Pope Francis made quite a stir on Thursday with comments about Donald Trump and his wall fetish. When asked about the controversial political figure, he stated, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Backlash over the Pope’s statement was fast and furious. Trump fired back, sneering, “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”
Devout Catholic Jeb Bush also took issue with the Pope’s comments, stating, “I think his Christianity is between he and his creator — don’t think we need to discuss that.”
Marco Rubio, another Catholic, jumped to Trump’s defense, implying Pope Francis did not grasp the policy implications of a wall, chiding, “This country does not just have a right but an obligation to control the process by which the people enter the United States and by which people immigrate into the United States.”
John Kasich, also a Catholic, doubted Pope Francis had said it to begin with and sang the man’s praises, but he did say, “It’s not up to any of us to judge who’s good and who’s bad.”
Ted Cruz declined to enter the fray, saying, “That’s between Donald and the pope. I’m not going to get in the middle of that.”
Of course, the whole thing is nonsense. The Pope’s comments referenced Trump’s practice of his faith; whether he “walks the walk,” so to speak. He didn’t say Trump isn’t *a* Christian. He said people who behave as he does are not Christian. It’s about behavior, not faith.
And that’s sort of the exact purpose of a religious leader — to help his or her congregants as they develop a relationship with their God and attempt to better exemplify the qualities admired by the faith. That’s what Pope Francis was doing. This wasn’t about whether or not Trump believes in God. This was about whether or not Trump’s behavior and language rise to the level of behaving like a Christian “should.”
While we can argue about whether the Roman Catholic Church is in any position to trumpet compassion given its history and dogma, and we can spar over whether the policies Pope Francis embraces are really all that compassionate, the goal of his papacy has been to advance compassionate elements of the Bible and Catholic living. To this end, Trump’s exclusionary policies, disproportionately impacting the poor and disenfranchised among us, do directly contradict the teachings promoted by the Pope, whose primary focus has been on poverty. Is it really all that shocking that he would take issue with The Donald’s position?
But the most obnoxious part of this debacle is the hypocrisy of the whole thing. When the GOP says religious leaders shouldn’t involve themselves in American politics, what they really mean is that religious leaders who do not agree with them should be seen and not heard. It’s hard to swallow Republican indignation over the Pope’s comments while candidates actively court the endorsements of other religious leaders, particularly in Trump’s case. Remember when he organized that disastrous black clergy summit? Remember when he stumped with Jerry Falwell, Jr. ahead of Iowa?
And when they argue a person’s faith shouldn’t be questioned, they really just mean their faith shouldn’t be questioned. Trump could not be a better example of this. He can feign outrage over the Pope’s doubt all he wants, but he was peddling the same sort of doubt during a press conference on Monday, saying, “I’ve never seen anybody that lied as much as Ted Cruz. And he goes around saying he’s a Christian. I don’t know, you’re going to have to really study that.”
Let’s also not forget that this group is the same one that has been questioning President Obama‘s faith for eight years now.
In other words: can we go back to criticizing Pope Francis for any number of other legitimate reasons now?