It is simply too easy with a name like “Trump” when writing titles or headlines. I am sure the late night talk show hosts are having a field day. So, forgive my failure to resist the easy pun in titling this post. The reality is, there is nothing very funny in the topic which I intend to address.
Recently, Pope Francis entered the American political fray in response to a reporter’s question about Donald Trump’s position on immigration. The Pope responded, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not a Christian. This is not in the Gospel.” I am no fan of Donald Trump, but it is a remarkable thing to have the leader of the Roman Catholic Church suggesting that the litmus test for being a Christian is one’s view on immigration. When Christ said in John 14:6 that He was “the way, the truth, and the life…No man comes to the Father except through me,” He summed up the Gospel rather well. In Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas told the Philippian Jailer, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” These passages represent many that suggest that the Gospel is rather well defined in the Bible. While it is important how we live, and the Bible is replete with passages encouraging believers to glorify God in their lives, the notion that one’s position on any given issue is the indicator of salvation is problematic. In fact, the Gospel tells us that it has absolutely nothing to do with us. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” What we do does not make us a Christian; what Christ has done for us does.
But I will leave that topic there. Trump responded to the Pope by asserting that he was, in fact, a Christian, and decrying the Pope’s right to question anyone else’s faith. His response is not surprising. What surprised me was Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s interjection into this hubbub. Falwell, Jr. supported Trump’s claim to be a Christian with the following, “I’ve seen his generosity to strangers, to his employees, his warm relationship with his children….I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ.” Presumably given his public stance and his past, Falwell, Jr. finds the support for his assertion in that last phrase, but it is not completely clear. Falwell, Jr. suggested that the Pope was “saying we have to choose leaders…that share his faith.” He also asserted that John F. Kennedy would be “rolling over in his grave” were he to hear the Pope’s words. Falwell, Jr. compared his position on this issue to his support of Romney in 2012 when he asserted that Christians should be okay with voting for a Mormon for president.
I will not critique any of those statements too directly, other than to wonder if Mr. Falwell’s own father would not be rolling over in his grave were he to hear his son’s words. The expression is an unpleasant one and I invoke it only because Falwell, Jr. did. I think Jerry Falwell, Sr. believed there was a direct line of connection between one’s faith and one’s politics, or at least there ought to be. He formed the Moral Majority to inject Biblical principle into the public debate and encouraged Christians to support candidates who stood for principles that were consistent with God’s Word. While we can debate his interpretation of what that looked like, his sometimes vitriolic rhetoric, and some of his methods, I agree with the basic premise. As a Christian, I seek to influence the political system and, indirectly, government policy by supporting candidates that hold positions that most closely represent the principles of God’s Word. Jerry Falwell, Jr. has tended to follow his father’s example in his own political involvement. When discussing this interchange with the Pope, however, he seemed to be building a wall between politics and faith by quoting Christ’s reference to paying taxes in Matthew 22:21. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and then he followed that comment with “And that means to choose the best president.” All of this is convoluted by his argument that Trump is indeed a Christian. I am not interested in pursuing that line of argument right now. I am more interested in the seeming dichotomy that Falwell, Jr. created between faith and politics, something his father would not have done. If politics is in the realm of the Caesars, is he suggesting that the faith of the candidate does not matter? Clearly by arguing, seemingly against all evidence, that Trump is in fact a Christian, he contradicts himself. If Falwell, Jr. wants to assert that the Pope cannot invoke matters of faith when addressing politics, then Falwell, Jr. cannot either.
Personally, I am not willing to relegate the realm of politics to the Caesars, or more simply, to strip it from the reach of faith. It is a realm, at least in America, where all citizens can and should be involved. The Founders understood that in a democratic republic, people vote based on what they think is best for the nation. The decision regarding what is best for the nation is grounded in the core values of what they believe to be true. One cannot separate one’s faith, or lack of faith, from one’s political decisions any more than a judge can adjudicate a criminal case apart from the foundation of the law. Our worldview, or our metaphysical starting place, is an essential component of our rational process. If we believe Scripture to be true, then our evaluation of politics will be influenced by Scripture. I am not arguing that a Christian must vote for a Christian. I think what Falwell, Jr. was trying to articulate, however awkwardly, was that Christians should vote for the person that will best represent biblical truth, whether they are Christian or not. If he intended to make that point, I agree. I see in his response, however, far too great a concession to make a point that is still somewhat elusive to me. He disagreed with the Pope because of his theological differences with him. He should have responded to that disagreement, rather than suggesting that religion and politics should be kept in two separate realms.