Pope Francis, the leader of Catholics worldwide, recently told his priests it was fine for them to offer their blessing to same-sex couples. As a result, Chris Christie, who opposed homosexual marriage when he was New Jersey's governor and a previous White House candidate, now says his opinion on the issue has changed.
According to the "Fiducia Supplicans," a document from the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published December 18, "blessings are among the most widespread and evolving sacramentals," and it is possible to give "blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex."
The declaration clearly states that the Church's teaching on marriage between one man and one woman has not changed, and to avoid confusion or scandal, it emphasizes that such blessings should "never" occur within the ceremony of a civil union "and not even in connection with them."
In other words, priests can bless same-sex couples without condoning their lifestyles.
This new policy is not to be confused with "liturgical perspective" of the traditional understanding of a blessing from the Church. Instead, it allows for a "broadening and enrichment" of how a blessing should be viewed.
Citing this declaration, Christie, a self-described Catholic, is all in.
"I don't have any objection to it any longer," he told a gathering in December. "In the end, I think I've been convinced. That's part of being a thinking, breathing human being, I hope, is that you can hold certain opinions at one time, and hold them genuinely -- and I did -- but over time … even the Church is changing."
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Washington Watch Wednesday that the Republican presidential hopeful's shifting stance on this issue should be a wake-up call not just for politicians, but for pastors and people in all walks of life.
"The favorite political word for this is evolved," Mohler noted. "Christie went so far as to claim that this is what intelligent people do. Well, that's true if truth changes. Otherwise, you've just changed your mind."
Mohler told show host Tony Perkins that bringing the Pope's recent decision into his own discussion was just a matter of convenience for Christie.
"When he was running for governor of New Jersey in 2009, he was very much against same-sex marriage. He was for civil unions, he said at the time, with legal recognition, but he was against same-sex marriage," Mohler remembers. "Now, all of a sudden, he's running for president, or at least for the Republican presidential nomination, and so it's time to join the bandwagon. You can't go that far. The Pope was a very convenient hook for him to hang his most recent politically correct position."
On a bigger scale, Mohler says the Pope has created confusion among Catholics.
"The Pope intentionally sent a muddled signal," the seminary president submits. "He tried to say at one point that the Catholic Church's doctrine hasn't changed, [but] on the other hand, he turns right around and says that the pastoral application may be a spontaneous blessing of persons in same-sex couples. All of a sudden, people started lining up."
In the Roman Catholic Church, Mohler says Pope Francis himself is to blame for muddling this issue, though it is not just happening there.
"There's a lot of slippage we're witnessing right now among evangelicals," the Southern Baptist observes. "There are an awful lot of people who call themselves evangelical who just can't wait to shift their public position on this issue, and quite frankly, privately, they've been giving sanction to these relationships for a long time. It's absolutely contrary to Scripture."
Meanwhile, "Marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman." But too many evangelical pastors are avoiding the issue from their pulpits.
"There are those who think the best thing they can do in terms of dealing with the issue is not to deal with it. That's not just a problem of pastoral courage; it's a problem of theological conviction," Mohler said.
But church members who are hungry for the truth can be of some influence.
"We need to encourage pastors to faithfulness," Mohler concluded. "Church members have a lot of say in this. Hear this from a seminary president: You need to be talking to your pastor about what he is and is not saying about this issue from the pulpit."