Feb 182016 2 Responses

What the Pope Got Wrong About Trump

As if the 2016 Presidential campaign hasn’t been weird enough, it took a strange turn Thursday afternoon when Donald Trump got into an internet war with Pope Francis. While returning from Mexico, the Pope made comments about the Republican candidate and the current debate on immigration.

In the back and forth, both the Pope and Trump misstated truth.

What the Pope got wrong. In criticizing Donald Trump, Pope Francis confused the message of the gospel. I am a Christian solely because of what God has done for me through Jesus. I’m not a Christian because of what I do. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God saves sinners. He does the saving, not me.

When the Pope said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he failed to distinguish between being a Christian from doing and thinking like a Christian. There is a difference. I am a Christian even though I don’t always think and act like a Christian. The Pope can fairly claim Trump is not acting like a Christian. He can even question whether Trump is a Christian, but that discussion cannot solely be determined on an immigration policy. His actions can be Christian or non-Christian, but whether he is or is not a Christian is dependent on what Trump believes about Jesus.

What Trump got wrong. Hearing reports of the Pope’s comments, Trump quickly responded. CNN reported Trump’s response, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.” Seriously? We can’t question one’s faith? Isn’t that one thing the Pope, or any religious leader, is supposed to do? (See: Don’t Tell Me Every Religion Is the Same)

Absolutely the Pope has a right to question Trump’s faith. There is no evidence that Donald Trump has had a life-changing experience with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Has he admitted his need, believed in the saving power of Jesus Christ, and confessed his total inability apart from Christ? To my knowledge, the answer is no. So the Pope has every right to say Trump isn’t a Christian, he just can’t say it because of one action or belief of Trump.

What everyone else got wrong. In the immediate response, many believers fell for the lie which Trump promoted. They claimed it was “judging,” to claim Trump is not a Christian. Is it judging to claim an atheist isn’t a Christian? Is it judging to say a Muslim is not a Christian? (See: Who Am I to Judge?)

When there is no evidence in someone’s life that they have had a life changing encounter with Jesus, it is not judging to question whether or not they are a Christian. This doesn’t mean we have to be in total agreement with someone for them to be a Christian. Differences, especially political differences, will always exist inside of Christianity. But it does mean we can look at the essentials of our faith–God saves sinners–and test other people against that mantra. Has Donald Trump confessed he is a sinner? Does he proclaim he is powerless without Jesus?

In response to the give and take, we need to remember four things.

Four Reminders:

1. Recognize the difference between who a Christian is and what a Christian should or shouldn’t do. It’s easy to say, “A Christian would never ______,” but that statement is dangerous. However you would fill in the blank, we could name several Christians who have done that very action. A Christian should not murder, but some do. A Christian should not commit adultery, but some do. A Christian can be disobedient. As a matter of fact, every Christian is disobedient.

2. It is fair to question someone’s faith. Especially in political arenas where people use faith in order to sell themselves, it is more than fair to question if someone is living by what they claim to believe. More important, it is fair to question what someone actually believes. If their belief system stands in total contradiction of the essential beliefs of a faith, we can fairly conclude they are not a member of that faith. (See: What I Mean When I Say ‘You Are a Sinner’)

3. A person of faith can vote for someone who is not of the faith. In a democracy, you can vote for whomever you wish. Without having to justify your vote, a person of faith can vote for an unbeliever in the same way a person without faith can vote for someone who proclaims faith. When I say there is no evidence that Donald Trump is a Christian, I am not saying a Christian should not vote for him. Vote for whomever you like.

4. Beware of the label Christian because it means many things to many people. In America, the word Christian means many different things. For some it is a political tag. For others it is a regional description. Rarely is it actually used in it’s proper form to describe a follower of Jesus. Whenever someone talks about a Christian, always define what they mean by that word. For me, the question is “are you a follower of Jesus?”

I like the Pope. I think he has done tremendous things and I wish him great success. It should be no surprise though that he and I greatly disagree over some of the fundamentals of the faith. Today, in the midst of doing a lot of good, he misunderstood the gospel. I’m sure I’ve made similar mistakes today.

I’m not fond of Trump. While I think he is far better than the caricature some make him out to be (that is true of almost everyone), I think he symbolizes much of what is broken about politics in America.

Immigration reform, border security, and the current refugee crisis are all important topics worthy of debate. I’m glad the discussion is happening. But let’s be careful in the discussion not to misrepresent the gospel and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

2 Responses to What the Pope Got Wrong About Trump

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