Why the Election of the Pope Matters, or Should Matter, to Evangelicals

In 2005, when the papal conclave was called to replace Pope John Paul II, I heard from many of my evangelical friends and from people in my congregation statements like this: “This doesn’t matter to me because I’m not Catholic. It has nothing to do with me.”

Sadly, such statements show a lack of understanding of the global society in which we live and a lack in insight into the way the rest of the world (that is, the non-Christian world) thinks. Here are three reasons by the election of the pope matters, or should matter, even to evangelicals.

1. To most people on this planet, a Christian is a Christian is a Christian.

They don’t care that you celebrate the Five Solas and Catholics don’t. They don’t know anything about justification by faith alone or your rejection of the Magisterium and ex cathedra pronouncements. None of that matters to them. All they see is that Rome worships Christ and you worship Christ.

This means that whatever happens in or to the Roman Catholic Church reflects on everyone who is a Christian of any stripe. Remember how all Christian groups have been tainted by the sex abuse scandal? (Granted the scandal did expose abuse in other denominations that might not otherwise have been exposed, but it also painted all of us with the same dirty brush.) How this new pope handles the continuing fallout will have ramifications for all of us.

So you may not care who the next pope is, but it will affect you one way or another partly because…

2. The Pope is the most powerful and influential religious leader in the world.

The only other religious leader who comes close is the Dalai Lama and while he may be more influential in some circles, the pope is an actual head of state. And since the pope is the leader of Christianity to most of the world (see number 1) what he does as a head of state will have ramifications for many Christians of all kinds all around the world.

The pope also wields enormous influence through his leadership of the church. His leadership, directions, and emphases will trickle down to the local parishes and can have significant impact in various regions. For those who minister in the Bible Belt, the impact may cause nary a ripple, but for people like me, who minister in a heavily Catholic region, the impact will most certainly be felt. When the archdiocese closed two of the four parishes in the city where I live and minister, it definitely had an impact on everyone, Catholic or not.

For those who stand in common cause with Catholics on social issues such as abortion, the ramifications of the pope’s policies and emphases can most definitely have an impact. The church has such wealth and power that they are able to do in these and other areas things many evangelical ministries cannot do. They are often able to feed the hungry and help the homeless on a much broader scale than an independent church or an evangelical denomination is unable to do. In our heavily-Catholic area, many non-Catholic churches often send people, sometimes even members, to Catholic charitable organizations for help because other churches and denominations are sometimes just not able to provide the help they need.

This leads me to number three.

3. Christians everywhere, will benefit from or be harmed by the new pope’s leadership and policies.

One of the biggest problems the new pope will have to address is the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. Of all world religious leaders, the Pope is the one most in a position to influence governments to permit religious freedom or at least to protect Christians. All Christians, missionaries, local pastors and congregations, individuals, in such nations stand to benefit from this influence.

Even in an ostensibly religiously free nation like the US, there has been an increasing antagonism toward Christians of all denominations (and the New Atheism is only a small part of it).

The new pope will also likely emphasize what has been termed “the New Evangelization” and this evangelizing endeavor can impact most notably missionaries and local pastors in regions where their evangelization efforts are the strongest.

So you can’t simply say, “I’m not Catholic so this has nothing to do with me,” because the new pope, whoever he turns our to be, will affect each of us involved in religious endeavors and those who partner with us in numerous ways, large and small.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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