As the Roman Catholic head Jorge Bergoglio, who is known as “Pope Francis,” traveled to the United States this past week for a six-day visit, megachurch leaders Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen expressed their excitement and support for the papal pomp and circumstance.
On Wednesday, T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House posted a photo on social media of himself and his wife at the White House, outlining that he had been invited by Barack Obama to be among the VIP’s welcoming Francis to the nation’s capital.
“A special thanks to President Obama for his VIP invitation to attend such a historical event,” he wrote. “As the world watches this international figure move through our country, let’s pray that the pope’s journey is safe!”
Jakes acknowledged that he has theological differences with the pontiff, but said that he saw the matter as one of loving his neighbor.
“At a time when so little is said positive about faith in our country, let’s pray for his safe passage regardless of our differences of views about faith. It is our love that’s on trial here and our understanding of the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?'” he wrote. “By the way, my wife First Lady Serita Jakes and I, tried to represent our faith, church and country with dignity and respect!”
EEW Magazine notes that Jakes’ comments are not his first expressing ecumenism with the Roman Catholic religion.
“There are many outreaches that we have common ground about,” he told News One in 2013. “I think one of the great mistakes in how we rationalize things in this country currently is that we have a tendency to perpetuate the ideology that we should focus on our differences, rather than to focus on our commonalities.”
“When I think of the Roman Catholic Church and their belief in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, the fact that they serve the poor, the fact that they’re interested in education, there are many things that we can gather around and agree upon,” Jakes added.
On Wednesday, the Texas-based author and speaker also uploaded a photo of himself with Saddleback Church leader and “Purpose Driven Life” author Rick Warren as they waited together at the White House for the pontiff’s arrival.
“Sharing a fascinating moment in history with my brother @pastorrickwarren! So good to see you,” he wrote. “A very diverse crowd of VIP’s produced a very provocative conversation about our times! Left me with so many deep thoughts on which I can reflect!”
As previously reported, Warren spoke at the Vatican last November during an interfaith conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman.” During his visit, he was recorded by the Catholic News Service as he urged Christians and Catholics to work together.
“Sometimes protestants think that Catholics worship Mary like she’s another god, but that’s not exactly Catholic doctrine,” Warren contended. “People say, ‘What are the saints all about? Why are you praying to the saints?’ And when you understand what they mean by what they’re saying, there’s a whole lot more commonality [that we have with Roman Catholics].”
“There’s still real differences—no doubt about that,” he stated. “But the most important thing is, if you love Jesus, we’re on the same team.”
Joel Osteen, leader of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, likewise expressed support for the Roman Catholic pontiff this past week in speaking with reporters.
“I like the pope. I like that he’s making the Catholic Church more open to bring people in and not exclude them,” Osteen told the Christian Post. “He’s a man of the people. I like what he stands for: humility, reaching out to others and he’s not so formal that people can’t relate to him.”
But some have expressed concern over the affirmation that evangelicals are giving to the Roman Catholic religion. Jordan Standridge, pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia, released an article this week entitled “Why Evangelicals and Catholics Cannot Be Together.” He pointed to problems stemming from the 1995 “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document.
“Well-known evangelical pastors .. joined themselves with Catholic priests and philosophers in an ecumenical fashion in order to promote the agreements over the disagreements that have plagued Protestants and Catholics for centuries,” Standridge wrote.
Now, he said, “The vast majority of Christians in America do not evangelize Catholics. Someone like me who has shed many tears over the deception of the Roman Catholic Church is seen as hateful.”
“I totally understand the desire to believe people are saved,” Standridge continued. “I also desperately want Roman Catholics to go to heaven, but we can’t let our desire for people to be saved or our desire to please men lead us to cheer them on as they run towards Hell. We must love them.”