Pope Francis and Donald Trump have some things in common: Both control prime pieces of real estate and priceless works of art, both claim to care for the working class, both men wear white.... But, as became clear Thursday, the pope and the GOP presidential frontrunner differ in their interpretation of the gospels. That isn't too unusual for a Catholic and Protestant, but this high-profile spat, in the middle of a heated presidential primary, is pretty remarkable.
Responding to Trump's words about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and deporting 12 million immigrants, the pope said "this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.... This is not the gospel." Trump said it was "disgraceful" for the pope to "question another man's religion or faith" and affirmed his Christianity. "If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS," Trump added, the pope will "have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president."
Trump's GOP rivals mostly steered clear of the dispute, but religious scholars suggested that the pope had raised a fair question about Trump's policies, if not his personal faith. "'Is the Pope Catholic?’ is a joke used to emphasize when something is blindingly obvious," Luke Bretherton, a professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, said in a statement. "That the question 'Is Donald Trump a Christian?' is not a joke but a serious question should tell us something." He added:
That Pope Francis raises a question about whether certain political views are compatible with Christian belief and practice or not is wholly appropriate and something Christian leaders in North America, whether Democrat or Republican, seem all too happy to pronounce on on a regular basis. When politicians parade their faith as a vote-winning strategy, they necessarily invite comment on the status and coherence of their faith commitments with their political positions.
Bretherton's colleague Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology, was a bit more nuanced: "Donald Trump's proposal isn't consistent with deep Christian understandings of the movements of peoples across border; that, in turn, is perfectly consistent with Trump himself being a Christian — which is to say someone baptized in the triune name."
Slamming the pope isn't expected to hurt Trump in Saturday's primary in South Carolina, where 65 percent of the 2012 GOP primary voters were evangelical Christians and only 13 percent were Catholic. It could hurt him in the delegate-rich, heavily Catholic states in the Northeast.