As usual, Vice President Joe Biden cut through verbal clutter with charming candor when asked about Thursday’s top news story, Pope Francis suggesting Donald Trump is “not a Christian” because of his harsh anti-immigrant views, and Trump calling the pope’s words “disgraceful.”
“Pope Francis, Trump, it’s not a hard call for me. It’s not even close,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. And then he laughed.
I’m with Biden, but let me offer a bit more elaboration in defense of the pope. The huffing and puffing over Francis’s supposed foray into American politics is shocking, and stupid. The suggestion that because he once said “Who am I to judge?” in reference to gay people, he’s a hypocrite to judge Trump is even dumber.
Let’s first look at how the pope came to make his Trump remarks. He was asked by a reporter whether a Catholic could vote for “a person like” Trump. He replied:
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 says things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
So already it’s clear that the pope was absolutely not telling American Catholics whom they should vote for. Nor did he unequivocally exclude Trump from the Christian community. There’s a lot of nuance, and room for doubt and debate, in the pope’s answer.
On the simplest level—the level of Christ’s teachings—the pope is simply right. Father James Martin, who’s become the country’s foremost translator of Catholicism, as well as of this pope, explains it this way:
Any person who consistently speaks of excluding people, who trumpets his desire to (literally) build more walls between communities, and who manifests a desire to increase division, is not walking the Christian way. For the desire for unity, for oneness, for community, is an essential part of the Christian worldview.
As Martin notes, “pontiff”—another term for pope—comes from the Latin word for “bridge builder.” The pontifex—the ultimate bridge builder—was expressing a truth that’s fundamental to his faith.
Just as important, this pope has committed himself to reorienting Catholicism away from an emphasis on rules, judgment, fire and brimstone, and bedroom policing and toward an embrace of love, joy. and inclusion in the practice of faith. His first apostolic message, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel,” exhorted Catholics to spread their religion by compassionately offering service and charity, not moralizing and condemning. He particularly singled out “exclusion” as against the teachings of Christ: