An analysis of Pope Francis’ recent comment that Trump’s plan to build a wall is “not Christian.”
In this highly unusual and hotly contested presidential election, there are very
few voters without opinions either for or against the new breed of anti-establishment candidates. Certainly, Donald Trump, who has made the controversial and outrageous the centerpieces of his campaign, is the best known and most polarizing member of this category. Indeed, his campaign to build a wall along the Mexican border, intended to exclude our neighbors to the South as well as to deport the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., is, to say the least, astonishing.
The prospect of seizing infants and children born outside of the United States for deportation, to countries as alien to them as to any American, is inhumane; and the rending of families by deporting parents, thus leaving the innocents without paternal support, guidance and protection, is similarly untenable. Of course, this is just a sampling of the consequences of Mr. Trump’s stated aspirations.
It should come as no surprise, then, that considerable outrage from both sides of the political aisle has been expressed against this policy that treats such a large swath of our society as pariahs.
Into this maelstrom landed Pope Francis, who, as reported by CNN among other networks, suggested that “[a] person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.”
To many conservative political pundits, a new firestorm resulted. Their focus was no longer Donald Trump’s intentions, but rather the propriety of the perceived endorsement by the Holy Father of any presidential candidate other than Trump. These critics urged that no one can read the heart of another and that the comment was improperly intended to affect the outcome of our presidential election.
If such was actually the Pope’s intent, I would agree that the opinion was at cross purposes with the teachings of Jesus. Notably, there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that Jesus’ Church was Marxian in that He advocated for the salvation of humankind through governmental action. Rather, Jesus demonstrated that His Church was completely dissimilar and separate from the government when he rebuffed the Pharisees, stating, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” Jesus demonstrated that the government, though an authority, was nevertheless secular and that He alone was the Light and the Way. In a sense, it was the original pronouncement of the separation of Church and state.
As a Catholic, who by definition must accept the infallibility of the Pope, I believe that I toil at checkers while the Pope plays chess. Thus, when I find myself at odds over the meanings of his words or actions, I am bound to give him the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, the meaning of the Pope’s statement appear plain, yet he denied it was intended as an endorsement or an effort to affect the outcome of the election. Reconciling this discrepancy begins by acknowledging that in Christianity, not all statements should be given their plain meanings. Jesus taught with parables, didactic stories which often imparted multiple lessons. While not strictly a parable, I accept the Pope’s comments as a non-endorsement, and instead read them as a word of caution, directed not to the voters, but to Mr. Trump directly.
Without doubt, the Pope’s gentle reproach to Mr. Trump was received, and hopefully, heeded.
I am not here to judge Mr. Trump’s standing as a Christian, but I do join the Pope in his heartfelt plea for Trump to reexamine his position on immigration. A careful study of that policy must include not just a recognition of the invaluable economic contributions made by that potential constituency, but an acknowledgment of the toll in human suffering that will be exacted when lives are cast into ruin by being displaced and the familial fabric, which is so often lauded by the republicans as the foundation of our society, is torn.
Like the current Pope, Senator Bernie Sanders, though through political means, yet embraces this goal of inclusion. Mr. Trump, a professed Christian who seeks evangelical support, would do well to do the same.
By: Emily Dowden ’18