Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Monday, September 26, 2016

Jesus is a Loser: The Gospel Truth About Trump and the Catholic Vote

I was wearing my "Gore for President" button the year I began to attend Roman Catholic mass regularly in 2000. One morning that fall I was accosted by a weekday morning regular. He was friendly about it, but wanted to know how I could be on the Communion line every morning while planning to vote a "pro abortion" (his words, not mine) ticket. No one at church has questioned me thus, since that day, but during every presidential election since, the United States Bishops have aimed to influence how Catholics vote by means of carefully worded public statements. That came to a halt with the Trump candidacy. So why aren't the U.S. Bishops urging Catholics to vote for the "pro-life" candidate? 
I recently asked a few priests whether there has been any pressure from the top to endorse the GOP candidate. One reported a little boostering in local races, but otherwise, it would seem that the United States Bishops are not interested in seeing their flock elect Trump. There are a few reasons for this. Pope Francis condemned the plan to "build a wall" in February 2016 and Trump called the pontiff "disgraceful." Not a smart move on Trump's part, perhaps. On the other hand many conservative Catholics don't like Francis I and have been calling the pontiff names on blogs since the day he was elevated. Trump's quarrel with the pope is probably just part of the explanation. 
Although the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is (in my opinion) institutionally sexist and misogynistic, the church as a whole is not. Catholicism is an Abrahamic faith that has, since its start, recognized he intellectual and theological contributions of women. While it is true that the Vatican continues to strain to preserve an all-male priesthood, Roman Catholics of most stripes have been comfortable with many dramatic, post Vatican II changes which endow women religious, catechists, scholars, theologians and ministers with increased political and pastoral power within the church. In our theology we have, in a sense, enshrined motherhood. Five of our church doctors are women. Even in conservative parishes today, one sees women doing everything but celebrating mass. 
Despite our many differences, we Roman Catholics tend, on the whole, to harbor a high regard for the strength of women, the intellectual competence of women, and the spiritual gifts of women. Our understanding of the passion of Jesus requires that we notice that women remained at the foot of the cross when the apostles ran away in fear. A woman greeted the risen Christ. Mary, we are taught, is the lone human being to be born without sin. Catholics many be divided on abortion, artificial contraception, economics, gender and sexual identity issues, and ordination of women, but there's a pocket of reverence for what Rev. Daniel Berrigan called the "feminine face of God" which most Roman Catholics embrace at least somewhat in some form. It's not enlightened feminism, and it's hard to characterize. Perhaps it's where the code of chivalry got its start. Whatever that pocket of reverence is, it is sufficiently compelling and even loving to render a man who calls women "pigs" and "cows" looking too indecent to occupy the Oval Office. 
Why aren't the bishops subtly urging Roman Catholics to get out and vote for the man who disavows Roe v. Wade? Because the bishops know Trump doesn't care about Roe v. Wade. They know he's posturing. Trump has changed his position once, and will change it back if elected. He's not pro-life; he's pro-Trump.
Trump's disgust for women appears to encompass a deep distaste for motherhood itself, and that pertains. A candidate who appears to view maternity itself as disgusting and wives disposable can hardly be trusted to bear the "pro-life" banner. Even conservative, sexist Roman Catholics who care little for the achievements of women in general tend to hold the work of mothers in high regard. It's built into our formation. Trump has bragged about not changing diapers. He has allowed his children to grow up with a total of three mothers. One of his children barely knows him. It appears that his children have had to win his approval by excelling at the usury and avarice in which Trump excels. For Trump, a mother is a 'bleeding from her wherever' means to an end, a vessel through which heirs come, a necessary evil. 
I happen to be a believer who would welcome more separation between church and state. I liked Bernie Sanders' religious views best. I would be happy to have an atheist president. But many of my fellow Roman Catholics would not. That Trump has no religion is a problem for some. More disturbing to many religious folk however, than the eschewing of practice and faith, is the "bad faith" appropriation of religion.
Trump's favorite books are The Holy Bible, which he appears not to have read; and the Art of the Deal, an autobiography he appears not to have written. He does not read for pleasure. He is no seeker. He seizes the fact of his daughter's conversion to Judaism as an outward sign that he is not anti-Semitic. (I believe he is anti-Semitic.) He has darkened the door of black churches in an attempt to get black people to vote for him. He pretends to have some kind of shifting Protestant affiliation himself. People of most faiths tend to agree that God is for everyone, but most agree that using God for self-aggrandizement is disrespectful. 
The 1965 papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) exhorted Catholics to seek and recognize the light of divinity in other faiths. (Nostra Aetate imperfect document that required and has benefitted from tweaking since the time of its publication.) Nostra Aetate makes especially clear the obligation of Catholics to recognize the divine spark in Islam. While I certainly see too many Roman Catholics jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon, I continue to believe that most Roman Catholics believe that prejudice is sinful and that derision of the Muslim faith goes against God. Educated Catholics who embrace the essence of Nostra Aetate have little choice but to regard the Islamic faith with respect. I believe most Roman Catholics view the kind of blanket derision of Islam Trump promulgates as a sin. 
And there is Trump's view of immigrants and the poor. Notwithstanding the Roman Catholic hierarchy's failure to teach this by example, Catholics in the pews tend to agree that respecting the poor is at the heart Roman Catholic tradition. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was at various points, poor, homeless, a refugee, a prisoner, a torture victim and ultimately a victim of capital punishment. The only time we see Jesus throw a Trump-esque tantrum, it is in response to the kind of cheating, vulgarity and profaning of the temple Donald Trump most favors.
The bishops and progressive Roman Catholics have long agreed on the importance of welcoming immigrants into our nation. Welcoming immigrants is a bit of a theological no-brainer for any Catholic guided by the Gospels. I believe that it may be his contempt for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, that will cost Trump the Roman Catholic vote. According to Roman Catholic teaching, the poor are beloved by God. According to Trump, the poor are "losers." Were Trump to be fully candid about his religious feelings, he might characterize Jesus himself, the Jesus of the Beatitudes, as a "loser." 
That Catholics in the pews are not being urged to vote for the (so-called) "pro-life," Republican candidate means something. It's a blaring reticence. I hope every Roman Catholic is listening. To the gospel truth about Trump.
The Gospel reading for September 11th of this year concerned lost sheep, a lost son, lost coins, and the problem of breaking bread with tax collectors. On September 11th, every Catholic in the nation who made it to mass that day heard the same reading about the woman who searches everywhere in her home for one lost coin, the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in his care to search for the lost one, the lousy son who had abandoned his father but later returned to feast at the head of the family's table. We heard Jesus explain his willingness to dine with a tax collector. The priest celebrating the mass I attended on September 11th brought his homily to a close with these words: "Everyone is welcome at God's table. We build a bridge to that table not a wall. A bridge, not a wall."

9/26/16

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24 comments:

  1. Michele, I am a devout Catholic, and from time to time, I hear comments from other parishioners like those you heard about Al Gore. I also hear them from those who aren't Catholic who claim to know what the church teaches because they heard or read a news report. A recent email from a Deacon in our church prompted me to look at the teaching of the church regarding voting, and I found that generally, that isn't true. In the document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the US Council of Catholic Bishops tell us, "21. Aided by the virtue of prudence in the exercise of well-formed consciences, Catholics are called to make practical judgments regarding good and evil choices in the political arena." They go on to say that acts such as abortion and euthanasia are "intrinsically evil" and should always be opposed, and that they are "...preeminent threats to human dignity." However, they go on to name other acts as intrinsically evil. They include genocide, torture, racism, and treating workers as mere means to an end among others. Although the document makes it clear that, "The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed" it goes on to say in paragraph 29 that the issues mentioned earlier such as racism, torture, and others "...are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues." The document then tells us that as Catholics, when faced with a dilemma where all candidates support an "intrinsically evil" act or law, we should use our "well-formed conscience" to vote for the candidate that takes into account, "a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue." So it is teaching us to use a "well-formed" conscience to make decisions about candidates based on their positions on a variety of issues, not just on abortion or same-sex marriage. This document has been available since 2007 and has been edited every 4 years. As with all teachings of the Catholic Church, it is based on Holy Scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium, so the content isn't new. I thought is was actually an interesting read.

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  2. An excellent point and so well said! Thank you, Ms. Somerville.

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  3. Excellent article. I am a 30-something faithful Catholic woman that votes Democrat and believes that Jesus would not support Republican ideologies, with the exception of being pro-life. The pro-life stance is really the only thing Republicans have to stand on when it comes to courting Catholics, however it seems to somehow "trump" all other issues. I wonder why then, during the Bush years when there was a Republican president and congress, that Roe v. Wade was not simply overturned. It makes me think that abortion is truly a bogus issue to the Republican party. And while I do personally belief that abortion is egregious, how can there be a hierarchy of sins, where it outweighs making unjust war, creating policies that overwhelmingly make the rich richer and the poor poorer, practicing capital punishment, etc.? And especially now that the Republican Party has thrown its support behind a man that is so openly insulting, self-obsessed and who considers wealth to be the only sign of a person's worth.
    You are 100% correct in saying that Trump is the embodiment of so many values that Jesus warns his followers against in the Gospels. I have often wondered how that Catholic=Republican mentality could reconcile itself during this campaign season. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue that has been foremost on my mind lately!

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  4. As a Catholic convert from fundamentalism, mom and grandmother, I am troubled at how many conservative Christians are supporting him. He famously cheated on his wife Ivana saying he 'could not be attracted to a woman who had given birth to children.' There's lots of quotes out there by him over the past few decades that people need to pay attention to. A leopard does not change its spots. Something about him feels dangerous to me. Whatever best serves himself is his first priority. He doesn't have character to be leader of a nation. I might not vote at all this time around. I cannot in good conscience vote for Trump and I would never vote for Clinton. This is what our society has come to....two candidates neither of which has the character to be president. Yikes. :( Want to ask, why was the title for this article a negative about Jesus? :(

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  5. As a Catholic convert from fundamentalism, mom and grandmother, I am troubled at how many conservative Christians are supporting him. He famously cheated on his wife Ivana saying he 'could not be attracted to a woman who had given birth to children.' There's lots of quotes out there by him over the past few decades that people need to pay attention to. A leopard does not change its spots. Something about him feels dangerous to me. Whatever best serves himself is his first priority. He doesn't have character to be leader of a nation. I might not vote at all this time around. I cannot in good conscience vote for Trump and I would never vote for Clinton. This is what our society has come to....two candidates neither of which has the character to be president. Yikes. :(

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  6. Wow, I believe that you are not investigating Trump, only following the progressive narrative. Jesus would not approve of abortion. Remember He warned not to hurt one of His little ones, it would be better to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the deepest sea, that to stand before God on the judgement day. You can posture the Gospels to suit your agenda, but remember, God doesn't change. His Word is eternal. Killing is a sin. Babies that are killed in the womb are God's children. You did not give them life; God did. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. He doesn't give men the right to decide His Truth. His Truth is Life.

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  7. Trump is anti women and actually anti-American if you're truly historical. nice blog. I agree with you absolutely. build bridges, not walls. It's the difference between Jesus and the opposition. This is the most un-American son-of-a-gun since the slaughter of the native Americans.... racism sucks and Pence is shallow and see through... Racism isn't institutional? Even republicans make that argument against Clinton... christ. let's say there is no christ... in which case I sure as hell don't want Trump. something about religious freedom and what Bush said about Muslims. Google what W. said about muslims and let this idiot case fucking lose....

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  8. Well, I can certainly understand why this author dislikes Mr. Trump. It sounds like he has gotten all of his information from mainstream, liberal-leaning media, and he dismisses any positive information about Mr. Trump as false. He brought up the woman issue, so how about checking some facts? Apparently Mr. Trump employs lots of women in his various organizations; many have come forward publicly to support his candidacy; the undisputed reports are that he pays his female employees well, not "less than a man". There was an article written I think by the NYT a while back trying to say that the women he dated felt mistreated. At least some of those women interviewed said the article was incorrect. They loved "The Donald". He has been married 3 times, but he seems to be on good terms with his exes. You seem to think Mr. Trump hates women because he has called them some names, or talked about their weight. I am the daughter of a doctor whom has always been concerned about his own weight and everyone else's. He let everyone know they were getting fat. He knew that people are judged on their appearance and their weight. I expect that Mr. Trump may be cut from similar cloth. I am not offended by this. The author states that he has called some women names. I have certainly used colorful language and animal descriptions to describe some girls/women as well as boys/men, (including Rosie O'Donnell). So what? So let's talk briefly about Hillary Clinton. Yes, her husband has had affairs, but so has she- reportedly she pursues lesbian relationships. She is a serial liar, thief, and has endangered the security of the United States. She is totally corrupt, and people think she is what they want in the Oval Office? The author says Trump never changed a diaper. Is this important? I think it was Dick Morris who came out and said that Chelsea Clinton was raised by the nanny and Bill because Hillary wanted little to do with her. The author also brings up Trump's immigration policy as evidence that he looks down on the poor and immigrants. I disagree. However, there is not enough time to refute this article point by point. If anyone is really interested, they will have to get better information about Mr. Trump, listen CAREFULLY to his speeches in full, and listen to conservative commentators because the liberal commentators are demonizing Trump and covering for Hillary at every turn.

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  9. hmmm, our bishop sent out a mass video calling us to "vote our conscience" as per the usual election year Catholic Call.... but my conscience is saying Hell No Trump. Sorry, UltraConserts. :( ill take my chances at the pearly gate on this election.

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  10. Probably the priest celebrating the mass was latino and he felt entitled to alter the Gospel's message. There is no bridge nor wall to the table. The bridge or the wall is in our hearts! This is like saying only the legal immigrants can come to the table. There is no such a thing. Besides, we are invited to the God's table in our own communities, we don't have to cross borders to dine with God, there is a church everywhere. So you got it wrong, misleading your readers. On purpose, of course.

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  11. Michele, what a well-written essay! I agree that most Catholics find Mr. Trump an unacceptable choice for President. The problem - one of many - is that Ms. Clinton is also unacceptable. As a strong pro-life and pro-religious freedom citizen, I understand why some Catholics, though they dislike Trump, believe they have to vote for him because of these two issues - especially up-coming choices for the Supreme Court. Another point: I try to avoid using the terms 'progressive', 'conservative', and 'liberal' when referring to Church teachings because they are really political terms. Since the Church is not a democracy (a political institution) it's realm is spiritual. Feminism is a cultural issue. Regarding women priests: from a practical point of view, I don't know how that could be handled unless they lived in apartments. I agree that Donald Trump is not really committed to life issues - nor does he even understand what they encompass. On Charlie Rose's show, Maureen Dowd, who has known Trump for decades said that Trump will do what Trump pleases once elected. That's another reason that I cannot vote for him. ***Michele, I really appreciate your comments that support the view of Catholics as being thoughtful, intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate. We are usually blasted and accused of holding all kinds of hateful, stupid, and ignorant beliefs, as though our religion encourages such views. My love for Jesus through my Catholic Faith is at the center of my life. The Church has brought so much beauty to our world through music, art, literature, and architecture. The first hospitals were established by the Church. The first hospices for AIDS victims were also set up by the Church (Mother Teresa's work). **** So, this time I will write in a vote, even though I know it seems pointless. I simply cannot refrain from voting. Again, Michele, thanks so much for your article, especially the scriptural verses supporting your beliefs. I am glad that you are Catholic. God bless you. (Therese M)

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  12. Jesus is not a loser. On the contrary. he is the winner--no matter who wins the election in November.

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  13. Beautifully written and supported with such profound insights. Allow me to add that in Abraham's tent,all are welcome - even the sick and the dying. Keep on writing and may the Spirit of the Living God continue to keep your heart aflame and give warmth to others.

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  14. The Pope has raised the issue about the absence of Jesus in the rythm of the Catholic Church. Much of its members faith is filled with the icon, weekly mass attendance and other routines. He believes that this is missing the essence of Christianity...good works. Without that, the faith is dead as the letter of James would highlight. In such an environment the priests and parishoners would be fertile ground for the influences of a swine herder such as Trump.

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  15. Anyone who entitles an article using the word "loser" is a loser himself. Shame on you for your blasphemy.

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  16. We all KNOW who the real loser is!

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  17. what an eloquent piece of journalism....bravo.

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  18. you have hit the nail on the head regarding trump

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  19. As a voter since the Kennedy years, I have always had difficulty on who to vote for. Many times it would come down to the best of the two evils. This time it seams to be the most difficult. Both Trump and Clinton leave a very bad taste. I fear the worst for our nation if ether one wins. So what do I have left ? As a Catholic and Deacon when things look the worst, I remember that I have a Father in Heaven that, tho many people in our time do not seek His help, He is always their attentive to the situation. In His plan of Divine Providence, He use's all situations, positive or negative to for fill his will for our best interest. So no matter whom we decide to vote for. What ever the good or bad that come's from it. Pray to our Heavenly Father "THY WILL BE DONE". Always seek God's Mercy, and may He have Mercy on this Nation.

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  20. First, some disclaimers: This is not an endorsement of Mr. Trump, nor is it an attempt to explain, amplify, or apologize for any of his positions, although I might venture to address some criticism to some of the observations made about him, to the extent of, "He didn't say that." Any candidate deserves to be criticized for what he or she actually said or did, not what we think he said or did, or were told, possibly incorrectly, what was said or done. Also, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and so I will not attempt to speak to their doctrinal positions.

    Okay. With that out of the way, I had no intention of leaving a comment until I read the following:
    "The Gospels tell us that Jesus was at various points, poor, homeless, a refugee, a prisoner, a torture victim and ultimately a victim of capital punishment. The only time we see Jesus throw a Trump-esque tantrum, it is in response to the kind of cheating, vulgarity and profaning of the temple Donald Trump most favors."

    Was our Lord Jesus Christ poor? Yes; but His was a voluntary poverty. It is a distinction which is not immediately obvious from the statement being made frequently in various memes appearing on the internet. Certainly, He knew what it meant to be poor, and He instructed us to care for the poor, although I seriously doubt that He intended that the primary mechanism for doing so be by way of confiscatory taxation and subsequent distribution by the state.

    Was our Lord Jesus Christ homeless? Yes; but, as with His poverty, His was a voluntary homelessness. He said of Himself, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matt. 8:20) Yet St. John Chrysostom instructs us that this statement of our Lord was not spoken as a complaint, or as a boast, but, taken in context, was uttered to call into question the motive of a would-be disciple who had promised to follow Him.

    Was our Lord Jesus Christ a refugee? Only if you consider what is usually referenced as, "The Flight into Egypt," when St. Joseph the Betrothed is instructed by an angel to take the newborn Child and His mother to Egypt to keep them safe from the attempts of Herod the Great to put Him to death. He was not a refugee in the sense that word has today: of someone fleeing from war or persecution; for when Herod was dead, the angel came to St. Joseph and told him it was safe to bring the Child and His mother back home.

    Yes, our Lord was arrested, which made Him a prisoner; and, while held as a prisoner, He was beaten and mocked, which could be described as being tortured; and He was ultimately put to death: but, unlike the teaching pervasive in the western Church, He was *not* a victim. He willingly endured the shame, the suffering, and death for our sake; and to attempt to categorize Him as a political prisoner risks trivializing His Passion and death for our own purposes. We should be very, very careful before we make such a connection; and it is my considered opinion that we would be better off, as Christians, to avoid doing so. The same holds true for calling our Lord's righteous anger at the money-changers in the Temple a "Trump-esque" tantrum, or to accuse Mr. Trump of profaning the Temple. You may not like the way Mr. Trump does business, but you cannot honestly say that he is doing business in the Temple of the Lord, can you?

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  21. A final thought: There is a difference between calling for a moratorium on the admission of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and being prejudiced against Muslims. Those who wish to castigate Mr. Trump for his position on Muslim immigrants should first familiarize themselves with what he has said (a moratorium is different than an outright ban); and should also familiarize themselves with what other presidents have done in times of uncertainty to protect the citizens of the United States against potential terrorists. His action, if he is elected, would not be the first since the end of the Second World War. This is not an anti-immigration policy; it is fulfilling the oath of office which every federal official (except the President, whose oath is slightly different) swears upon taking office:
    "An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath (5 U.S. Code § 3331): “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” This section does not affect other oaths required by law." What does the U.S. Constitution say in its preamble that is applicable here?
    "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

    It's not anti-immigrant; it's to provide for the common defense of the nation.

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  22. So - what magic switch was flipped to protect Mary from "original sin"?

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  23. So - what magic switch was flipped to protect Mary from "original sin"?

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