Important disclosure: I’m a Roman Catholic and a registered Republican.
I’m a bit uncomfortable about the Pope Francis vs. Donald Trump exchange of apparent insults. It isn’t that I expect political and spiritual leaders to agree with each other about everything, but I do expect a certain level of basic respect. We have lost the ability to have a calm discussion about a serious subject.
This isn’t the first debate between a Catholic leader and a land developer. In one of my favorite movies, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Sr. Mary Benedict (played by Ingrid Bergman) heads a parish school beset by financial troubles. The school building suffers from a world-class case of deferred maintenance.
The solution to the school’s many challenges appears to be right next door: a beautiful new facility built by businessman Horace P. Bogardus (played by Henry Travers). Sister just needs to explain to Horace that it is God’s will for him to give her the building.
Some interesting discussion ensues, but none of it devolves to the level of the current debate. In fact, there is much demonstration of faith, love and charity. (If you want to know what happens, you gotta watch the movie.)
Of course, that was just a movie. And the spat between the Holy Father and The Donald is real (I think). The contentious concept is that Christians don’t build walls.
But this isn’t about a wall. And I believe if you locked Pope Francis and Donald Trump in a room for a couple hours they would emerge laughing, arm-in-arm. This debate, like so many today, is less about where we want to go than how we want to get there.
I’m willing to stipulate that both the Holy Father and Donald Trump want the world to be safe and prosperous. Everyone should have food, clean water, a decent place to live and the ability to practice their faith without being beheaded. It would be nice to have challenging, creative, rewarding work to do.
These two men might take a different path to get there, which offers nothing new in the arena of ideas. Free enterprise vs. socialism. Democracy vs. centralized planning. Individual vs. collective. Low taxes vs. high taxes. (Another disclaimer: I support the first of each of these pairs.)
We need a little clarification…
When Trump says he’ll build a wall, I think he is expressing his frustration that America’s borders are being overrun and we don’t know how to deal with the situation. Our system is broken and needs fixing. I don’t think he wants women and children starving in the shadow of a menacing wall.
When Pope Francis says it isn’t Christian to build a wall, I think he is expressing concern for the poor and the immigrants who need help. He wants the two countries on either side of the border to get together and act like Christian adults and fix this. I don’t think he wants to confiscate the private property of every working Mexican and American.
I had a boss years ago who took over our department. He had several people reporting to him and we direct reports didn’t always agree with one another. So early in the new guy’s tenure he told us something a bit startling: if two of you have a disagreement and come to me to decide who is right, I’ll assume you are both wrong.
Immigration has spawned a huge disagreement between Pope Francis and Donald Trump, between Mexico and the United States. We all have a common boss, God. And if we don’t find a way forward I fear he’ll assume we’ll all wrong.