Oh the things that Pope Francis says on planes. It must be something about being aloft, slipping the surly bonds of earth, that makes the airborne pontiff more freewheeling than the earth-bound version. After a fairly tightly scripted visit to Mexico, in which Francis only obliquely inserted himself into the politics of the US-Mexico border currently convulsing the presidential race, he slammed Donald Trump for his stance on the border in one of his inflight press conferences.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he said in answer to a reporter’s question about Trump’s wall-building promises.
The comments came a day after he celebrated mass on the border in Juarez and implicated both the US and Mexico in what he called a “humanitarian crisis” of forced migration caused by a web of “violence and the hell of drugs.”
It’s true that Trump has made building “the wall” a centerpiece of his campaign. And it’s also true that he alone among the candidates had criticized Francis for his planned visit to the border, calling the pope “a very political person” (even though the pontiff has been careful to not criticize the border policies of any specific candidate or party).
But Francis’ broad-based assertion that Trump isn’t “Christian” based on his admittedly over-the-top border policies raises interesting questions about singling out the religiosity of any given candidate, especially given how few of the GOP candidates support any Catholic social justice priorities: health care (“repeal and replace” Obamacare), poverty (oppose Medicaid expansion and demonizing of statutory food stamp expansion), and climate change (sorry Polar Bears).
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump responded. And as much as I hate to agree with Trump, what about the “Christianity” of the other front-running candidates who have promised to “build a wall”?
Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are explicitly pitching themselves as Christian candidates and both have promised to build a wall. Like Trump, Cruz supports mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, but wouldn’t even let “really good people” come back. Rubio supports just enough deportation to protect his already tarnished immigration bona fides. John Kasich supports a wall but not mass deportation. On the GOP side, only Jeb Bush has rejected the idea of a wall, saying that it’s not practical, but has accused immigrant women of dropping “anchor babies” as a way to stay in the U.S.
And it’s not just Republicans. Hillary Clinton has bragged about voting “numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.”
That leaves Bernie Sanders, a not terribly religious Jew, as the only “Christian” candidate according to Pope Francis’ criteria. Not only has he promised to “direct resources away from boondoggle walls,” but said he would allow undocumented immigrants to enroll in Obamacare, support “humane local and state laws that integrate immigrants into our society,” dismantle “inhumane deportation programs,” and employ “humanitarian parole” to reunite families divided by deportation. Does that make Bernie Christian?