IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN. The Pope has sounded off on Donald Trump and it caused an immediate media firestorm. The headlines read, “Pope suggest Trump ‘is not Christian,'” or “Pope: Trump ‘is not Christian.’ Trump: Tell it to ISIS.” This is the type of thing the media has been waiting for, the much-loved, shockingly-popular Pope going up against America’s favorite demagogue. But the framing around the issue has been slightly misleading, and it distracts from the larger point the Pope was making.
It’s important to note that the Pope did not bring up Trump of his own accord, despite his much publicized visit to the US-Mexico border wall in Ciudad Juarez. Instead, he was asked by reporters during a press conference on the flight back to the Vatican if American Catholics could vote for Trump. Here was his response:
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he says things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
It behooves those of us in the media to play up the Pope vs. Trump feud here: readers love stories like this. And it’s such perfect fodder for the media: now Trump’s communications team is pointing out (incorrectly) that the Vatican is surrounded by walls, and now Catholics are drawing attention to the size of the Vatican’s doors, and this gives us something fun (and stupid) to bicker about. But ultimately, the Pope’s apparent jab at Trump is not the most important thing about what he actually said. Here’s the important part: “I say only that this man is not Christian if he says things like that.”
This isn’t a direct indictment of Trump, but rather an indictment of anyone who thinks that it’s better to build walls than bridges. To not be kind to others, to not view them as neighbors, to not help those in need, this is not Christian (and, as many of us who aren’t Christians might add, isn’t morally okay regardless of faith or creed).
In this way, the Pope wasn’t attacking Trump, but was attacking an entire mindset that he views as incompatible with Christian thought. At a time when America’s Evangelical Christians are flocking to Donald Trump, this is an extremely important message from the world’s most important Christian leader: you can be anti-immigrant or anti-refugee, and you can be Christian, but you can’t be both at once.