Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.

A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?

Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?

Apparently not.

This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.”

A wasted opportunity?

Tell that to the immigrants in this nation for whom the pope’s presence in the nation’s capital has been a source of real hope and inspiration.

A wasted opportunity?

Tell that to families who live under the threat of violence that is enabled in no small part by the United States being the largest distributor of arms in the world.

A wasted opportunity?

Tell that to the death-row inmates who heard Christ’s vicar on earth denounce the death penalty and push for rehabilitation while noting that all human lives are sacred.

A wasted opportunity?

Tell that to the poor in developing countries who are already feeling the effects of climate change. Tell that to the next generation or two who will no doubt bear the brunt of our ecological ignorance if we are unwilling to change our course.

A wasted opportunity?

Tell that to the nonbelievers who haven’t wanted a thing to do with church but are cheering on this pope. Tell that to the believers who have walked away, embarrassed again and again by the church, who are beginning to think, maybe I’m not done with church yet. Tell that to the conservatives and the progressives who alike are celebrating a man who represents compassion and care seemingly to his very core.

Apparently living like Jesus wasn’t what Jesus was about. Apparently Jesus wanted followers who went around saying precise words, or saying “Jesus is Lord” while living lives that seemed out of touch with such words. Apparently Jesus was mistaken in stating that whenever we serve the least of these, we serve him.

And when Jesus compared the one who “heard his teachings and put them into practice” as being like a person who built his house on a rock, he meant to say, “heard his teachings and yet couldn’t stop talking only about Jesus.”

As a colleague has put it:

“Let me get this straight: Pope Francis gives a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he directly quotes Jesus from Matthew 7, has an extended session on the Golden Rule, exhorts political leaders to essentially act more like Jesus, mentions the “Gospel” specifically in regards to Dorothy Day, all while wearing clerical garb with a large crucifix around his neck, and some are concerned he didn’t specifically say the name “Jesus?” Did we just lapse back into ridiculous 90’s evangelical conversations on what makes music “Christian” where we’re counting the JPM’s? (Jesus per minute – yes, that was a thing.) There are things to be critical of (or at least cautious about) with this pope, but in my humble opinion, this is not at all one of them.”

It makes one wonder how exactly a person who has the role of teaching ‘moral theology’ can miss the point on someone who seems to exemplify that very topic.

A wasted opportunity?

I have to think Jesus himself, rather than demanding with Walter White-intensity that his name be uttered, was actually smiling at the way Francis was simultaneously challenging and encouraging people across all spectrums to be our better, compassionate selves. In a word, to be like Jesus.

As to those who are obsessed with saying “Lord, Lord”? Well, feel free to read Jesus’ own words on that.

bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch.


  1. Everything the Pope is saying is good. The problem is it’s enough. I think he’s offering good encouragement and good advice. He’s conveying Biblical values. It’s all decaf when what’s needed is espresso. He’s the Pope. The Dalai Lama could come and say the same stuff and have a similar impact (which he does). What’s supposed to be different about Francis is that he represents Christ’s body, and as such, offers ultimate hope, ultimate guidance, ultimate redemption – and that is not about trying hard to be good people, but is about putting faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and Redeemer. The apostolic office was built on Peter’s confession – Jesus is Lord. If Francis stands in Peter’s line, where’s the proclamation – the one which, by the way, under girds the church’s right to exist in the world? Offering encouragement without pointing to Christ is tantamount to explaining how to take the medicine (by the spoonful, say), without handing over the vial. To me that’s what’s happening. I’m not interested in getting into a big long debate, or defending word counts. That’s rubbish. But graciously consider the intent behind what Tuitinga is saying. It’s not just about how many times Francis uses certain words, but about whether he’s honoring his God-given office to point the World to Christ, not just to give good advice.

  2. Alyce Dunnewold says:

    Great post, Bryan. I wholeheartedly agree. I am always appalled when a Christian’s actions and words (in that order preferably) is are parsed not for actual good or kindness they do for their neighbour, but for how much “right belief” is trumpeted. I think Tuininga was overly critical and a bit supercilious (yes, sigh, the dark side of being a dutch calvinist). I also would suggest that at the time of the events told to us in the book of Acts, authorities were concerned about action expressly done in the name of Jesus because Jesus was considered by the Roman authorities as an insurrectionist, as someone who practiced sedition. In contemporary America, “Jesus” has, of course, now been co-opted by the political forces of the right in the US for an agenda to protect the status quo or even status quo ante. No wonder they are up in arms when the Pope does not liberally sprinkle his speech with the name of Jesus. Is it possible they are on to the Pope’s serious challenge of the very political, social and economic order which accords them a privileged position?

  3. Drew says:

    Bryan, this is a really surprising post. I don’t see you as a guy who so easily succumbs to binaries. I mean, why can’t this be a both/and situation? Why can’t he say everything he said AND mention Jesus or the Holy Spirit once or twice? It’s really not that big of an “ask” and has nothing to do with 90’s evangelism, JPMs and the like … and you know it.

  4. ncyjoygries says:

    I am not offended or concerned about this matter. If the Pope had mentioned the name of Jesus, Our Lord And Savior, it could have sounded politically incorrect to the wide wide world and exclusive as opposed to sounding All Inclusive. Today’s people of all ilk want and need church people as well as lay people to at least present themselves as being respectful of and close to everyone. Jesus would understand, & forgive, I believe

  5. Ben S. says:

    Did Jesus ever once in his entire public ministry go on an ego trip? Not that our scriptures record. So why would we think that he would want his disciples to go on an ego trip on his behalf? When he told his followers how people would know they were his followers, it was always by their love, by their compassion, by their caring. Marketing the Jesus brand wasn’t ever the point with him, so when people get bent out of shape about the name of Jesus not being broadcast, I always find myself wondering whose glory is the real issue.

    • ncyjoygries says:

      Very well said Ben S. I agree with you. If the Pope had mentioned the name Jesus, many would have become deaf to the rest of his statements. It should not be that way, but it is. How often do we take to heart the name of Allah and so forth?

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