Bishop Scott Anson Benhase
November 8, 2013eCrozier #197

The First Anglican Pope

Pope Francis may be the first Anglican pope. Ok, that's admittedly a bit hyperbolic, but hear me out. I know the new Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is Roman Catholic and Jesuit-trained. His parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina where he was born and raised and is a citizen. With all that said, he seems to me to be approaching his vocation as the Bishop of Rome like an Anglican. Let me try to explain what I mean.


Anglicanism was forged out of the creative tension of the catholic faith and the reforming zeal of protestant thinkers and theologians. In the middle of the 16th Century after thirty or so years of struggle (and three different Books of Common Prayer!), Queen Elizabeth I officially ended the struggle with the Elizabethan Settlement (1559). Of course, this "official settlement" didn't end theological differences. She simply declared by royal decree it was over (ah, the good old days). After Queen Elizabeth, Anglicanism evolved through a commitment of living hopefully with one another even as differences remained. We recognized we could learn and benefit from our sisters and brothers who approached the Christian faith with different perspectives or emphases. We call this Anglican Comprehensiveness or simply, "The Big Tent."


This comprehensiveness has shaped our attitude and ethos as a church. It helps us tend toward humility when it comes to our own positions recognizing that others in our church have diverse viewpoints and yet a common faith in the Gospel of Jesus. We avoid prescribing one way of discipleship. We're relatively comfortable in this humility knowing that sometimes the answers we have are in conflict with one another. By staying in community, however, we're able to listen respectfully to one another while humbly waiting on God's Spirit to move. Our unity then isn't in uniformity, but rather in a shared trust in God's sovereignty and providence. This stance helps us maintain a comprehensive "big tent" of a church with space for many people.


As I listen to and learn about Pope Francis it seems to me that's the humble attitude and ethos he's exhibiting in both his formal and informal teaching. Whether in washing the feet of a young Muslim girl on Maundy Thursday or in responding to a question about homosexuality and rhetorically asking: "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?" Pope Francis is exuding an Anglican ethos in his Christian faith. But like with Anglicans, no one should confuse such humility and openness with weakness or a lack of conviction. It actually takes a strong, deep faith in God's grace and mercy in Jesus to extend such grace and mercy to others, especially when dealing with moral or religious disagreements. Only the weak in faith need exact "black and white" rules (See St Paul's words to the Corinthians about eating food sacrificed to idols).


No, this Pope is a man who has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. His strong faith gives him the freedom to be gracious and compassionate and to approach life with humility, openness, and curiosity.  Maybe that's why he's so confounding to so many people, both in the Roman Church and outside it? Or maybe people just don't know what to make of the first Anglican Pope?

Scott's Signature   
           The Rt. Rev. Scott A. Benhase               


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