In Theory: Can the pope comment on Trump’s religion?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses comments made by Pope Francis during a campaign rally in Kiawah, S.C. on Feb. 17, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses comments made by Pope Francis during a campaign rally in Kiawah, S.C. on Feb. 17, 2016.

(Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

One of the latest people to cross Donald Trump is Pope Francis, who made remarks about the Republican presidential candidate’s faith and his strong stance on immigration, which includes his calls to deport more immigrants and make Mexico pay for a border wall.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said when a reporter asked about Trump on the papal aircraft, adding that “this man is not Christian if he said it this way.”

In his statement addressing the pope’s comments, Trump said, among other strong words: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

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Q: Was Pope Francis right to give his opinion on Donald Trump and the immigration issue?

Absolutely he was right!

Religious leaders like the pope need to speak out when they see injustice or, in this case, the possibility of an un-Christian act.

Personally, I don’t think the pope was trying to say that Donald Trump was not a Christian; I think he meant to say that what the GOP front runner wants to do when he becomes president is an un-Christian act. And he is right!

The pope is also right when he says that Christians should be trying to build bridges, not build walls.

Trump may be your guy, and he may be (oh, I hope not!) exactly what the country needs. But to talk about building walls — what are we, the old Soviet Union? — instead of building bridges is wrong-headed.

Again, “the Donald” may be your guy, and he may be whom we elect in November (again, Lord have mercy!). But anybody as angry and insulting as he can be is certainly not acting the way a Christian should.

I didn’t say he wasn’t a Christian, and neither did the pope mean to imply that he was not. What the pope was saying and what I am saying is that a Christian may act in an un-Christian manner, and to talk about building a wall between the USA and Mexico is an un-Christian concept.

Remember Ross Perot? He used to say, “It’s just that easy” — even though it’s not. That’s who Donald Trump channels when he says or implies, “It’s just that easy.” No, it’s not, and it’s also not acting in a Christian manner.

Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada

Pope Francis speaks to journalists aboard a flight from Mexico to Italy on Feb. 18, 2016.

Pope Francis speaks to journalists aboard a flight from Mexico to Italy on Feb. 18, 2016.

(Alessandro Di Meo / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)


It would have been more accurate for the pope to say that in his opinion Donald Trump was not speaking or acting as a Christian should. At its core, a Christian believes that Jesus Christ, the son of God, paid the penalty for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross, that he rose again on the third day, and that by faith alone in him, apart from our works, we are eternally reconciled to God. Christianity is determined by one’s confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and not by the confession that “walls are bad.”

In his own words Donald Trump says, “I am proud to be a Christian.” I pray that is true, that he has repented of his sins, that he places his personal faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to be right with God and that his life is subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Bible.

Donald Trump states that no religious leader “should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.” But in fact that’s exactly what the Bible calls Christian leaders to do, not to defame the character of others but to ensure the purity of the proclamation of the gospel. “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed … ungodly persons...” (Jude 1:3-4).

On several occasions Jesus publicly questioned the “religion or faith” of Israel’s religious leaders. He said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites...” He called them “blind guides,” “whitewashed tombs,” “serpents” and the “brood of vipers” because their beliefs and deeds contradicted the word of God. The apostle Paul warned the Philippian church to “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision” (Philippians 3:2).

He warned Timothy: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4). The apostle Peter questioned the “religion or faith” of heretics in the church: “They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you” (2 Peter 2:13). He called them “false prophets” and “false teachers” of “destructive heresies.” The apostle John called the false teachers of his day “antichrists” who did not belong to the authentic church (1 John 2:18-19).

Each of these godly men went far beyond “questioning” the faith of those who departed from biblical truth and publicly condemned them as heretics. These condemnations were not subjective judgment calls, but were rather objective conclusions based on what the Bible teaches. The pope has the responsibility, and is right, to teach his flock the word of God in ways that apply to real life.

But we probably also shouldn’t forget that when John the Baptist publicly condemned King Herod’s adultery he ended up being beheaded. Political leaders don’t always respond well to legitimate challenges to their “religion or faith.”

Pastor Jon Barta


Let’s start by rephrasing Mr. Trump’s remarks: “Only a religious leader has the right and authority, to question a person’s faith” (so long as they belong to the same faith). That’s what religious leaders do! That’s why they pay us the big money! We’re to have a prophetic voice, and the freedom to speak truth to power — very specifically by calling the integrity of a person or people’s faith into question.

In the Episcopal Church, where clergy are hired rather than appointed, it’s forbidden for a parish to fire a priest, just because of a controversial sermon or a faith-challenging stance. They made that rule because it’s not only allowed, it’s fully expected for the preacher to nudge people’s consciences and even let loose with a little pulpit-pounding now and then, as needed to jar people out of their comfortable status quo and into the difficult ways of Jesus.

The pope can be, should be, some would say must be, a prophetic voice in the world; and Donald Trump, vying to be a significant actor on the world stage, claims to be Christian. So it’s entirely appropriate for the pope to point out that many of Trump’s values, words and actions fall far outside the lamplight of what Jesus would — and calls us to — say and do. So long as Trump is using the name of Christianity to recruit thousands of people into the very un-Christian causes of hatred, fear and exclusion, how can any Christian leader stay silent?

So that I too will avoid misspeaking in Jesus’ name, I’ll let him have the final word on the integrity of Donald Trump’s Christianity:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not … do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


The Pope may say whatever he wants, but judging another man’s faith, based on this, puts him on sketchy ground.

It’s not that we shouldn’t judge a person by their fruit, that’s very biblical, or that we shouldn’t judge a book by its content, which everyone accepts, but Pope Francis judged Trump based on personal, not biblical, opinion.

There’s nothing from God that forbids building protective walls. Contrarily, the biblical book of Nehemiah recounts Israel’s rebuilding of their dilapidated city walls with God’s blessing. They even posted guards to protect them from foreigners. This isn’t terribly unlike the pope, who resides within his own walled Vatican City, also patrolled by armed guards, because unwelcome outsiders will likely steal artifacts or do him harm.

In America, our homes have walls and locks, and neighbors should never think themselves entitled to intrude at dark and help themselves to our valuables or space. Likewise, our country has an invisible wall depicted on maps, but neighboring interlopers ignore it and enter at dark unencumbered. This is not their land or culture. Foreigners are fully free to stay in their own foreign places, but if they wish to join us, they need to abide our laws, as we haven’t the stomach for their obvious lack of any.

Recently, famed Evangelical leader Max Lucado also judged Trump’s Christianity, and while he also “pontificated” regarding certain Trump peccadilloes, it wasn’t until he mentioned Trump’s own comments about never having asked God for personal forgiveness, that it raised Protestant eyebrows.

This is key. This does say something about either Trump’s Christian immaturity or his actual lack of saving faith. Simply declaring himself “Christian” doesn’t make him one any more than it does the pope if the pope doesn’t understand the Gospel either, and perhaps he doesn’t, as he disparaged Trump’s border-wall plan saying “this is not the gospel.”

He’s right, that isn’t the gospel, it has nothing to do with the gospel, so why bring it up? The gospel is about personal repentance before God and personal reception of his salvation. It’s actually a dividing wall of faith between those who come to God through Christ, and those who reject that singly divine lawful means. There’s only one way of salvation and it is through God’s offered forgiveness. No forgiveness, no positive relationship with God or heavenly welcome.

This doesn’t mean Trump couldn’t make a Christianly favorable president, it just means that we probably should take his coarse joking and theological utterances with a grain of salt, pray for him, and revisit the gospel message with him. The pope too.

Jesus said: “Truly, I tell all of you emphatically, the person who doesn’t enter the sheepfold through the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a bandit” (John 10:1 ISV).

Rev. Bryan A. Griem

I can’t really comment on what the pope should or shouldn’t say about Trump or about illegal immigration. Both men have very strong feelings about the issue, and very different world views. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that their disagreement became personal.

The LDS church supports an approach in which “immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.” Without offering any specifics, the church, in this 2011 statement, called for a “balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.”

The statement outlines broad principles that can guide public policy, and our private attitudes, in a way that could help us find a solution to this and related problems. The alternative is to allow emotional and irrational arguments to prevail, increasing the risk that the divisions in our society will become deeper.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


Donald Trump has been the gift that keeps on giving to comedians and now to “In Theory” respondents, but no sooner had our question been received than he declared “The Pope is great,” and who knows what he will say before this appears.

Pope Francis is more than right — he is obliged — to give his opinion on Trump’s immigration stand. Applying his church’s doctrine to political questions is in the job description, so if he can’t call out Trump’s xenophobic hatred, who can? What part of Francis being the Vicar of Jesus Christ and the Supreme Pontiff is Trump not clear on? Or is it veiled animus toward Catholicism?

Plus commenting on public figures is fair game for anyone, as Trump well knows and does plenty of himself. His phony outrage and swift retractions are a familiar pattern as he skillfully uses the news media yen for the outrageous to generate maximum free publicity.

Perhaps Pope Francis, having encountered the Donald personally, won’t judge too harshly those in California who otherwise would have never voted for legal recreational marijuana for adults, but if Trump is the nominee, decide to support it, just in case President Trump happens.

Roberta Medford



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