Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post appeared at the HuffPost blog. The author has given us permission to republish.
As an atheist who was raised Catholic, I applaud Pope Francis’ recent rebuke of Donald Trump and his wall fetish. Responding to a reporter about his views on Trump, following his visit to the border city of Juárez, Mexico, Pope Francis famously said:
A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.
While the bombastic billionaire and leading Republican presidential candidate wasted no time to defend his Christian faith (Presbyterianism), he chastised Pope Francis and absurdly accused him of being a pawn of the Mexican government. This is the same government and its leaders whom Pope Francis, while in Mexico City, hectored in fostering a society plagued with violence and drugs. This didn’t stop devout Catholic and former Republican candidate Jeb Bush (aka “low energy,”) to defend Trump. Given the inhumane positions that many of the Republican candidates have adopted to appeal to the angriest members of their party, it seems to me that Pop Francis’ public scolding of Trump also applies to his competitors and the GOP leadership. Hence, to better understand whether the GOP’s actions and rhetoric conflict with Christian values, let’s explore a few popular Christian tenets and commandments. To avoid a theological debate, I’ll just paraphrase a few and provide some commentary.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor…”: This is a popular Christian tenet that many of us are familiar with since childhood. The last time I checked Google Earth, Mexico is our southern neighbor. Thus, given that Mexico represents a friendly government in the arenas of diplomatic relations, trade agreements and tourism, why do Republican leaders continually bash our friendly neighbor like a piñata at a kid’s birthday party? Apart from foreign countries, while Latino immigrants may not live in the same neighborhoods as privileged Republican leaders, many of them do live in nearby neighborhoods and cities. As neighbors, these honest, hardworking individuals represent a vital labor pool, particularly in the low-wage service sector that Americans benefit from. This includes childcare, elderly care, house cleaning, dry cleaning, landscape gardening, etc.
Doesn’t the GOP’s lack of love or respect for our neighbors —both outside and inside of our borders— represent a violation of Christian values? It makes no sense to me. Yet, what do I know, I’m an atheist.
“Thou shalt not steal”: While Republican leaders have no problem bashing Mexico and its citizens for migrating to El Norte, let’s not forget that in 1848 the U.S. stole approximately half of Mexico’s territory in the bloody spirit of Manifest Destiny. Does the fact that this land theft occurred 164 years ago make it inconsequential in contemporary times? What about the legitimacy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 that ended the U.S. war on Mexico? More specifically, is a treaty between parties legitimate when one party holds a gun over the head of the other party? While I’m not a legal scholar on treaties, let’s consult with the Native Americans for their expert opinion on this issue.
What about the labor the U.S. stole from African Americans during slavery? The same labor, like immigrant labor, which helped make this country the most powerful country in the world? While the critically acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a compelling case for reparations for African Americans in his influential article, “The Case for Reparations,” many American leaders reject this proposal. This includes President Brack Obama, the country’s first African American president. Regardless of the merits of this proposal, no one can ignore the fact that the U.S. benefited tremendously from slave labor.
“Thou shalt not murder”: This represents a popular Christian commandment. Thus, for all of the American leaders —both Republicans and Democrats— who supported the unjust invasion of Iraq, causing mass death, destruction and havoc, how can they, especially Christians, reconcile this horrific act with this commandment? While Trump correctly argues that the U.S. invaded Iraq under false pretenses (no weapons of mass destruction), he has taken a strong position of not only killing ISIS terrorists, but also their families. Innocent families? What about the children? Trump isn’t the only one willing to kill innocent civilians in the war against ISIS. Ted Cruz, trying to out-tough Trump, has argued that he’ll carpet bomb ISIS. What about all of the civilians that live nearby or are held hostage by ISIS? Moreover, the always evasive Marco Rubio doesn’t seem disturbed by the killings of innocent civilians in the war against ISIS. Is this a just way for Christians to wage war?
Finally, while preparing for my First Communion and attending mass at East Los Angeles’ Santa Teresita Church, I still recall a sermon from Father John about how it’s easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. As someone who is open-minded to learn from a variety of sources, I’ll never forget this important lesson from my childhood. So, my question is this: once he dies, what’s going to happen to Donald Trump with all of his billions and huge wall that he constantly fantasizes about?
Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Urban & Regional Planning and Ethnic & Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).