His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.
The Rev. James Martin, one of America’s most prominent Catholic priests, is a best-selling author, film consultant to Hollywood producers and a prolific tweeter with a digital pulpit that reaches more than 250,000 followers. Father Martin is also a hero to many L.G.B.T. Catholics for challenging church leaders to recognize the full humanity of gay people. His advocacy has made him a target of vicious online campaigns from far-right Catholic groups. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia last month warned that Father Martin “does not speak with authority on behalf of the church.”
But this week, Father Martin’s ministry received an endorsement from the most authoritative of church offices. Pope Francis met with the priest, a Jesuit like the pope, during a private, half-hour conversation in the pope’s library, a place often reserved for discussions with heads of state and diplomats. In a tweet, Father Martin said he shared with Francis “the joys and hopes, and the griefs and anxieties, of L.G.B.T. Catholics and L.G.B.T. people worldwide.”
There is little doubt Pope Francis wanted the meeting advertised. Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator, a London-based conservative magazine, tweeted that the pope’s meeting was “intended to taunt the U.S. conservatives that he demonizes.”
Despite that hyperventilating, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is not afraid of the small but increasingly vocal chorus of American critics who consider his pastoral efforts to reach out to L.G.B.T. people and divorced Catholics as near heretical breaks from church tradition. In September, a reporter asked Pope Francis about his right-wing critics in the United States. “It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” the pope told Nicholas Senèze, a French journalist who presented the pope with his new book, “How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” which chronicles efforts by conservatives in the United States to undermine the pope.The pope’s meeting with Father Martin did more than serve as a signal of support for the priest’s advocacy on behalf of L.G.B.T. people. It was also emblematic of the Francis papacy, which has been a consistent rebuke to a style of culture-war Christianity that since the ascendance of the religious right in the United States during the 1980s has often been the default setting for American Christianity in politics.Since his election six years ago, Pope Francis has modeled a different brand of moral leadership: engaging and persuading, reframing contentious issues away from narrow ideologies and expanding moral imaginations. Last week, a gay theologian and priest who was dismissed from his religious order for expressing disagreement with the church’s teachings on same-sex relationships wrote that Pope Francis called him two years ago, gave him “the power of the keys,” a reference to being restored to ministry, and encouraged him to “walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus.”
The pope’s interior freedom and humility stand in stark contrast to other religious and political leaders on the world stage. When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, he declared: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” In keeping with that megalomania, Mr. Trump surrounds himself with compliant evangelical courtiers like Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor, who view the president in messianic terms, a political savior. Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Jeffress this week, citing the pastor’s claim on Fox News that if the president is impeached, it will cause a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”
Pope Francis rejects this resurgence of Christian nationalism and warns against idolizing politicians.
As right-wing populists from the United States to Europe depict migrants as menacing threats and build walls, the pope continues to challenge what he calls a “globalization of indifference.” On Sunday, during a special Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis unveiled an artistic monument to migration in St. Peter’s Square. The work depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling by boat, a powerful visual counterpoint to the nativist winds blowing across both sides of the Atlantic.
And unlike the loudest anti-abortion voices on the Christian right who are so wed to the Republican Party that they ignore assaults on life inflicted by policies that exacerbate economic inequality, poverty and climate change, the pope insists that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred” as the unborn in the womb.
Culture warriors in the United States have done enough damage to our collective political and moral imagination. More intoxicated with power than faithful to the gospel, these religious leaders demonize L.G.B.T. people, turn their back on migrants fleeing danger and ignore the cries of the poor while claiming to defend Christian values. A humble but persistent pastor in Rome reminds us there is a different path for those of us who still believe in a faith that seeks justice.POPE FRANCIS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart.
Several of these leaders, including ones with close ties to the White House and Senate Republicans, are urging Republicans to move forward with a confirmation vote imminently unless the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, agrees to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee within the next few days.
The evangelical leaders’ pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some of them are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies.
“One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House.
“If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”
The evangelist Franklin Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most unwavering defenders, told the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, “I hope the Senate is smarter than this, and they’re not going to let this stop the process from moving forward and confirming this man.”
Social conservatives are already envisioning a worst-case scenario related to Judge Kavanaugh, and they say it is not a remote one. Republican promises to shift the Supreme Court further to the right — which just a few days ago seemed like a fait accompli — have been one of the major reasons conservatives say they are willing to tolerate an otherwise dysfunctional Republican-controlled government. If Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, and recent political history is any guide, voters will most likely point the finger not at Mr. Trump but at Republican lawmakers.
.. The reason the prospect of Judge Kavanaugh’s defeat is so alarming to conservatives is that they fear he could be the last shot at reshaping the nation’s highest court for years. If Republicans were to lose control of the Senate, where they hold a 51-to-49 majority, in November, Mr. Trump would find it difficult to get anyone confirmed before the end of the year. Even if Senate leaders were able to schedule hearings and hold a vote, there could be defections from Republican senators uneasy about using a lame duck session to ram through a lifetime appointment that would tip the court’s ideological balance.
.. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, said he did not know who was telling the truth, Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey. “But I can say with absolute certainty,” he added, “that the Democrats don’t care who is telling the truth. Their only interest is in delaying and derailing this confirmation.”
.. The importance of the Supreme Court to the Trump White House and the Republican Party is difficult to overstate. Mr. Trump has heralded Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh, his two Supreme Court nominees, as crowning achievements in an otherwise uneven presidency.
.. Conservative groups have spent tens of millions of dollars building the men up as legal luminaries, gentleman scholars and the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to nominate judges who have “a record of applying the Constitution just as it was written,”
.. A relatively smooth, predictable confirmation fight has also been a key part of Republicans’ strategy to keep the Senate. In the 10 states that Mr. Trump won where Democratic senators are up for re-election, Republicans have attacked Democrats for either opposing the judge or remaining noncommittal.
.. some are also arguing that they cannot be indifferent and insensitive to a victim.
.. But many conservatives see little use in being deferential when, they argue, the Democrats play by no such rules. They look back at the failed confirmation of the Republican nominee Robert Bork in 1987, whose writings on civil rights were picked over by Democrats, and the 1991 hearings for Clarence Thomas, who faced testimony from Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her, and they see a sophisticated and ruthless Democratic machine bent on discrediting their nominees.
.. “Republicans are right, as a moral matter as well as a political matter, to take allegations of misbehavior like this seriously,” said Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project and a veteran social conservative strategist. “At the same time, we’ve seen anything and everything thrown at Republican Supreme Court nominees for decades,” he added, noting that Republicans have been slow to understand that Democrats are “playing by different rules.”
.. Privately, some conservatives were thrilled that Dr. Blasey and her lawyer have resisted the opportunity to testify in the Senate on Monday and demanded instead that the F.B.I. first investigate her claims. That would be just enough, they said, to give Republicans the justification for moving forward without her. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, made clear on Wednesday that he would not postpone a hearing past Monday.
.. sets up a fight that Republicans could win in the Senate but might ultimately lose at the ballot box in November. The level of outrage could run so hot among Democrats, who would likely use every procedural and political tool at their disposal to delay confirmation, that it could provide even more fuel to an already energized liberal base.
.. “Given the confirmation theatrics, followed by this allegation that was held until the last moment, this could be seen as another partisan attack and could actually fuel conservative turnout,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
.. Conservatives are likely to use protests and other forms of resistance to Judge Kavanaugh as a way to clarify for unmotivated Republican voters what Democratic control of the Senate means: a Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice would never be confirmed again.
“If Chuck Schumer is majority leader and Dianne Feinstein is chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” said Mr. Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “it will be open season on any Trump nominee to the federal bench at any level of the judiciary.”