Trump vs the Pope: tread with caution

By Greg Caceres

This year’s constantly shifting political ground has never failed to surprise. 

Now as comments and controversy over the dispute between Donald Trump and Pope Francis start to roll in, the trend continues as the American camps — liberal, conservative, secular, churchgoers and church leaders — find their footing and pick their side.

Pope Francis hasn’t left much unsaid, laying it all out upon leaving Mexico, calling the alleged ‘christian bluff’ Trump has presented, saying no true Christian would speak or act as the presidential hopeful does.

Trump, in keeping with his persona, has called the Pope “disgraceful” (a fittingly ironic word to describe the situation) and claimed he is being manipulated by the Mexican government and other anti-Trump forces of evil. In this controversy, the latest movement away from political formality and civil discourse, there’s little room to stay neutral.

But rallying around one or the other can’t be the only option here. Otherwise, America would be much further down the polarization drain than it is even now. Well-informed and careful people weigh what is being said and, like it or not, often decide they’re too far from the situation to know with certainty. In that spirit, this particular conversation between Trump and the Pope requires caution.

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Just as with the other dissenters to Trump’s immigration policy, the Pope’s comments on Trump’s lack of faith were induced by the more human side of American immigration, so they were truly filled with emotion.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope said Thursday.

Truly the issue is close to his heart; whether he is well-advised on American immigration is not so much the issue, but that he cares.

Likewise, Trump’s stance matters. He represents a section of America that has some serious reservations about the legality of crossing borders, and in this way he too deserves the same treatment as the Pope: this is something close to his heart, if not at least his checklist of change.

And what Trump lacked in respect towards the widely adored Pope, saying in a statement that Pope Francis will soon “wish and pray that Donald Trump would have been President,” the Pope made up for by “giving [Trump] the benefit of the doubt.” When asked “whether he would advise to vote or not vote,” he responded that “[he] will not get involved in that.”

By contrast, a significant American figure of the Church, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., stood up for Trump’s faith even before the Pope brought it into question and expressed that he may be praying Trump becomes President.

“He might not be a theological expert, and he might say ‘Two Corinthians’ instead of ‘Second Corinthians,’ but when you look at the fruits of his life and all the people he’s provided jobs for, I think that is the true test of somebody’s Christianity,” referring to Trump speaking of protecting Christianity abroad and domestically.

To serve as his endorsement, Reverend Falwell later moved on to say that Trump is “a wonderful father and a man who [he] believes in.” Falwell and the Pope, two widely respected Church leaders — though held in different honor by some — both with completely different angles on the character and faith of Trump.

All the same, respect and response aside, some might say the real issue is whether or not the Pope was right. In reality, the issue doesn’t exist at all.

The Church has the right to evaluate someone’s heart and intentions as they act, just as the Pope has done here; which is what being in the Church means. But from a Christian, the faith of one cannot be determined by another. If it stands strong as a true faith, it is central to a person’s identity.

To steal that away by simple statement, and not careful discourse, is a dangerous practice precisely because identity is involved. Many Christians constantly wonder about the spiritual condition of those around them.

I always strive to be careful in evaluating others’ faith, because I simply don’t know their hearts. I’m not in their heads, and similarly, neither is the Pope. Even so, the innermost beliefs of Christians determine the ground upon which the church is built. Identity in faith is a private matter with largely public implications. And truly, gracefully as opposed to disgracefully, it’s the job of Church leaders to help their brothers and sisters in knowing whom to trust and commit their lives to.

In the end, this isn’t really a topic for the public. Much like an old western film, this is a standoff between the Pope and Trump, no one else.

So before judgement is passed (through a microphone, through the written word, through word of mouth or even in our own minds) let’s reserve such a conversation for those whom it actually involves.

Greg is a freshman in DGS.

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