Thursday morning, for the first time in history, a Pope addressed Congress. Though Pope Francis preached peace, understanding and equality, the address fell on partially deaf ears, since he was standing in front of some of the worst party division that Congress has seen in years. Will Democrats and Republicans interpret the pope's speech differently? The answer is a resounding yes, but they both might be slightly disappointed by what he had to say about their favorite arguments.
Both Democrats and Republicans were expecting the pope to address their big positions — and he did, but maybe not in the ways they were hoping. Democrats were really happy after the pope openly backed their arguments for policies that are more favorable to immigrants and emphasized the need to address climate change in his first welcome speech at the White House. Republicans wanted Francis to talk about his ardent anti-abortion policy, and his support for a traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Francis left them empty-handed, which only caused more division and anxiousness prior to the speech.
During his speech, Francis addressed the issue of religious freedom, but it said that it needs to be balanced with the other people's individual freedoms:
A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of religion, an ideology, or an economic system while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom, and individual freedoms.
The pope brilliantly said that Americans should resist the temptation to label people they disagree with as evil. He said that polarization of views is extremely harmful to religion:
But there is another temptation, which we must specially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil — or, if you will, righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization.
But balance isn't something all Republicans are interested in. Some representatives have already expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the pope is addressing issues like climate change instead of issues "of faith." On the most extreme end, Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, told USA Today that he would boycott the address because he knew that the pope would address climate change. In an op-ed published on a conservative news website, Gosar said that the pope needs to address issues of religious freedom and the "sanctity of life":
I have both a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.
When Francis addressed immigration, he received a standing ovation from most of the room. He said that the rights of "those who were here long before us were not always respected":
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants ... Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.
Francis also encouraged Congress to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" while speaking about the refugee crisis in Europe. Obama's recent announcement that the U.S. would take in more refugees was met with stiff opposition in Congress, where Republicans sounded fears of increased terrorism.
The pope didn't only side with Democratic ideologies, though. He reinforced our "responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development," which received hearty applause from Republicans. But moments later, he said that this includes a global abolition of the death penalty, which many Republicans have opposed, despite their fight against abortion rights.
Francis also reinforced the idea that the fight against poverty needs to take into consideration one of its core causes: the creation and distribution of wealth. He said that this important "culture of care" doesn't just extend to fighting poverty. Despite the frustration of many Republicans, Francis again addressed how important it is for the U.S. to lead technological developments to help stop our contributions to climate change:
We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power; and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.
The pope wouldn't side with any party on one issue. He preached tolerance and individual rights while also emphasizing religious freedom, and then he called for an end to the death penalty. Francis spoke to the arguments of both Democrats and Republicans, but the only one he seemed to address head-on was climate change, and he was in favor of reform to protect the Earth. Even on the issue of same-sex marriage, he wasn't clear. He didn't condemn same-sex marriage; rather, he reiterated the importance of the "richness and the beauty of family life":
Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.
Same-sex couples have family lives, right? The pope didn't specifically say what did or didn't qualify as "family life," though he has historically been against same-sex marriage as being recognized by the church.The speech was sure Republicans frustrated because of the pope's clear stance on climate change. Though Francis came from conservative positions on abortion, it seemed that his positions on issues such as religious freedom or same-sex marriage were at least unclear, and might possibly have been subtly more moderate.