A survey of Protestant pastors in America reveals that their view of the pope is vastly different from that of their Protestant forerunners in centuries past.
At the same timel interest in Pope Francis in the U.S. centers on social justice.
Shortly before Pope Francis visited the United States, LifeWay Research polled 1,000 Protestant pastors in the U.S. LifeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer tells OneNewsNow about one of the questions they posed.
"We asked them, 'Do you view Pope Francis as a genuine Christian and your brother in Christ?’” he tells OneNewsNow. “Sixty-three percent said, 'Yes.' It was a little lower among the evangelical Protestants but still a strong majority."
Fifty-eight percent of the evangelicals agreed that the pope is a genuine Christian. Stetzer finds that response interesting coming from Protestant pastors, in light of the fact that the name Protestant comes from the Protestant Reformation, which began in protest of Catholicism and the pope in Rome.
"Luther, Spurgeon, Wesley all would call the pope antichrist, not the Antichrist, but antichrist, as in pushing away from the gospel,” Stetzer says. “And to go in just a few centuries from the pope being seen as antichrist to being a brother in Christ is a big shift."
Stetzer suggests that shift is probably worthy of more reflection.
In other findings, 90 percent of Protestant pastors agree Catholics can be "born-again Christians."
Meanwhile, nearly four in 10 Protestant pastors say the pope, known for his humility and concern for the poor, has had a positive impact on their opinions of the Catholic Church. However, half of Protestant pastors say they do not value Pope Francis' opinion on matters of theology.
A researcher for the Institute on Religion and Democracy notes that the pope’s recent visit to the U.S. was highlighted by emphasis on various social justice causes rather than Christian theology. Religious leaders from all kinds of faiths took the opportunity to highlight their favorite cause.
The Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith climate change event while Pope Francis was on U.S. soil.
Joseph Rossell, a research analyst for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, explains that officials with the Episcopal Church and other mainstream denominations failed to present the Good News of Christ in their promotion of climate activism.
"The danger of elevating the earth, elevating any social justice cause to a very high level, is that you forget the gospel and are not focusing on what the church is supposed to be doing," Rossell says.
He tells OneNewsNow that church leaders attending the event were taking harsh stances on scientific issues that are still in dispute.
"You have comments from the Episcopal Church (and) other denominations saying basically if you don't agree on the science you're sinning,” he says. “So I think it is a very dangerous position to take to say someone's opinion or someone's scientific views are actually sinful."
Rossell says several Protestant denominations have a long history of seizing on to climate issues.