The exchange last week between leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Pope Francis over Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border blurred the lines between national, religious and political aspirations but in many ways was truly unfortunate.
During his visit to Juarez, Mexico to celebrate Mass, Pope Francis, must have felt, great pain seeing first-hand the many people, who through no fault of their own, have long-suffered or paid an ultimate price in an effort to escape the misery afflicting large parts of their country. It is in this context, and in his humanity the Pope spoke out, perhaps inspired by the words of The Lord himself “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matt. 25:35)
Donald Trump, in a very different context, but also in his humanity has spoken of an aspiration to improve the lives of Americans and has proposed solutions he believes will further that cause, including his vision of building a wall to prevent terrorist infiltration, slow illegal immigration and the flow of narcotics across the border.
The fact that the Vatican (a city state) is itself surrounded by walls and has its own resident armed guards was not lost on pundits following the Pope’s critical comments.
Many of the Republican party’s core beliefs including protection of the unborn and the defense of the sanctity of marriage are among the core tenants of Christianity. Conversely, several elements of the Democratic platform, in particular ideas about social justice and immigration also are in accord with Christian thought, after all, Jesus himself in his early life escaped persecution, suffering and death through His flight to neighboring Egypt .(Matt. 2:14)
The church in her wisdom has always recognized the need to obey and respect just civil laws, however while recognizing fundamental truths that exist in both major U.S. political parties, has always remained non-partisan.
Because of the ecclesiastical tradition of recognizing civil authority, it cannot be unchristian to follow just civil laws or desire that national security be preserved when nationhood and the civil authority it produces, is at least in part, understood as including geographic boundaries.
America is one of the greatest humanitarian nations in history, welcoming countless immigrants over the years and addressing the plight of the sick, the poor and the suffering all over the world. The American people continue to be amongst the most open, compassionate and charitable, it is part of the American ethos, the collective consciousness of it’ people and the fabric of its being.
Despite this, we must always pray for our country and those who would aspire to public service. We must also pray for the afflicted who seek to escape suffering through immigration and for their salvation offering aid freely while contemporaneously recognizing legitimate threats where they exist. As Christ admonished, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. (Matt. 10:16)
Especially in light of the magnifying power of social media, assertions made about civil or religious leaders, even if carefully prefaced, must be thoughtful for they may cause real harm to peace in the world, the stability of churches and the goal of greater unity.
If a person wanders from right thoughts or actions why could they not be brought back through gentle instruction?
Donald Trump has confessed the Christian faith and stated he intends to defend it.
During a media appearance preceding the Pope’s Thursday comments, Trump said, "I respect the Pope and I love the Pope in many ways." Pope Francis likely did not hear those words before making comments about Trump’s faith just hours later.
Trump has asked for the blessing of the church in sincerity and humility. When it comes to his faith, why not take the man at his word?
Father Emmanuel Lemelson is a Greek Orthodox Priest and founder and president of The Lantern Foundation, a US based private foundation focused on providing financial support to religious and community service organizations and other entities organized for religious, charitable, and educational purposes. Follow him on twitter @Lemelson