, though, is no joke. Paul Rock is the Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, and Bill Tammeus was a Faith columnist for many years and still writes for The Presbyterian Outlook and the National Catholic Reporter. The book’s premise is that Pope Francis has taken the world by storm, and there is something we (whether Protestant, Catholic or non-Christian) can learn from this humble man.
The original audience was the congregation of Second Presbyterian Church. Paul and his staff preached a series of seven sermons, each taking a slice of Francis’s work thus far and asking the listeners, “Why can’t we get behind this leader and support his work, even if we are not Catholic or Christian?” After these sermons were preached and pod-casted, a book concept came into being. Now, the intended audience is anyone interested in the ministry of Pope Francis since he became the head of the Catholic Church.
The real strengths of the book are the repeated calls to see what Francis is doing and hear what he is saying. First of all, the authors point out interesting similarities between Jesus and Francis. Both Francis and Jesus had less than stellar pedigrees. As Jesus wasn’t born and raised in Jerusalem, neither was Francis born or raised in Europe. He’s the first pope to be non-European, to be a Jesuit, and to have received his ordination after the Vatican II reforms.
Second, Francis is radical, much like Jesus was, in his message of the good news. He is comfortable with all kinds of people, welcomes anyone, and is a humble leader. Francis calls for justice not from the papal throne in Rome, but as he mingles with the powerless of society.
Third, Francis is unusual for a pope in that he lives life free. He’s free from living in quarters most popes are accustomed to in Rome. He freely changes and adapts his schedule to accommodate those in need. He’s willing to become ridiculous, taking a “selfie” with teenagers for example, just to make connections with ordinary people. His ability to embrace the secular press makes him suspect among the traditionalists. . . meaning the cardinals, bishops and priests (similar to the Pharisees in Jesus’s day).
In the final chapter, the authors hit the nail on the head by focusing on what Francis has not accomplished. While this pope has bridged the Catholic/Protestant divide with his humble servant model and openness to people, he and the Catholic Church have not changed any doctrines that would reflect real change. Believers outside the Catholic faith are still not recognized as true believers. Women are not treated as equals with men, and gender and sexual issues are not addressed as most American Catholics in the pew would like. Although the recent movie Spotlight about clergy abuse in Boston highlights progress made on that issue, much more needs to be done.
Ultimately, Catholics and Protestants should not allow their differences to hinder their attempts at working together. We agree on much more than we disagree. We still have work to do to live out the reality that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.”
Reviewed by Mark A. Weiler DMin BCC, staff chaplain at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, Colorado.