Friday, February 19, 2016

Can a Christian Want Borders?

If life is a quest for the truth, there will be times when you will have to look at subjects you don’t want to consider. Today, I find myself in that unfortunate position. I don’t like thinking about Pope Francis I, and I really don’t like thinking about Donald Trump. When the two of them buck heads, though, I’m left with very little option other than to discuss it. It raises spiritual questions that simply cannot be ignored.

Last Thursday, Francis was in Mexico and was asked his opinion of Trump’s proposed border wall. He responded, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” He also later said of Trump specifically, “this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”


That’s obviously the story, but first, a little bit on Trump. He’s not a Christian. And that isn’t a judgment, it is taken from his own mouth. When questioned about his faith and whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness, Trump is on video replying, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so…. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't.”

Those simply are not the words of a Christian, according to the biblical definition of one. As Acts 3:19 explains, to become a Christian you must “Repent… and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” A true follower of Christ is one who recognizes that he cannot “make it right,” and asks Jesus to do it for him.

Trump is, at best, a nominal Christian. And that’s really more of a culture than a faith. It means someone who has been in churches more than mosques or synagogues, who puts up a tree at Christmas and lilies at Easter, and who says he’s a Christian because that is what mom and dad said they were. There is no heart in that, though. Just tradition. It doesn’t get that type of person any closer to God. He can call himself a Christian, but you can call yourself a car because you sit in the garage all day. It doesn’t make it true.

Render unto Caesar

But with all that said, now I have to turn on the pope. He is right about Trump, and wrong about why. Refusing to ask for forgiveness through Christ keeps people from becoming true Christians. As the flip side to that, though, anyone who does ask for that forgiveness is a Christian. That’s the only measure of it. There will be signs along the way, of course, which I have discussed elsewhere. But a Christian is a person with faith in Christ, and wanting national borders to be respected is hardly proof positive that someone lacks it.

Maybe the problem is where Francis lives. The Vatican, with its tall walls the whole way round, is a theocracy. There is no distinction between civil and religious authority. Many of the countries of Europe are the same way, actually. They do not operate like that anymore, but officially many of them have a church united to the government. The United States is different.

It should be stated that we are a Christian nation. And again, this is only nominally true, but it is still true. Our citizens mostly describe themselves as Christians, and our society is largely organized on Christian principles. Culturally, we are more Christian than anything else. So that is what I mean when I say the U.S. is a Christian nation. However, it is not a Christian state. Our government does not require people to be Christians or to support Christian churches, and it does not explicitly or exclusively follow the Bible when determining its policies. The church can inspire the state, but it does not control it.

In my opinion, that is the way it should be. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus said we should “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Part of what He meant was that government has particular responsibilities separate from what religion is called to do. The Apostle Paul further explains this in Romans 13:1–7. Governments exist to protect their own citizens. That means having laws, and it means hurting those who break them. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but that is the way it is. We need the order it provides.

Borders are a self-evident extension of that. They protect their citizens from invasion, whether military or migrant. Countries need them to protect their sovereignty and their economic well-being, so governments are responsible to provide and secure them. In fact, that was why the Vatican itself was incorporated in 1929. It was so the Roman Catholic Church could protect itself from the rest of Italy, then under the control of Benito Mussolini. Either borders matter, or Pope Francis I is saying Pope Pius XI was not a Christian when he formed the Vatican as a separate state and demanded its borders be respected.

Foot-in-Mouth Francis

I doubt Francis would say that, of course. The problem is that he is just not a careful thinker. He says whatever pops into his head. He is highly emotional, close to irrational, which he equates with being compassionate. Instead, all he does is divide people because he does not take the time to understand their concerns.

Which I suppose is the most egregious part of his statement. Had he limited his criticism to Trump, it might not have meant very much. But he didn’t. He made a broad proclamation condemning anyone who wants to put up borders. He did so not on the basis of their faith, but on whether they share his political views of national security. I don’t know anything about Francis’ personal faith, so I will not question it. But I will say that his position, in its biblical illiteracy and its lack of charity, is highly unChristian.

It can be argued whether Christians should want borders. Our faith is one dedicated to breaking down the barriers between people, and between the soul and God. We should want to unite, not divide. But does that mean we do so under every possible circumstance? Or should there not be some room for prudence? And remember, the state is responsible to consider these things and protect us. Some Christians may find that distasteful. Others recognize its necessity. It does not mean the souls of either should be condemned. Francis, the self-proclaimed “Vicar of Christ,” should be ashamed of himself for having done so.

Who Do You Trust?

Well, I guess there is enough in here to anger just about everybody. That’s not my intention, of course. I am only trying to point out the truth. Both of these men frustrate me. Because they are in positions of influence, their bad ideas get a wide audience. All too often, they get uncritical acceptance as well. If you want to support and follow one, the other, or both of them, fine. That’s your choice, and it doesn’t put your salvation on the line. I just want you to know what salvation really is. It isn’t building walls or bridges. It is following Jesus Christ. Everyone else makes mistakes, including the Bishop of Rome and the Baron of New York. Only the Lord is truly reliable. So please,

“Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God.” (Psalm 146:3–5)

(Erik Drost/Flickr Creative Commons)

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