- – It is abundantly awesome that there are millions of people like Elton John who love Pope Francis and are attracted to him, even though they hate what the Catholic Church actually teaches, because it demonstrates that they are in the early stages of intentional discipleship, which are initial trust and curiosity. –
What Shea is referencing here is the well-promoted book Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddell, which describes the five stages that people will matriculate through on their way to becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ (i.e., initial trust, curiosity, spiritual openness, spiritual seeking, and intentional discipleship).
Is Elton John Really an Intentional Disciple of Christ?
In his two-part series of articles Shea was responding to recent comments that were made by British singer, Elton John, about Pope Francis. The Guardian quoted Elton John having said the Pope “his hero”, “make [Pope Francis] a saint now”, and “[Pope Francis] is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God.”
In 2010 Elton John also told Parade Magazine “I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.” In 2006 he told The Guardian, “Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays. But there are so many Christian people I know who are gay and love their religion . . . From my point of view I would ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it.”
I’m not saying that because Elton John is a man suffering from the demonic spirit of homosexuality and is married to another man suffering from the same condition who he is raising a child with, and that he has some clear mental and emotional issues regarding organized religion, that he is, thereby, immune from becoming a true disciple of Christ. To the contrary, all I’m saying is that there is no proof for Shea to assert or to make the clear claim that Elton John is in the early stages of becoming one. Shea asserts no personal knowledge of Elton John’s spiritual life, nor does he assert personal knowledge into the spiritual life or eternal-life trajectory of any other person who loves Pope Francis, but hates the Church. There is no proof whatsoever for Shea to state that Elton John is “developing a curiosity about” Jesus. Therefore, his argument is illogical and without merit.
Pope Francis, Master of Sleuth of Conversions?
I found the more tragic weakness in Shea’s article was his insistence in grounding his argument in an ‘us’ (he calls, ‘pious conservative Catholics’) versus ‘them’ (he calls ‘Elton John and others’) framework. He then presumes to press this idea further by comparing ‘pious conservative Catholics’ to the Pharisees who were upset with Jesus because He didn’t comport with their notions of holiness.
He uses this ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric to create false narratives and to perpetuate emerging stereotypes about ‘conservative Catholics’. He writes, “Much of what conservative Catholics are doing is imagining that we need to grab somebody by the lapels, shove them against the wall, and hiss, “You have to change.”” He then compares Elton John and others who love Pope Francis, but hate the Church to Saint Peter. He writes, “When Peter says “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” Notably, Jesus does not say, “Go away from me, Peter, for you are a sinful man”, the very thing so many Catholics are eager to tell Elton John and other disaffected-but-curious people.”
For three reasons, it completely befuddled me that someone would make a case that the personality and faith expression of Pope Francis is motivator for people to convert to Christ.
First, Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that he is indifferent, if not altogether, uninterested in people converting to Catholicism. Therefore, how could his disinterest lead anyone to be interested? Being that I haven’t eaten pork in over twenty years, how could my disinterest in pork lead someone else to desire it?
Second, as I stated in my article The Three Great Dangers of Evangelizing through Beauty, “We must always begin with the truth, because it is God’s most powerful weapon. To begin with anything less than the truth is to begin with something less than what the world deserves to hear.” Therefore, knowing that Pope Francis tends towards posing the bold question, only to follow it up with a confusing/less than certain/less than clear answer, how is it that anyone could find their way to the truth (namely, Christ Jesus) through that fog? I always tell people that a key factor in me converting to Catholicism during the height of the sex abuse scandal in 2006 was Pope Benedict XVI. He was the sure, steady, clear, and consistent ship that I needed to see off in the distance as I made my way across the Tiber River. When I became certain that what the Church taught is true, but all I saw were ordained priests who were not behaving true, I saw in Pope Benedict XVI a man who found truth on his knees. If Pope Francis was Pope in 2006, I would not have crossed the Tiber. Nothing against him! I think he is a wonderful man, with a heart of compassion, but he was not what I needed in 2006. I needed truth and certainty, not questions and more confusion.
Lastly, it concerns my own empirical evidence, which isn’t true for everyone. Unlike Shea, I do have personal knowledge of the spiritual life of some people who hate the Catholic Church. One of them, who is a die-hard Calvinist, likes to call me and laugh whenever Pope Francis says something confusing. His main bone in not becoming Catholic is that the Popes over the centuries have erred. To be sure, that’s a ridiculous reason not to become Catholic, but it’s his reason, and Pope Francis is his confirmation in that contention. And there are others I know who have become more firm against becoming Catholic since Pope Francis began speaking.
One thing I’m not is a slave to my own thoughts and experiences. My friend Ellen, who sent me Mark Shea’s article, believes (has circumstantial evidence) that people are coming back to the Catholic Church because they feel more ‘welcomed’ thanks to Pope Francis. While, she too would like more clarity from the Holy Father, she contends that it is up to the people in the pews and the pastors to meet those who feel they now have a place in the Church. These people are not my experience, but I think she was able to succinctly say what Shea meant to say in nearly 2,000 words.
It’s my prayerful hope that the promise of God will be fulfilled on earth, that “everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), but let us not make leaps and assumptions in regards to where people are in that journey. Our only duty is to evangelize in a manner that manner that saves and transforms. To do such means that we can not presume or assume the faith journey of anyone.