On the eve of Pope Francis’ opening the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Donald Trump announced that if elected president, he would close the borders to Muslims entering into the United States because of terrorist activity.
While Pope Francis and Donald Trump are by no means comparable figures, the symbolism of open and shut doors and borders is an apt analogy for the predicament the world finds itself in during this holiday season. In America, we find ourselves in the throes of fearmongering and hatred by a presidential candidate who claims to be a practicing Christian.
Will our nation choose a demagogue who wants to shut doors to Muslims, or will we rise out of our slumber to vociferously repel the hatred that has poisoned America this year?
The Republican party, in reckoning with Trump at the top of their presidential polls, has birthed the ultimate right wing troll: the epitome of privilege, who will say anything, do anything to crush his opponents and those who disagree with his bigotry. Trump is the living breathing representation of the fever dreams of apocalyptic Christian believers and jingoistic nationalists. By vilifying Muslims, denigrating women and African Americans, Trump is the id of the Republican Party.
That id, truth to be told, became fully alive in 2008. Remember those Sarah Palin rallies of October of that year? John McCain could not stop Palin, a Pentecostal whose rallies that became right wing hate fests, over her snarling about how “Obama Pals around with terrorists.” Palin just recently signed her new devotional book at a gun range in Newhall, CA and regularly posts angry missives on Facebook. I would argue that it is Palin who has lent Trump the battle plan wholesale for his current campaign. Don’t answer questions, say crazy things, never take responsibility.
Now, Trump has brought that birther, racist fringe to the center of the Republican Party. Not even a good Southern Baptist like Russell Moore can stop Trump’s crazy train from roaring out of the station. And Lindsey Graham might want The Donald to go to hell, but hell is already here.
Ronald Reagan, Saint of the Republican party, would be shocked to see what he has wrought. Reagan, the master of playing the “moral majority,” who helped to give birth to the religious Right, would be appalled by Trump. Reagan, who understood that amnesty would be good for America, would surely give Trump the side eye on this preposterous policy to close the borders to Muslims.
While America is dealing with irrational fears and radicalized presidential candidates, over in Rome the Holy Doors were opened by Pope Francis to begin what he has called “ The Year of Mercy.” In his homily, the Pope urged, “we have to put mercy before judgment.” In a year that has seen the papal encyclical on climate change, strong statements against Isis (Da’esh) and support for refugees landing on Europe’s shores, mercy is a much needed commodity for Pope Francis as he wrestles both with church issues and a world that is convulsing with problems.
These two events pose important choices at the end of a tumultuous year in the world of religion. Will fundamentalists like Isis, Trump, UKIP, Pegida, and a host of other right wing hate groups dictate their hatred to the world we live in and circumscribe it? Or will we embrace mercy, tolerance, and freedom in the face of fear?
For those of us who teach religious studies, work for religious organizations, or are interested in religion without being religious, how should we respond? Which door will we choose: the closed door of fundamentalist beliefs, or the open door of mercy?
Do not wait too long to decide. Our lives and our nation may depend on it.