“The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” Donald Trump – Christmas Day Tweet
I am weighing into this topic about Pope Francis and Trump six days after it blew up – rather late considering the pace of the news, but then again, I am so glad to have taken the time to think this through. The news has generally been dumber than a sack of bricks on this topic, and this is my point-by-point analysis of the interactions. Following the analysis will be observations on responses by two Christian ministers, and my thoughts about why people are sacrificing their ethics and beliefs to make their political choice this year more than they have ever done during my lifetime.
I am not sure the politics of any year are significantly different than this year, but the fevered pitch sounds shriller, and the gamesmanship appears a touch more hypocritical. Most notable to me is the position of the voters I come across, and even more dramatic, the well-known public voices speaking about the 2016 Presidential election. I believe that US politics in 2016 gives us a clear picture of our willingness to sacrifice our own principles for the sake of easing our fears, or justifying our inconsistent positions.
A news reporter asked the Pope about Donald Trump’s negative comments about him. I believe the kerfuffle over the Pope’s response highlight how much we are willing to violate our own principles to justify our political choices. My critique will focus on the comments of Donald Trump, the question from the reporter, the Pope’s response to the question, a few public comments from well-known Christians. This is not a position paper on where to place your vote. This is merely an observation that people violate their own principles in the voting cycles. The reasons for that self-violation may be many, but the reasons it occurs are not the focus of this article. The sole purpose of the article is to highlight the fact that people are violating their own principles in this Presidential voting cycle, and it is clearly evident in their words.
“I wouldn’t vote for him in any other season.” Those were the words of a friend back in October. My friend is about as politically correct as The Donald, and is proud of being someone who tells it like it is. Yet, he told me something I found surprising – even coming from his mouth, “we are near the end,” he said “the nation is going to Hell in a hand-basket.” He is not a particularly religious man, but his political views rang with apocalyptic anxiety. Immigration and national debt were his evidences of doom. “I wouldn’t vote for him in any other election, but we need someone who can shake things up.” He was talking about Donald Trump.
This was my first observation in how much people are sacrificing their moral considerations, and beliefs in this voting cycle. I am calling this sacrifice, the suspension of our ethics and beliefs.
It is the same kind of thing that had to happen in Germany 1929, and it may not be that severe right now, but it is concerning to me nonetheless.
First Statement: Donald Trump calls the Pope a “pawn”
On an interview with the Fox Business Network program Varney & Co. Donald Trump said these words:
“I think that the Pope is a very political person. I think he doesn’t understand the problems that our country has. I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
So, to make a quick observation about these words:
- the Pope is a political person, meaning that Trump expects him to get involved in political affairs
- this political person does not understand the dangers at the US border, meaning that Trump thinks the Pope is not an informed or intelligent political person
- Mexico persuaded the Pope to stand up for their own selfish purposes (probably without the Pope’s realization), and are using him to influence politics.
Second Statement: a news reporter asks the Pope about Trump’s comment
Following the Trump’s remarks, a news reporter asked the Pope to comment about Trump’s statement.
“One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?”
Observations on the reporter’s question,
- he commented correctly on Trump’s statements, but used rather strong (perhaps exaggerated) language in the use of the word “pawn”, yet it was not wholly inaccurate.
- He asked about plans to build up the wall along the Mexican Border and the issue of deportation,
- he asked for the Pope to make a comment on who the American Catholic should vote for.
Third Statement: The Pope’s response to the newspaper reporter
The Pope responded to the reporter with these words (translated of course):
“Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people.
And then, 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.”
Observations on the Pope’s response to the reporter:
- This is a humorous start to the comments, and highlights the Pope’s philosophical muscle. He mentions a quote from Aristotle off the top of his head, and he jokingly thanks God for being called “political”, because at least it means he is a human being.
- As far as being a pawn, he does not respond, he simply says, “As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people.”
- The Pope does become political here, but it would appear to be ignorant to believe he was simply talking about building physical walls. He mentions building walls “wherever they may be”, and “not building bridges”. The metaphorical content of this should be fairly obvious. The Pope is referring to isolation versus inclusion, openness versus being closed to others, and helping versus ignoring the cries of the poor.
- The Pope does weigh in on the validity of a person’s Christianity who wants to kick immigrants out, and build walls to keep them away. He does NOT say Trump is not a Christian, but gives him the benefit of the doubt, even while saying that Trump’s words are of concern.
- The Pope has no comment on who someone should vote for – not even to American Catholics.
The Federalist posted an article about problems with the Pope’s comments, which might make sense if this was a debate, instead of a response to a news reporter, so the comments appear to be out of context, unfounded critiques to me.
Fourth Comment: Donald Trump calls Francis’ comment “disgraceful” and repeats that the Pope is a “pawn”
Following this comment Trump responded to Francis’ comments with these words:
“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.
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.”
Observations about Trump’s response to the Pope’s comments,
- Trump is aggressively self-aggrandizing in this statement. He positions himself as a savior to Christianity under attack. “If and when the Vatican gets attacked…the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President….”
- He calls the Pope’s actions “disgraceful” for challenging his Christianity. This is a direct misinterpretation of the Pope’s comments, unless indeed Donald Trump realizes that his words are wall building, non-inclusive, separative words and closed to the cries of the poor.
- He continues to say the Pope is being manipulated by Mexico, and validates the reporter’s exaggeration as being a perfectly accurate statement, by calling the Pope a “pawn”.
- Trump says that no man has the right to call another’s faith into question. This is perhaps the most absurd of comments in Trump’s remarks. The Pope is the leader of the world’s largest body of Christians, commenting on the content of the Gospel, and whether people live up to it is his job. He is an expert in this category. Trump himself has called Obama’s faith and others into question, and as early as February 12th sent out a tweet saying, “How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?” The audacity of a man, who calls out a statement as disgraceful, when he in fact regularly does the same thing, cannot be overstated. So, Trump is willing to call on the private untouchable nature of his faith only when it suits his purposes, but somehow feels it is valid to call other people’s faith into question.
Fifth and Sixth Comments: Vatican reiterates Pope’s meaning, and Trump calls it an apology
The ongoing kerfuffle follows with a clarification response from the Vatican, which Trump pretends is a papal apology, and then Trumps says about the Pope that he’s, “a wonderful guy.” The Pope went from disgusting to wonderful in a day it seems.
Two Christian Responses: Jeffress and Joyner
On the heels of this story, Christian leaders began responding, and it is the responses of two leaders I will focus upon primarily, with my observations on their comments. It is my contention that these observations will highlight the suspension of ethic and beliefs inherent in the Christian leaders who support Donald Trump and spoke against the Pope in response to this event. At some point they will show a lack of logic, honesty, or complete misunderstanding of the information about the issue.
Robert Jeffress responds
Robert Jeffress, the mega-church pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX was interviewed on the Sean Hannity Show, and said, “Sean, I think the Pope needs to ask Donald Trump’s forgiveness for making such an outlandish statement. I want to remind our listeners that it was exactly one year ago this week that 21 Coptic Christians’ had their heads chopped off by ISIS on a Libyan beach and then ISIS said, ‘we are coming to Rome next. And the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump who wants to protect America, that’s not unbiblical. The Pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens. And I want to make a prediction. I think the Pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.”
Here Robert Jeffress has accomplished an unbelievable series of logical errors, which are difficult to attribute to honesty, intellectual integrity, full understanding of the information at hand, or a capacity for sound logic. This is not to say that Jeffress is lying, but at the very least, he is intellectually inconsistent, and speaking before accurately evaluating the circumstances. Here is what we see:
- Jeffress believes the Pope needs to repent for suggesting that a person who consistently divides people rather than bringing them together is not a Christian, and that Donald Trump is dangerously close to appearing to be this kind of person. Although the Pope does say he gives Trump the benefit of the doubt, he sticks to his guns and questions Trump’s spirituality. Jeffress wants the Pope to repent.
- Somehow 21 Christians being beheaded by ISIS is part of this picture in Jeffress’ mind. He is showing that some sense of apocalyptic concern is at the heart of his support for Trump, whom he sees as a protector against the dangerous outsiders.
- Jeffress thinks the Pope does not understand the role of the church in the balance of compassion versus protection. Granted Jeffress and Francis will have different worldviews about this issue, but every Pope has spoken into world affairs, because the Pope is not only a religious leader, but a head of state as well, and in this sense the Pope works as a conscience to world politics. Strangely, Jeffress openly declared in 2012 that because Mormonism is a cult, Christians should openly support Rick Perry over Mitt Romney. He appears to speak out of both sides of his mouth. He extends his own judgment to Mitt Romney, but supports a man who openly has bragged about sleeping with other men’s wives, and has changed his political positions to fit his personal goals. Jeffress’ suspension of his own ethics and beliefs appears to be the regular theme of his political engagement.
- Jeffress’ exaggeration is only exceeded by Donald Trump. Calling this exchange of words the equivalent of the martyrdom of Donald Trump is a bizarre twist. Anyone who thinks having your spirituality called into question, because your deeds do not match the Gospel, is some kind of martyrdom, doesn’t understand the Bible. Jesus was the martyred one, and it was because he called the spirituality of the religious elite into question. Jeffress has this issue backwards, and consequently, will continue to sacrifice his ethics at the altar of his political positions, just as he is doing for Donald Trump.
Rick Joyner Responds
The second religious figure, I will comment on is Rick Joyner. Joyner regularly makes prophetic announcements about world and national events, and appears to believe that common little occurrences like someone’s name or the calendrical day something happens are prophetic announcements from God.
In a Facebook post Rick Joyner said these words,
“We may have thought that the elections could not get any crazier, but they just went to a new level when the pope weighed in saying one could not be a Christian who wanted to build walls instead of bridges. Really? It makes it look like the pope never read his Bible. There’s a whole book in it devoted to one of the great heroes of the faith named Nehemiah, who was a hero because, against great opposition he built a wall to defend God’s people from their enemies.
Seriously, where in Scripture or theology could we find that if you are prone to build walls more than bridges you’re not a Christian? One of our presidents said “Fences make good neighbors.” What about the walls at the Vatican? I’m just sayn…”
Rick Joyner makes similar logical errors to Pastor Jeffress:
- He begins with a great exaggeration. By stating that the Pope’s remark is the craziest thing in the political season so far. This exaggeration is not worth making a counterpoint. It is enough to point out that it is a silly comment.
- He takes the Pope’s comment out of context. He refuses to acknowledge the clear metaphorical component of the Pontiff’s response, and declares that righteous people built walls for protection in the Bible. Whereas the Pope is talking about the content of the Gospel as a metaphorical bridge building activity, Joyner is talking about building fences in neighborhoods, and concrete walls around a nation.
- Rick Joyner then makes, what I consider to be one of the most ridiculous comments to become a common theme in this debate: pointing out the walls around the Vatican and comparing it to building a wall around America. People are falling for this childish meme, and so it worth commenting on further. This logical error will be described more below.
On the Jim Bakker Show, Rick Joyner was asked what he thought about the changing times and the potential for calamitous upheaval. Rick Joyner responded with two words, “Donald Trump.” He went on to say, that God just might be sending Donald Trump to protect America in these dangerous times. He does not say he is endorsing a candidate, but clearly, he is throwing his hat in the Donald Trump Circus Ring by regularly bringing up his name in prophetic announcements.
Suspensions of ethics and beliefs being made by Christians this voting season:
It’s Okay to Call Trump an unbeliever as long as you vote for him
It is not uncommon for people to acknowledge that Donald Trump is not a good Christian, and to say that God even used the pagan kings in the Old Testament to deliver his people from calamity. Cyrus was chosen by God to deliver the people of God, and Jeremiah Johnson and others are saying that God is choosing Donald Trump. I have personally heard this multiple times, but an election cycle does not look like God choosing a king to save His people. It bears far more similarity to the time the people of Israel wanted a king. Voting is an act of choosing on the part of people. They chose a man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else, Saul. God warned them not to do it, that it would not turn out well, and that is indeed what happened – it did not turn out well. Could it be that many Christians are suspending their previously held beliefs – that God would have them choose a godly leader, and are giving that up to vote for someone who resembles Saul? That appears to be one suspension of beliefs happening in this season. Counter-intuitively, It is fine for a Christian minister to declare that Donald Trump is more like a pagan king than a good Christian as long as it is supportive of voting for him, but don’t let someone jump in and declare his Christianity suspect. Somehow the second acknowledgement that Trump is not a good Christian is not acceptable. As long as you vote for Trump, you can call him a pagan, or an unbeliever. Once you suggest that his bravado, inconsistencies, immorality, and vulgar treatment of people who disagree with him make him a terrible choice for the White House, and a poor example of anything Christian, it suddenly becomes a “disgraceful” judgment. Apparently, we can make judgments as long as they continue to support our own political desires.
A godly vote doesn’t matter anymore
In the 1980’s, Christian leaders talked about voting for a godly President. The character of the man was of significant importance to his eligibility for the White House. Whether a person agrees with this assessment or not, is not the issue. The issue is that the same people are now supporting Donald Trump. Suddenly, in the eyes of their God, character doesn’t matter much anymore. Have their beliefs and/or morals changed? Or are they suspending those values to jump on the popular bandwagon for a Republican win?
Trump’s name as occult prognostication
Christian ministers are taking Donald Trump’s name and declaring that it is a prophetic announcement. God is sending him to sound the trumpet, and warn us of impending doom, which needs to be dealt with now in order to save our nation. Taking the newspaper headlines, and reading prophetic announcements into them is tantamount to reading the stars for the future. The very Christians who are doing this, would condemn astrology, meanwhile they are suspending their own beliefs to practice some kind of futuristic newspaper-ology.
Vatican walls meme is the epitome of sophomoric one-upmanship
There are pictures of the Vatican walls with a challenge to the Pope to take down his walls. This has become a popular meme in social media. Here is the grotesque stupidity of this pop-meme, which is nothing other than a childish schoolyard bullying tactic from a dumb bully. The Catholic Church is not the Vatican. The Vatican is the headquarters of the church. The Church has expressions all around the world, and these places are open to anyone. You can walk into a Catholic Church, or a center serving the poor all around the world. The appropriate comparison to the Vatican walls is not a wall around America, it is the wall around the White House. Catholic Churches around the world are far more open than the United States, and as far as the Vatican City, it too has a visa process, but if you are Donald Trump or Rick Joyner, you don’t need to apply. You can just walk in. In fact, you can stay for up to 90 days. So, Vatican City itself is as open as our nation, but nobody expects the White House to be that open. But, this picture seems to make Trump supporters happy. Score one for the suspension of logic.
Suspension of values for the sake of safety
Both Rick Joyner and Robert Jeffress isolate the safety of the nation in the face of immigration and ISIS as points for their support of Trump. Apparently, it is now acceptable to God to cast a vote, which takes your own fearful concerns as the primary motive of voting – forget the disenfranchised world of people fleeing in the face of tragedy. Our personal safety and economic status, is more important than their lives. That is the American Gospel of the moment for some people.
Trusting in human strength
The observation that Trump’s popularity is more closely related to Saul than Cyrus points out that that many Christians are not trusting God to help their nation. Rather, they are trusting human strength. This is something that was warned against throughout the scriptures. In violation of their own scriptures, good Christians are trusting what they think is a “strong leader” over the search for a godly one. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this issue, “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” (Jer. 17:5)
The celebration of vulgarity
It is perhaps most embarrassing to note that Christians are celebrating the nasty audacity of a man who mocks women, suffering immigrants, and anybody who challenges him. His comments about Megan Kelly were rude and patently obscene. He denigrates people who disagree with him, and calls them liars, rapists, or any other nasty little school kid thought that comes out of his mouth. He brags about sleeping with married women. In all this, he also believes he has nothing to repent about, or ask forgiveness for. Yet, according to many Christians, this must be God’s man. Even atheist philosopher and somewhat crude person himself, Slavoj Žižek, is astounded by the vulgarity of the current political season.
My final observations
Christians all around the US are suspending their moral and faith values to vote for someone they want to be President. The reasons for their suspension of beliefs and ethics are not the subject of this blog post. This is simply the observation that we are becoming a nation of hypocrites. I do not think this is only happening on the right. I see this on the left as well. But, this encounter with Pope Francis and Donald Trump highlights our hypocrisy best. This is not a complete analysis of this issue, but it is a beginning point in observing how people suspend their own values in an election cycle.
A number of commentators have noted that Donald Trump took this moment, grabbed the limelight, and made even the Pope look bad. That is one of the most short-sighted, and absurd responses to this encounter. History will not remember than Donald Trump boldly stood up to being accused of not being a Christian, and was correct in doing so. History will remember that one of the most revolutionary and openly accepting Popes in our history called the Christianity of a frontrunner in the Presidential election into question, because of his vindictive, critical, vulgar, and isolating personality – because Trump is quick to build metaphorical walls against anyone who does not agree with him.
Yes, some people will think that Trump got the better of the Pope in this exchange. Supposedly good Christians have taken the bait, and are siding with a vulgar man against the leader of the Catholic church.
Some will say that the Pope has been Trumped. Au contraire, Donald Trump you’ve been Poped! And so have all your followers. This is pastoral authority on a global level, with the gentle rebuke of shepherd. Listen, if you have ears to hear.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; (Luke 3:4-5)
These thoughts are embryonic considerations for the coming of Burning Religion part 2 – Clowns in the Pulpit: challenging the dynamics of power in religion and in politics.