Referring to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Southern border to keep out illegal immigrants, Pope Francis declared, “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.”
Trump responded indignantly that the Pope had no right to be question his faith. Trump stated: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President.”
But contrary to what Trump suggested, the Pope wasn’t questioning his faith or suggesting, as many in the mainstream media was saying, that he wasn’t really a Christian.
The Pope didn’t say, “A person who … is not a Christian.” He said “….is not Christian.”
That’s a critically important distinction. When the article “a” is employed, Christian becomes a noun. When the article is omitted, it is an adjective. If the article had been included, one could infer that the Pope was questioning Trump’s faith. Given that it wasn’t included, one could infer that what the Pope was actually saying was that Trump wasn’t being Christian by proposing his wall.
Obviously, saying that a person isn’t behaving in a Christian-like manner is totally different from accusing a person of not being a genuine Christian. Christians oftentimes behave in non-Christian-like ways. Oftentimes, it’s called sin. Christians commit sins but they remain Christians. There isn’t anything wrong with the Pope or anyone else pointing out when a Christian is engaging in sinful behavior or non-Christian-like behavior.
Hailing from Argentina, the Pope’s primary language is Spanish. I don’t know the extent of his command over the Italian language but it’s probable that it isn’t the same as his command over Spanish. When he was asked to comment on Trump’s plan for a wall, the questioner presumably was an Italian journalist because the Pope answered in Italian, not Spanish.
The Pope answered “Non e Cristiano.” If he had meant to say, “He is not a Christian, he would have said, “Non e un Cristiano.”
If you use one of the online translators from Italian to English, you’ll see that the phrase that the Pope used — “Non e Cristiano” — has two alternative translations: “He is not Christian” or “He is not being Christian.”
My hunch is that the second phrase expressed what the Pope was saying — that in proposing his wall, Trump was not being Christian.
While the more technical translation of “He is not being Christian” would be “Lui no essere Cristiano,” my hunch is that the Pope was resorting to the simpler tense meaning the same thing — He is not being Christian.
Thus, the Pope was never questioning Trump’s faith. He was simply saying that when he proposes to build a wall along the Southern border, he is not being Christian or not behaving in a Christian-like manner.
In actuality though, what the Pope said applies not only to an immigration wall but also to immigration controls generally. That’s because immigration controls are contrary to Christian principles.
Christ said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
How can arresting, jailing, and punishing people who are coming to the United States to sustain and improve their lives through labor be reconciled with these two commandments? It is impossible to do so.
After all, Christ wasn’t talking about one’s next-door neighbor. He was talking about one’s fellow man. And since He said that the second commandment is just like the first, He was saying that when you show a lack of love to another human being, you’re displaying a lack of love for God himself.
Christ also said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The natural inference is that when one acts in a contrary manner toward people in those types of desperate straits, he does it to Christ himself.
We often hear the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Can anyone really imagine Christ treating illegal immigrants in the manner that the U.S. government does — with arrest, incarceration, and forcible deportation? Can anyone imagine Christ helping build a wall to keep immigrants from coming to a country to save or improve their lives through labor?
After all, let’s not forget that Jesus and his parents were once immigrants too. That was when Mary and Joseph took their newborn baby to Egypt to escape the killing spree that King Herod had initiated in Israel. I just can’t imagine Jesus ever saying, “Caesar is right to forcibly return people to their countries of origin where they face certain death by starvation, tyranny, or foreign bombing.”
The advocates of immigration controls say, “A nation has the right to control its borders.”
Actually, nations don’t have rights and neither do governments. Only individuals have rights. Thomas Jefferson points this out in the Declaration of Independence, a document that Americans, both Christian and non-Christian alike, celebrate every Fourth of July.
What every American should ask himself though is a very simple question: Does he really believe what the Declaration says? It holds that all men — not just Americans — are endowed by God and nature with certain fundamental rights. Since such rights come from God and nature, that means they don’t come from government or “society.” And it also means that government has no legitimate authority to interfere with the exercise of such rights.
Those rights, as Jefferson pointed out, include life and liberty. But what do those mean? At the very least, they encompass the right to sustain one’s life through labor, the right to enter into mutually beneficial economic relationships with others, including employers, and the right to freely travel and migrate.
That’s all that an illegal immigrant is doing. He’s exercising rights that were endowed in him by God and nature when he comes to the United States to sustain and improve his life through labor. He is doing nothing more than entering into contracts and relationships with others, including with American employers who are willing and eager to employ them.
Trump and other advocates of immigration controls say that since some illegal immigrants are rapists or murderers, then it’s morally okay to also punish the innocent ones by barring all of them from entering the United States.
But where is the morality and justice in punishing the innocent by infringing on their God-given rights simply to ensure that Americans are protected from the tiny percent of immigrations who will commit violent crimes at some indefinite point in the future? How is that type of collective guilt consistent with Christian principles? Why not respect the rights of everyone and simply punish those who commit crimes? Isn’t that how our criminal-justice system operates here in the United States?
Not only are immigration walls and, in a larger context, immigration controls, inconsistent with Christian principles, they are also contrary to the natural-rights concept on which America was founded.
Nonetheless, one of the greatest gifts that God gave us is free will. With that great gift, people are free to reject both their neighbor and God. But make no mistake about it: when people do that, they are not behaving like Christians.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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