Peter St. Onge

Peter St. Onge: The Pope, the left and Kim Davis

By Peter St. Onge

Progressives were surprised and disappointed that Pope Francis met with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis during his U.S. visit.
Progressives were surprised and disappointed that Pope Francis met with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis during his U.S. visit. AP

You probably thought Pope Francis was a pretty brilliant guy last week.

At least if you’re a liberal.

From Washington to New York to Philadelphia, the Pope was a star of the left on his historic U.S. visit. He told Congress to be compassionate to immigrants and urged Americans to pay more attention to the vulnerable. He spoke halting English and fluid progressive.

Liberals celebrated. Editorial boards pronounced him wise.

Then he went off and met with Kim Davis.

Even worse, as we learned this week, the meeting with the Kentucky county clerk wasn’t in one of those handshake lines, the kind where you get from hello to goodbye in less time than most drive-thrus.

Update: On Friday morning, after days of silence, the Vatican tried to walk things back a bit on the meeting, saying that it wasn’t an endorsement of Davis and her views. But the Vatican didn’t deny the reported details of the meeting, which included Francis gaving Davis a black rosary and a hug and telling her to “stay strong.”

You shouldn’t be surprised at this. Francis, like the church he leads, believes homosexual acts are sinful. He also supports conscientious objection, which he mentioned in a news conference at the end of his U.S. visit.

Still, after a week of Francis euphoria, progressives at first struggled to believe the Davis meeting happened. Now they are disgruntled. “A wet blanket,” said one to the NYT. Others wonder if the Davis meeting negated the message of the week as a whole.

You shouldn’t be surprised at this, either. We’ve developed an expectation of ideological purity in our public figures. You’re either a liberal or a conservative. You’re on the team or you’re not.

Part of it is our tendency to insulate ourselves from opinions we don’t share. But it’s also our shortcut to winning arguments – by casting aside disagreement without even having to consider it. If you disagree with me, you must be a liberal or conservative.

And both sides of debates do it. When I moved over to the Opinion corner of the newsroom five years ago, I warned people that I wouldn’t be easy to label. If you were happy with my progressive column one day, give it some time – I was sure to disappoint you soon.

Two things I’ve learned since:

1) Everyone thinks they’re a moderate.

2) Most of us are ideologically inconsistent. We bring to debates a mashup of principles and history and beliefs, religious or not.

That’s how you get blacks who hesitate to support the struggle of gay rights. It’s how I know self-described liberals who fret about abortion. It’s how I know self-described conservatives who wince at Kim Davis’ willingness to discriminate.

Now we have Pope Francis, who took a right turn on his way to the Progressive Hall of Fame.

Used to be, such inconsistency wasn’t all that bad a quality to have.

It showed a willingness to consider issues as issues, instead of just consulting a team playbook. It’s how we managed to compromise, and how we did more than just say we respected each other’s beliefs.

It’s how we sometimes even appreciated them.

Peter:pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange

  Comments