It didn’t take long for Pope Francis to get under Donald Trump’s skin. During his flight back to Rome after a visit to Mexico, the pope said during an interview: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not bridges, is not Christian.”
Trump, who at the time, was the 2016 Republican presidential frontrunner, responded by saying, “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” Trump then accused the Mexican government of “using the pope as a pawn.” In a press release, Trump suggested that the leader of the Catholic Church would regret not supporting his candidacy.
Pope Francis’ comments generated mixed responses from both ardent Trump supporters and undecided Republicans. Some strongly believed the pope needed to stay out of the political arena and stick to religion. Others, like me, saw Pope Francis as the moral compass by speaking truth to power rather than serving as a political kingmaker for Republicans.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s opponents for the party’s nomination, was one of many who were confused by the true meaning behind the pope’s words. As a converted Catholic, Bush stated, “I don’t know what that means….” after being asked about the pope’s statement concerning building walls. This is another example of how messages of inclusion get clouded by either politics, political distortions, or idolatry. Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, sees how the symbolism behind the “build the wall” rhetoric goes deeper than just erecting a physical barrier. He made a moral statement highlighting the abandonment of social justice by many evangelical Christians.
Securing the overwhelmed southern border is a legitimate crisis, but the issue has been used to fuel and cover forms of ethnic hate and division against the “foreigner.” From the beginning of the 2016 Republican primary season, the “build the wall” rhetoric has solidified political support for Donald Trump. It continues to do so today.
Sound Christian doctrine has always placed a mandate on supporting social issues by requiring Bible-believing Christians to become the voice and advocate for the poor, foreigners, oppressed, and the fatherless. While the “Jesus saves” message is embraced, the “love thy neighbor” message is too often rejected in favor of right-wing political ideology. Pope Francis touched a nerve because it is rare to see a pontiff speak out in favor of social justice in America. So many religious leaders in our nation have fallen into idolatry over a man who is creating a political atmosphere that is becoming less inclusive of others.
Social justice has always been the fight to preserve human dignity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are critical outcomes of that fight. The Declaration of Independence is not necessarily seen as a social justice document, but that is what it has become. When Thomas Jefferson, as its primary author, inserted those five powerful words, “All men are created equal,” the meaning transformed this historic document from being a mere list of grievances and injustices to becoming a profound commitment to the fight to preserve human dignity.
The hypocrisy of Jefferson is widely known—oppressed by the British while being an oppressor himself of others as an enslaver. While Jefferson’s fight for human dignity was noble, it was also very selective. His fight did not produce any form of DEI. The battle was only for the benefit of white, wealthy males like himself. Therefore, DEI under Jefferson was delayed and nonexistent.
As we view Jefferson historically, we must separate the hypocrisy of the man from the legacy of “all men are created equal” through the Declaration of Independence. Despite the inconsistency, he gave future generations the ammunition and the blueprint for their separate fights for social justice, which eventually did include forms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Unfortunately, other legacies come into play. The legacy of pride, where one group feels superior to others, is at the forefront. Add to pride the legacies involving hate and division, passed down from generation to generation. Today, Americans are not responsible for the creation of systems of inequality, privilege, oppression, and marginalization. They are simply continuing the legacies of our nation’s past.
DEI initiatives in businesses, schools, and government agencies are intended to address inequities against marginalized groups. As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis bars state universities from funding these initiatives, similar efforts are underway in Texas. Now, Utah has an anti-DEI bill that is poised to become law. Thomas Jefferson’s example of hypocrisy still lives. Like Jefferson, today, many people want justice, freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for themselves while at the same time promoting injustice to others.
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.