“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.
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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.
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.
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.
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)