Op-Ed: Defining Disgraceful

By Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
February 24, 2016

Originally appeared in The Hill 

Donald Trump’s repeated promise on the campaign trail to defend Christianity if elected President has been of concern to us.  When he recently called Pope Francis’ critique of his immigration stance “disgraceful,” we hit our tipping point. Mr. Trump cannot defend that which he does not seem to understand.

Christian faith teaches love of neighbor and love of the stranger, not sentimental love but real life-giving love.  The Bible speaks of two types of love: phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms that appear at different points throughout Scripture but agape is the most powerful, noblest type of love: sacrificial love, an act of the will. Christians are to love one another with agape love as in Jesus’ parable where the Good Samaritan saw an injured man and helped him without regard to race or religion; he just saw a person in dire need. Christianity is not the only faith that speaks of willful love. Every world religion has at its core a commitment to caring for humanity: the orphan, the widow and the stranger.

It’s clear what’s going on. Mr. Trump is executing a political strategy that has been around for millennia: channeling anger born of fear. He is not the only candidate to do so, but his microphone seems to be the loudest and the angriest. We understand that much of this fear is coming from those who see their majority status – white and Christian and male – changing. They have not felt that they have someone standing alongside them. But Mr. Trump’s promise to defend their Christianity is merely a political ploy to grab their votes. It’s not just manipulative and cynical, it diminishes the deep wisdom of our Christian faith, and that is offensive to us.

Millions of Americans, including those whose fear Mr. Trump is channeling, have dedicated their lives to doing the good works of their faiths. His fear mongering is personally insulting and publicly dangerous. It is building a wall between American citizens — of all faiths, colors and cultures.  Our faiths deserve far more respect than has been shown thus far.

Mr. Trump says the Pope’s suggestion that his immigration policies are not Christian is “disgraceful.” What is disgraceful is Mr. Trump’s xenophobic zeal. Stirring up fear of immigrants by calling them rapists and then offering a giant wall as a solution is anything but a solution. Nor are the current administration’s actions that detain immigrants in for-profit detention centers; or deport parents, leaving their children behind to fend for themselves. I know. As a Methodist Bishop, I held a little boy from Honduras at an immigrant center in South Texas as he showed me pictures he had drawn and he described the perilous journey he had just taken as an unaccompanied immigrant child. I knew then, as I know now, that the solutions offered by Mr. Trump or the administration are not the answers and certainly not expressions of Christian faith.

Walls separate us from the possibility of exercising life-giving love; bridges offer us the possibility and Christians are to be counted among America’s bridge builders. We stand with the New Sanctuary churches and synagogues that provide safe haven to families threatened with being ripped apart – parents from children, wives from husbands — neighbors from our communities. I know. During our “Nuns on the Bus” campaign to honor the Pope’s U.S. visit and message of economic inclusion, I met 16-year-old Kathryn who was caring for her five siblings after her hard-working parents were deported. Her 11-year-old sister, Stephanie, in her anguish, attempted suicide, believing that it would be better for her family that she not be alive. Luckily these children were wrapped round with their neighbors’ care and the love of their parish community that continues to support them.

That is agape love. Powerful, willful, Christian love.

The holier-than-thou claims by presidential candidates wearing Christian costumes will not effectively address immigration reform or the problems of U.S. poverty and economic inequality, institutional racism, educational inequity, and still having too many people in this country living without health insurance. It will take more than holding up a false placard declaring that one understands what it is to be Christian.

All presidential candidates are invited to join the courageous witness of persons of faith and love – the bridge builders. But they cannot do so through shallow words. Being a leader requires taking on the tough, real-life issues that our nation faces with integrity. Even if we disagree on policies, we cannot disagree on the need for integrity.

About the Authors:

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño is Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop of The United Methodist Church, the first Hispanic woman to be elected to this episcopacy; and a leading advocate for U.S. immigration reform. www.calpacumc.org/bishop

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, is executive director of NETWORK and leader of NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus”, Washington, DC. She is author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community. www.NETWORKLobby.org and @Sr_Simone