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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