What kind of fool is Trump? (COMMENTARY)

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(Left) U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on December 19, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Scott Morgan
(Right) Pope Francis addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Segar

(Left) U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on December 19, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Scott Morgan (Right) Pope Francis addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Segar

(Left) U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to voters at a rally at the Turtle Point Golf Club in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, on February 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Randall Hill (Right) Pope Francis talks to the faithful inside the Cathedral in Morelia, Mexico, on February 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/Pool

Left, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to voters at a rally at the Turtle Point Golf Club in Kiawah Island, S.C., on Feb. 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Randall Hill
Right, Pope Francis talks to the faithful inside the Cathedral in Morelia, Mexico, on Feb. 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gregorio Borgia/Pool

“I have been a fool.” (2 Corinthians 12:11)

(RNS) Donald Trump’s decision to confront Pope Francis for raising questions about his Christian identity and virtue provides a moment of fascinating speculation and religious wonder.

Observe the billionaire spar with a holy man who washes the feet of lepers, visits prisoners, eats with the homeless and speaks courageous truths to political elites and consider the juxtaposition of leadership styles.

I suddenly realized that Trump is no mere politician seeking the highest office in the land. He is a charismatic preacher who promises military might, prosperity and peace. He is a rich man with many houses and barns filled with plenty who does not suffer the rebuke of a simple saint gladly. Machiavelli and Jesus finally meet. Hmmm.


RELATED STORY: Pope Francis calls Trump ‘not Christian’


Trump has found himself in an adversarial posture with the Holy, and may now be eligible for the kind of breakthrough mission in the kingdom of God that can be found in the Bible.

Jonah received his call from God but immediately fled in the opposite direction.

Moses received a call that interrupted his management of financial and often unwieldy assets. Moses then argued with God, reminding him that there were others far better qualified to face the most powerful leader in Egypt.

The zealot Paul was found to be in an adversarial position with the church. His encounter with God changed his identity and mission. We now recognize and many Christians revere the Apostle Paul. But, he started from a position that would have made him an unlikely global missionary for Jesus.


RELATED STORY: Trump calls Pope Francis ‘disgraceful’ for questioning his faith


Which brings us back to Trump in his current “pre-evangelist” state who, by the way, has demonstrated an affection for the writings of Paul, at least of “Two Corinthians” (as Trump recently termed Second Corinthians in an appearance at Liberty University).

He has now instructed the pope to steer clear of monitoring anyone’s Christian purity. He has expressed disdain for pastoral accountability for his own soul. And, he declared that if Vatican City were to be attacked, the Holy See might praise God for the unbridled response of a President Trump.


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I must suppress my own skepticism about this scenario, but the handwriting is on the wall, or in 2 Corinthians, where declaring oneself a fool is a virtue. This man seems headed for a spectacular confrontation with God, and he will surely walk away as a much-transformed creature, perhaps even a stellar servant of God.

Robert M. Franklin is the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Photo courtesy of Emory University.

Robert M. Franklin is the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Photo courtesy of Emory University

Trump has expressed disdain for immigrants whom God loves. He has expressed hostility and mistrust towards religious minorities (Muslims) whom the Bible requires Jews and Christians to protect. He has defended his proposal to build more walls, without any bridges. Could a match between Trump and God be far away?

Who knows? He may or may not become president, but one thing is certain; he is now in a perfect position to experience a spectacular “I-Thou” encounter. And, if he were to follow the path of the Apostle Paul, he could lead many people who harbor hostility toward strangers, hoard material prosperity and exhibit excessive pride to embrace a life of authentic faith, humility and moral goodness.

(Robert M. Franklin is the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology)

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  • Jack

    From your mouth to God’s ears, Prof. Franklin.

    Good article — thanks for sharing your good thoughts.

  • yoh

    One has to bear in mind, even among Catholic supporters of Trump, there is little regard for the Pope’s ideas about the poor and downtrodden. Attacking the Pope certainly helps Trump among his Protestant supporters who view the Pope as the Antichrist.

    Although I am no supporter of Trump by any means, I still find it bit silly to take the words of an absolute monarch seriously when criticizing someone running for elected office.

  • What kind of fool–a wise fool? The type of fool who adheres to
    Matthew 10:16 – Persecution Will Come – “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What better publicity than to tangle with God himself or his earthly representative (the Pope)? If Trump wants to get evangelical christianity moving over to him (and others along the way), taking on the Pope is one method. The Pope’s teachings are not necessarily the first priority of the evangelical christian, and there was a time that the evangelicals considered the Pope as the anti-Christ. Then there are those who only look at photos and don’t read articles and see the Pope pictured next to Donald Trump. The publicity doesn’t get much better than that!

  • Good article! I like the “Machiavelli and Jesus finally meet.” I will be glad to be proven wrong, but I don’t see the Donald as taking the Apostle Paul route. I see him more in Jesus’ parable of the rich man building a bigger barn to keep all of his store, “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12: 16-21

  • Kimberley

    It doesn’t matter what faith you follow, NOBODY insults a true religious leader! Especially the Pope!

  • Owen Roberts

    It is fine to insult religious leaders, especially a pope so happy to judge others. A religious leader who expects special treatment is guilty of pride. A person who thinks religious leaders should be treated as being above the rest of us is bordering on idolatry. The Pope is just a man, not a saint, just like Trump. We are in no position to judge either of them, that is for a higher power who knows what is truly in their hearts.