I've been watching fellow social conservatives continue to discuss the Pope's recent interview, and in the process I've found myself trying to figure out how to communicate where I think the reasoning is going wrong.
So far, even at Triablogue, I haven't really run into anyone accusing the Pope of suddenly going all liberal or unorthodox on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. Instead, the claim is: the Pope made a mistake, because he said something that could be taken out of context. THAT was the error here - he set himself up to be misreported by groups like NARAL, etc.
I've tried to explain why I think this criticism fails dramatically. NARAL is more than willing to misrepresent and lie about someone's words when it will benefit them. They saw a benefit to misrepresenting the Pope in this case. This is nothing new - Benedict used to get similar treatment, it just tended to be treatment in the other direction, such that a condemnation of gay marriage turned into 'The Pope is against civil rights for gay people and thinks they're all gonna burn, burn, burn!' But the problem there is precisely that the exaggeration about papal statements in the recent past have all tended to be negative dishonesty. 'Benedict is a jerk, because (insert warping of his statements and views here.)' With Francis, it's the opposite. 'Francis is great, because (insert warping of his statements and views here.)'
It's not only the sort of misrepresentation that's been changed, but also the dynamic. SoCons, particularly Catholic SoCons, deal with a whole lot of SoLibs who try to misrepresent Church teaching straightaway. 'Catholics for Choice', or Nancy Pelosi, etc. And they look at statements like NARAL is making and, I think, the first thing that comes to mind is 'Great, because it wasn't hard enough to make it clear that the Church condemns abortion before.' So I know I've got my work cut out for me, on my small corner of the web, explaining why I think Francis was right to say what he did.
Well, I think I found an example that can help me out here, and should assist in getting the point across: John 8:1-11.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Now, I think any SoCon who has been around for a while is going to admit straightaway... wow, John 8 is one of the most selectively quoted, misrepresented bible passages around. How many times have you encountered 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'? How many times has that been used to justify a given act, a presentation of 'Jesus himself said you should leave me alone when I want to get an abortion' or the like? Personally, I've run into it a number of times.
Now, any Christian SoCon is also going to know that these interpretations of John 8 are erroneous. No, Christ did not say that sinners should not be recognized as sinning. No, there's no way to interpret Christ as forbidding calling sin, sin. Etc, etc. You're also going to notice that the clear meaning of Christ's words, the clear thrust of His teachings, hasn't really made a dent in people's willingness to abuse these passages to their own ends.
But has any SoCon ever turned around and accused Christ, or the biblical authors, of having made a mistake - either in saying what He did in the case of Christ, or in reporting it as they did in the case of the biblical authors?
I think most would say, no. And it's easy to see why, I think - because it is a ridiculous standard to use not just the public at large, but dishonest people who will gleefully lie and misrepresent someone's words, in order to determine what you will and will not say. There is no way to make your words 'misrepresentation-proof' with a dishonest person or organization, because even if you nail down all of your terms and your explicit meaning, all they have to do is selectively quote you if they so choose.
This goes beyond Pope Francis. If you find yourself unwilling to express mercy towards, say... someone sincerely struggling against same-sex marriage, or a scared woman who has seriously considered abortion, etc, and if you're unwilling to do this on the grounds that you are guarding against being misinterpreted or misrepresented as actually approving of these behaviors, well... guess what? You've been sandbagged by the SoLibs. They have successfully scared you out of appearing compassionate, or speaking frankly and reasonably - and as a result, it's now far easier to cast you as a hardass who is detached from real suffering or the morally imperfect (as we all are.)
That's part of the reason why Francis' speech has animated me. I sincerely believe Francis did something great. I believe that the move he made is necessary - SoCons need to change their approach, not their commitments. He is showing one way to do it. And the SoLibs are frantic, because they're looking at a popular, congenial Pope of a Church that is their mortal enemy, and if they can't ruin him, then they must at the very least neutralize his message and try to shove their heads under his hands to make it look as if he's blessing them.
If you're a SoCon reading this, I urge you - consider what I'm saying. The SoLibs have played the image game better than SoCons for the past decade, on multiple subjects, and it has paid off. And frankly, this isn't only about image - it's also about sincere Christian compassion, which manifestly does not require regarding abortion, same-sex sexual behavior, or contraception as anything less than sinful.