Jerry Falwell, Jr. is none too pleased at Pope Francis for suggesting that Donald Trump (and the rest of the Republican primary candidates) are not true Christians due to their support for a massive wall between the United States and Mexico.
As he explained to CNN, “Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country.”
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) February 18, 2016
This would be the same Jerry Falwell, Jr. who runs a university dedicated to training future political leaders on what Jesus’s instructions for running a country would be — and getting them wrong. His entire career is premised on mixing religion and politics. He is the actual last person who can say with a straight face that Jesus is agnostic on American public policy.
Although if he just now had a revelation and changed his mind, I guess that’s okay:
— Americans United (@americansunited) February 18, 2016
Falwell’s complete lack of self-awarness aside, though, this is far from the first time a religious conservatives who has spent their career injecting their religion into politics has told Pope Francis to slow his roll when it comes to commenting on American politics. This is a pope who is outspoken on the need to address economic inequality and climate change, and is emphatically against the death penalty. And every time he speaks out on those topics, he’s got Catholic Republican politicians who are normally proud to legislate their religion — Rick Santorum comes to mind — telling him to kindly butt out. The pope may be infallible, but only when he isn’t so damn progressive, you know?
While we’re at it, let’s be clear: Pope Francis is far from the only religious leader who has called Donald Trump’s Christian faith into question — and with good reason. Just yesterday, Evangelical shock jock Bryan Fischer went as far as to say that the only reason conservative Christians were supporting Trump was Satan himself. Given that Donald Trump is transparently irreligious, his professions of piety are absolutely fair game for religious leaders — who are generally supposed to be the arbiters of such matters. Trump’s response to Pope Francis contended that it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone else’s faith. It’s actually a big part of their job. And on a number of metrics, from his complete lack of compassion to his three marriages to his utter lack of knowledge about basic Christian traditions — such as asking God for forgiveness — Donald Trump fails his religious test. It isn’t “disgraceful” to point that out.
And let’s be clearer: Since when was calling a candidates’ faith into question out of bounds in American politics? Especially on the Right, where professions of faith are considered obligatory for any and all potential leaders? The Republican Party has spent the last eight years casting aspersions about our current president’s faith. They made an issue out of John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism. Thomas Jefferson had to field (probably true) accusations of being an atheist when he ran for president! Questioning the faith of our prospective leaders is as much a tradition in American politics as requiring that our leaders be faithful in the first place.
As long as politicians feel compelled to tell us how much their religion will influence their politics, the sincerity of their faith will remain fair game for scrutiny.