Friday, February 19, 2016

Not a Christian

"A Wilderness Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday Pope Francis set off a firestorm when he made the statement that presidential contender, Donald Trump, was not a Christian:

A person who thinks only about building walls, 
wherever they may be, and not building bridges.
is  not a Christian.

In his typical strident and flamboyant style, Mr. Trump fired back that it was "disgraceful for a religious leader to question a person's faith," and many people agreed with Trump's righteous indignation, concurring that no one has a right to judge another person's faith.

As I see it, there was no "judgement" in the Pope's statement about Donald Trump. I think Pope Francis was merely offering a "description" of observable facts - if you claim to be following a certain ideology but in fact everything you say and do contradicts that ideology, you are not following in the direction you claim to be following. If you claim to be a Christian, following in the path of jesus,  but almost everything you say or do demonstrates that you are walking in an opposite direction to the way Jesus taught, then you are not a follower of Jesus. 

Jesus pointed to a way of inclusion, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus taught that everyone has a place of dignity at the table of life. He proclaimed a gospel of a society in which there are no outcasts, no one excluded, no foreigners or strangers. Jesus taught that, instead of excluding those on the margins of society, the rich and the strong have a moral obligation to lift up and include the poor and the weak so that there is a place at the table for everyone. 

Jesus also said that anyone who would be his disciples, any who would be his followers,  should devote their lives to creating the kind of just and compassionate world that Jesus so clearly preached about and beautifully modeled while he was on this earth.

So I don't think it is at all "judgmental" for a pope to point out that someone who constantly builds walls of division and preaches a doctrine of exclusion is not following in the way of Jesus - is not a Christian.

There are plenty of people who are not Christians who would disagree with Jesus' teaching.  They believe that the strong and powerful are better than, greater than, and deserve more than the weak and powerless. If you're not a Christian and live according to this ideology, at least you are being honest.  But if you claim to be a Christian and follow a doctrine of "might makes right and only the strong belong"  you should be called out for it -  that's exactly what the Pope did yesterday, and I applaud him for it.

Philosopher of World Religions and author, Karen Armstrong, once wrote:

Compassion is the key and core in
Islam and Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity.
This core element makes them all profoundly similar.

As I see it, over the course of history, many people have hidden behind the disguise of religion and they continue to do so today.  Many have claimed to be followers of a "way" while walking in opposite directions. Violence and oppression have been perpetrated in the name of God, politicians seek election under the guise of religious belief. But if "compassion" is indeed at the core of all major world regions, then "compassion" can be used as the standard for observing whether or not those who claim to be on a religious path are in fact walking on that path. 

As I see it anyone who claims to be a Muslim and yet preaches a doctrine of violence and engages in terrorism and destruction is really not a Muslim. Anyone who claims to be  a faithful Jew and then excludes and discriminates against their fellow citizens who aren't Jewish is really not a faithful Jew. Anyone who claims to be a Christian yet lives a life of crushing different others, stepping on those who are on the lower rungs as they make their way up the ladder of success, is really not a Christian. 

Karen Armstrong also observed:

If your understanding of the divine makes you kinder and more empathic,
and compels you to concrete acts of loving-kindess,
this is good theology.
But if your notion of God makes you unkind, belligerent,
cruel or self-righteous,
this is bad theology.

It seems to me that people like Donald Trump and others like him in this country nowadays follow a path that is decidedly not Christian and their theology is also bad theology.


  1. Amen. I try to go by what people do, not what they say. I truly believe that those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and are also haters are tools of the devil. Maybe they are too ignorant to know what they are really doing, but they do a lot of damage.

  2. Thank you Paul for this post. One of my other favored teachers is Rachel Held Evans who spoke a similar word in her "A Tale of Two Gospels" posted January 28th.

  3. Republican hypocrisy at its best...just how many times have GOP political leaders and televangelists questioned President Obama's Christian faith, claiming he's a Muslim. I pray the American people will see through this hypocrisy for what it is, and vote accordingly against this trumpery nonsense.

  4. Compassion being the link between all religions. How interesting. And compassion lies at the core of mindfulness too. Perhaps then we don't actually need a spiritual figurehead, perhaps it is just something that we imagine so that we can wrap compassion around it. The idea of a spiritual God (in whatever form) feels more tangible, something to hang our coats on. In a way I guess it doesn't matter how we stumble across compassion. Whether through God, or not. What matters, as you say, is that we live our lives with awareness and loving kindness. Thanks Paul xx