Southern Baptist leader says pope soft on sin

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome July 29. The pope spent 80 minutes answering questions from 21 journalists on the plane. (RNS Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP)—The head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission says Pope Francis is soft on sin.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC moral-concerns agency, criticized the pope’s comments published in la Repubblica, the largest Italian daily general-interest newspaper.

russell moore200Russell MooreResponding to a question about whether there is a “single vision” of good and, if so, who decides, the pontiff replied: “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good.”

“Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” the pope continued. “That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

The church’s mission is not to proselytize but “to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can,” Pope Francis said.

“Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense,” he said. “We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. … The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the good.”

Pope’s mistake

In a posting on the ELRC website, Moore said Pope Francis makes the mistake of “severing the love of God from the holiness of God.”

“From Augustine’s Confessions to ‘Well, everyone has his own ideas about good and bad’ is a mighty long path,” Moore said. “If Pope Francis wishes to reclaim the primacy of the gospel, he must simultaneously speak with kindness to those outside of its reach and speak of the need for good news.”

The church’s purpose is to love others, Pope Francis said, invoking the Greek word agape, used in the New Testament for God’s self-giving love.

“It is love of others, as our Lord preached,” he said. “It is not proselytizing; it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”

“I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope,” the pontiff said. “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”

Theological ‘wreck’

Moore described the pope’s views as “a theological wreck.”

“Without speaking to the conscience, and addressing what the sinner already knows to be true about the day of giving an account, there is not love, only the consigning of the guilty conscience to accusation and condemnation,” Moore said.

“The burdened conscience doesn’t wish to hear ‘It’s all OK,’” Moore said. “The burdened conscience is freed by ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ’ (Romans 8:1).”

Opposite a harsh, rule-oriented Christianity “is a way that is just as condemning, a way that we’ve seen often in hyper-Protestant communions: the tendency to downplay sin at all,” Moore said.

“This leaves sinners like us in a kind of earthly purgatory that never purges, and leads us to hide from the face of God because, like our first parents, we know who we are and what we’ve done.”

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