Let’s face it. Conservatives suck at messaging. What’s worse is that liberals are very, very good at messaging their policies, regardless of how ridiculous said policies may be. Time and time again, we find ourselves on the losing side of the national political debate. Sure, we’ve got bright spots here and there (think gun control), but for the most part, we fall behind in the messaging battle. Our policies are better, but our messaging is not. It’s clear that the GOP could use a few more PR experts in their ranks.
I expect to get pristine examples of successful messaging from the Dana and Chris Loeschs of the world, so I was justifiably surprised when I realized that we have another great role model for messaging outside the realm of American politics. Outside of America all together, actually.
Pope Francis has been in the news lately for his recent statements on social issues. Statements such as the one below have sparked discussion on both sides of the political aisle here in the US:
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
This comes after the Pope stated in July, “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency (to be homosexual) is not the problem. They are our brothers.”
These statements and others have prompted many on the left, and in Hollywood, to shower Pope Francis with praise. At the Emmy’s on Sunday, award winner Tina Fey even mentioned backstage that she’s like to thank the Pope “for being cool about some stuff,” a likely reference to his recent statements.
While many jumped to the conclusion that the Pope has veered away from centuries and tradition and is suddenly “cool” with gay marriage, contraception, etc., this simply isn’t the case. In fact, Pope Francis recently excommunicated a Catholic priest who is pro-gay marriage. It isn’t the Pope’s views that have changed, it’s his messaging.
I personally was shocked when I noticed the reaction to Pope Francis’ recent statements. He didn’t say anything new or revolutionary. He simply restated the typical Christian beliefs on gay marriage and other social issues. The phrase “hate the sin, not the sinner,” comes to mind. The Catholic church (and generally, Christianity) is in the business of saving souls, not condemning others. While we’re called as Christians to judge actions a good or evil, we’re still meant to reach out to others with love and compassion. That’s exactly what Pope Francis is saying.
The Pope is also correct that we shouldn’t be focusing piecemeal on specific social issues. While marriage and life issues are very important in the eyes of the church, they aren’t the only issues we should discuss. In actuality, the reason why we’re talking so much about social issues (at least here in the US) is because the left knows that they’re politically polarizing. They use them against conservative Christians to win elections and paint a false picture of God-fearing Americans.
Many find Pope Francis to be so “revolutionary” because he doesn’t fit into the narrative that many have thrust upon Christians: that we’re a judgmental, nosy bunch more concerned with condemnation than we are with salvation. Not so, and the Pope’s words are evidence of this. He’s not saying anything different than his predecessors have said. He’s merely stating his views in a different way, which goes to show the power of messaging itself.
Here’s where conservatives and Christians can learn from Pope Francis. I’ll let you in on a little secret: We don’t have to change our platform and our principles to sway others toward conservatism (or Christianity). We simply need to message our views more efficiently. We’re currently too good at allowing our opponents to dictate the narrative, unfortunately. Pope Francis’ statements and the praise he has received for them goes to show that it’s possible to push back against even the most solidified narrative. Clearly, all of us, including us non-Catholics, can learn a thing or two from the Vicar of Christ.
Amy Lutz | Saint Louis University | @amylutz4