Sixteen hours ago, I had planned a post which would both criticize Pope Francis' remark suggesting Donald Trump is not a Christian and would defend Donald Trump.
The Pope was not clear when he said "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." Because he was responding to a question, his remark was not written but rather verbal. Hence, although the context implied that the word "Christian/christian" was meant to be in lower case rather than upper case, it is uncertain.
There is a major difference. Charging the xenophobic Trump with not being "christian" infers that he differs from Jesus Christ in being unconcerned about the poor, the sick, refugees, and prostitutes. Not being "Christian," however, means that the subject of the comment is not on the same page as the fellow who reportedly maintained "I and the Father are one."
Initially, Trump's response at a rally in South Carolina included "For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."
For eight years, we've been hearing from numerous conservative Republicans that Barack Obama may not be a Christian and may even be a Muslim. And now, we hear from a religious leader that Donald Trump "is not Christian (christian?)." It has been appalling the past seven years and it is apalling now, and it's no less or more so because it comes from a revered religious figure.
To be sure, the Pope added "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.” However, this sounds a little like a classic hypothetical question on a push poll: "if you learned that a candidate was a pedophile, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?" If the pontiff was not clear that Trump had "said things in that way" (which, of course, he has), he could have passed on answering the question.
Pope Francis could have taken his cue from the response of Senator Obama to a question from Reverend Rick Warren at a town hall meeting in August, 2008 about when a baby receives "human rights." He replied “… whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade." In that instance, Obama chose not to be straightforward. However, in the manner of remarks about immigrants, the Pope should have taken the same approach and recognized that whether someone is a Christian (christian?) is beyond his pay grade- or anyone's.
Events move rapidly, however, and perhaps no more so than when one who condemns "political correctness" and consciously projects strength and "winning" above all else is confronted by a popular religious leader. So now we read
Well you never know, George. I mean, with me it’s illegal immigration," Trump said, referring to the first issue he brought up more than eight months ago when he launched his campaign: "We want to have the wall, we have to have the wall, we have to stop the drugs from pouring in and the illegal immigrants from just absolutely pouring into our country."
Repeating his usual rhetoric about building a wall to keep out drugs and undocumented immigrants, Trump commented that Francis' remarks were "a little bit lighter ... than the press portrayed after I read a transcript." The pope's precise words do not specifically mention Trump but rather speak in general religious terms about anyone who constructs a wall instead of building bridges.
During Thursday night's town hall event on CNN, the businessman had already begun dialing back his rhetoric, calling Francis "a wonderful guy."
After months on the campaign trail, Donald Trump evidently has learned what it means to be a Republican. When cornered, blame the press. We don't know how Pope Francis' comments were "a little bit lighter... than the press portrayed." The mitigating portion nof the pontiff's remarks were "this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way," suggesting that Francis had not read or heard Trump's statements firsthand, but instead had been notified of them. That purports with- not refutes- Trump's original charge that the Mexican government had influenced Pope Francis.
Yet, Trump decided to back off his original, angry refutation of a reprehensible statement. Either the Pope contended that in denouncing illegal immigration the presidential candidate contradicts Jesus Christ's famous support for the downtrodden, a questionable proposition which (presumably) Trump rejects. Or the Pope was arguing that Trump's approach to immigration renders him something other than a Christian, not unlike the allegations that President Obama is a Muslim.
At this point, we have no clarification from the Vatican, no assertion that Francis was not referring to the candidate's religious affiliation. Therefore, when Trump initially pointed out "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion and faith," he should have left it at that. Yet, Donald Trump has backed off, demonstrating that in the face of a scurrilous charge, he turns into a weak-kneed coward- or as he himself would put it, "politically correct."
Next up: not everyone was wrong in this episode.