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12314The world was recently witness to a kerfuffle between two of the most infamous off-the-cuff speakers in the world: Pope Francis and Donald J. Trump. Pope Francis is well-known for getting a rise out of Catholics through ambiguous, spontaneous, airborne pronouncements, while Mr. Trump is well-known for getting a rise out of Americans through aggressive, braggadocious bluster as he brawls his way toward the Republican nomination for President of the United States. And so, the other day, Pope Francis seemed to insinuate that Donald Trump is not a Christian, while Mr. Trump called the Pope’s statement disgraceful in a teapot-tempest of misunderstanding and media manipulation.

As Pope Francis traveled back to Rome from his six-day trip to Mexico, the pontiff was asked during an in-flight press conference to comment on Mr. Trump’s plan to deport millions of illegal immigrants, possibly separating families, and to build a wall on the border of the United States and Mexico.

The Pope’s response was:

A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

In a moment that is now fairly typical for Pope Francis, he appeared to make a claim that is not quite in keeping with Catholic teaching: in this case, as there are no Church laws against national security walls. It is true that the Christian way is one of evangelization, unity, and charity, but practical acts of societal self-preservation are not un-Christian. Christ Himself described a man in a parable as encircling his precious vineyard with a wall for the use of his tenants. How is it un-Christian to have a wall to protect that which is worth protecting? Does it really make sense to consider Mr. Trump as someone who is not a Christian because he has a plan to build a wall as an answer to a problem? It does not, despite the spin of the liberal media. To be a Christian means being to a certain degree a type of pacifist, but that does not exclude one’s also being a pragmatist.

border wallIf illegal immigrants—whether peaceful or not—threaten a nation or Christianity itself by pouring unchecked over bridges, it is not un-Christian to close and control them in the name of order, or even to build walls. After all, building a wall—a wall with a great gate in it—is given as a scriptural analogy of the good work of man. Of course, in doing that work, the builders rejected the corner-stone, but notwithstanding, a wall was the image used and referenced by Christ in the Gospel. To be fair, the whole incident is something of a non-issue made into one by the way in which the media reported the Pope’s response, attempting to pit Mr. Trump and the pontiff against one another. Pope Francis offered qualifications that have been glossed over: He said that it is un-Christian to only build walls instead of bridges, and the Pope’s comments about Christianity are more than likely a reaction to the notion of breaking up families. He also did not recommend that people vote for or against Mr. Trump, and he said that he would give the man the benefit of the doubt. All that being said, why all the fuss?

In any case, Mr. Trump’s response to the Pope’s comments was swift and sharp:

For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.

Mr. Trump’s statement is, as always, bombastic. Though Mr. Trump ignored Pope Francis’ qualifications and harnessed the criticism for political advantage, it is noteworthy that he also has expressed a commitment to defend Christianity. Though his references have been primarily to the threats to religious liberty that the Obama administration has presented through healthcare reform, and the threat to Christianity posed by radical Islamic terrorists, it is interesting that Mr. Trump expresses the picture of a “consistently attacked and weakened” Christianity—and to this pope in particular.

For there is an accidental poignancy, or perhaps irony, here. Many Catholics lament that Pope Francis has not taken strides to strengthen the Christian faith of the Catholic Church, and that his papal style tends towards breezy, unrehearsed, confusing statements, as well as an open-armed inclusiveness that does not always seem to adhere to the parameters of doctrine. In fact, Francis is a pope that might benefit himself from some metaphorical walls, some boundaries, when it comes to what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. The amusing thing is that this lesson might be applied to the pontiff at the hands of none other than Donald J. Trump.

P1160998Of course, Christ taught His followers to receive, to welcome, to forgive, and take in all those who are in need, and this ethos is a pillar of Pope Francis’ papacy. But secure borders do not exclude the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The media would have the world think that the Pope thinks so. The idea that it is un-Christian to ensure the stability of a society by means of excluding some who wish to come here is an alarming notion, and more so when some of those excluded are likely to do us physical as well as economic harm. The secular, relativist left is ever looking for a way of framing Christians as hypocrites, and unfortunately, Pope Francis seems to have fallen into their hands—perhaps even as a pawn—in his sympathy for the humanitarian crisis in Mexico. He has also unfortunately opened himself up to looking like a hypocrite, with many drawing parallels—fairly or not—between Mr. Trump’s proposed wall and the walls surrounding the Vatican.

But, even now, the tempest blows itself out. The truth prevails. Walls are not un-Christian. It is blind tolerance that is un-Christian. There must be a balance between the serpent and the dove, between walls and bridges, between protection and peace.

God bless Pope Francis.

God bless Donald Trump.

God bless America.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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7 replies to this post
  1. My early childhood existed amongst three brothers in a sometimes raucous commingling. A very early memory is of my father making a statement that began, “But Michael is too stupid to…” I have no idea what followed because, totally crushed, I had dissolved in tears and anguish and flown to such security as a (shared) bedroom could grant. I don’t recall what amelioration he may have attempted; I still have the scars. My father forgot who he was and the power of his words.

    This is one of an endless string of essays in which otherwise intelligent (mostly) men have bent themselves into pretzels trying to excuse and explain, to ameliorate, the words of Pope Francis, when the most charitable possible interpretation is that the Pope does not understand who he is to billions of people nor the effect that his every public utterance will have upon them. If he does not build that wall around himself and entrust the key to its gate to a responsible adult (if any remain in the Inner Circle) there is every indication that he will seriously damage the reputation of his office as well as that of his person.

    Look at the two quotations: The most important unresurrected spiritual leader in the world (only slightly indirectly) publicly questioning the content of another’s heart. And the justified — yes, justified; bombasticity a feature not a bug — reaction of the other. It just won’t do.

  2. Whatever one things of the immigration issue, it does seem to create a disturbing precedent when the Pope questions the faith of a non Catholic. Trump is a Presbytarian, and as such is accountable to the hierarchy of that church. Jesus spent a great deal of time challenging the Pharisees. This was appropriate because Jesus was himself a Pharisee. Otherwise, foucusin on this group would have been uncalled for and arrogant.
    There is much in Trump’s program and style that should give Christians across denominations pause. Perhaps we need to find a balance between papal rejection and evangelical enthusiasm of this most controversial figure.

  3. He actually didn’t say don’t build a wall though. From the actual words of the statement he actually seemed fine with that. What he said you have to build a “bridge” at the same time. This latter point is well grounded in Christian tradition and the magisterium of the Church. It doesn’t seem to be Mr. Trump’s strong suit, but I do think as a Christian he does need to have a concern for this as well. Build the wall, close the border, don’t let anyone move here illegaly etc., that is all quite reasonable, but do have concern for those who have legitimate reasons for immigrating, and for making it a smooth process for them.

  4. It’s one thing to compare apples and oranges. Here we’re comparing apples and coffee cups.

    Check out “On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century”. I did, literally, from the local library. Although I didn’t finish it, it’s the pope in his own words, albeit a while ago, along with a rabbi friend. So it’s different than reading what someone else says about the pope. In short, it’s a primary source.

    I’m neither a Catholic nor a Catholic-basher. I find this pope, whether I agree with him or not on the issues found in this book, an intelligent, thinking man who cares about people. How can you compare that to a guy who seems like business on steroids, and can’t get away from ad hominem attacks?

  5. Trump might not be unchristian, but he is un-conservative. I have no idea why a conservative would vote for him. You can just tell he will govern as a slightly erratic, very pro-big business moderate. You can’t trust him on the important issues, like judicial appointments and even immigration.

  6. A Pope who lives behind Vatican walls shouldn’t throw…… accusations.

    This is as close as I will come to defending the donald as I can’t stand the man.
    I predict if elected his betrayal will make 11/4/14 pale in comparison.

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