As I have had need to remark somewhat harshly on how a contingent of Christians are relating to the Trump campaign, there is a significant issue that needs to be cleared up: This business with Pope Francis. The Pope is wrong for his attack on Trump, but not for the reasons Trump’s defenders are offering. In short, the Pope’s attacks on Trump fail, not because such statements are somehow reprehensible in themselves, but because his hypocritical application sustains no moral weight.
“You’re kidding, right? The Pope carries no moral weight?” Just hear me out.
We’ve heard from several different quarters recently (here’s an example) that “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”* This idea has nothing to do with the Bible and much more to do with a postmodern corruption of it. Since religion is a “personal” matter no one should remark on what is a just a preference–especially a religious leader whose job it supposedly is to be liked and followed. Some people feel like having cotton candy, some people prefer ice cream; Donald Trump feels like Christianity, Louis Farrakan prefers Islam. “Who are we,” the argument guess, “to say any differently?”
A central pillar of Christianity is repentance–the act of recognizing our sin as sin, regretting it, asking forgiveness, and willfully turning our backs to it–and one very necessary ingredient of repentance is the realization that we are doing wrong. While God can and does convict people directly of their sin with no middleman, He also has a strong historical tendency to use our fellow human beings to do it. From the Old Testament prophets to John the Baptist to Christ Himself to Paul and on down to the evangelist in today’s pulpit, the call to “Repent!” has echoed through time. Like it or not, that has to lead to the obvious conclusion for some people, “If I need to repent and be saved, then I must not be saved now, however I happen to feel about it.” History shows us that it is normal and proper for believers to question everyone (especially other believers) on even the most personal of issues.
There is a right and wrong way to do it, however. There is no room whatsoever for the hateful, gleeful tearing down of another person. Our words must come from a genuine love for others and concern for their future. If I see someone heading for a cliff (especially if he/she is dragging others along), it is the loving thing to try to put a stop to it, and I hope another person would do the same for me. It should always begin with kind words, but there are times it means speaking harsh truth (or having it spoken to us).
The Bible gives some very specific guidelines for how to do it. To begin with, focus on your own faults rather than others’: Matthew 7:3-5; approach another believer directly and privately: Matthew 18:15-17; don’t cast eternal judgement on your brother or sister and be ready to be held to the same standard by which you judge (because you will be): Matthew 7:1. The very fact that the Bible gives us rules for correcting each other presumes that it should happen. It only becomes “disgraceful” when we ignore them. To use a homespun analogy, honest, humble Christians following Biblical guidelines aren’t judging what is in a person’s heart–they’re just the “Fruit Inspectors.” If “by their fruit you shall know them” (Matthew 7:20), how can I blame someone who points out when mine is rotten?
No, the problem for Pope Francis isn’t that he questioned Trump’s fruit. It is that he seems to be quite selective in his applications. I see no reason to take him seriously on Trump when he simultaneously refuses to call out people whose sin is equally grave but also more immediately deadly. Trump is unChristian because he wants to build a wall to enforce immigration laws? Then why isn’t Nancy Pelosi equally unChristian for enabling the murder of millions of innocent children through her support of abortion mills like Planned Parenthood? When Pope Francis denies her and her ilk the Lord’s Supper until she displays honest repentance, I’ll consider what he has to say about other U.S. politicians. Until then, I don’t see where he has grounds to say anything.
And so I end a very protestant post with a very protestant charge: Pope Francis, by your fruits we know you indeed. I don’t know your heart, but I will continue to pray for your clarity.
*Never mind that, unless I miss my guess, the speaker in this instance reserves the right to fire any of his own employees instantly over religious disagreements.