Several evangelical Christian leaders gave high praise to Pope Benedict XVI for his advocacy for the dignity of human life after hearing about his plans to resign Monday. They chose to focus on common biblical ground shared with some of the Pontiff's beliefs rather than dwell on the doctrinal differences between Catholicism and the Protestant faith.
"As a Baptist Christian, I disagree with Rome on many things, of course, and some of those things relate to the nature of the Petrine ministry, the relationship of the Bishop of Rome to the rest of the church, the merging of civil and ecclesial power, and so on," Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a column. "It might surprise previous generations of Protestants, though, that one of the primary emphases of the Vatican in the last generation has been on the dignity and liberty of the human person."
Moore stated that the Pope "has constantly spoken for those whose lives are seen as a burden to society: the baby with Down syndrome, the woman with advanced Alzheimer's, the child starving in the desert, the prisoner being tortured. "These lives aren't things, he has said, but images of God, and for them we will give an account."
The Pope, who is 85-years-old, has served as head of the Roman Catholic Church since 2005. He cited "advanced age" as the reason for his resignation, which will be effective at the end of the month.
While speculation has already begun about who the next appointed Pope will be, Christian groups, such as the World Evangelical Alliance, took the opportunity to commend Benedict.
"I appreciate his courage of ideas, even when they did not resonate with contemporary attitudes," said the Secretary General of the WEA, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe. "I was especially moved by his boldness in warning us of the dangers of moral relativism and the tyranny of self-centered ideologies."
In a statement released by WEA, officials praise the Pope for working with other Christians and faiths in earnest.
"His interactions with others were always based on the assumption that we would honestly search for truth, our conversation would be rooted in our personal convictions and in all matters we expected each other to be loyal to one's own faith," WEA stated.
The organization which is reported to represent more than 600 million evangelicals worldwide stated that its community has been particularly interested and appreciative of the Pope's writings. Material, the WEA says, "that reveals a person of deep theological reflection. His revisiting of the story, message and work of Jesus Christ, as Son of God, Savior of the world, has provided focus on Jesus as central in the life of the Church and in his own personal ministry."
The president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Chuck Kelley, told Baptist Press that Benedict "is a man worthy of our respect and appreciation."
"Although there are profound differences in Baptist and Catholic perspectives on faith, we shared a commitment to the sanctity of life and other biblical values," Kelley said of Benedict.
Moore called for prayer about the appointment of the next Pope. "As Protestant Christians, we will disagree with this Pope, and with the next one, on all sorts of things. Here we stand, we can do no other; God help us. But let's pray the next Pope, like this one, will remember what it means to be human, and will remind the rest of us when we forget."