(RNS) Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump convincingly won the Nevada caucuses but is still struggling in what might be called "the Pope Francis primary."
In a joint op-ed in the Wednesday (Feb. 24) edition of The Hill, the first Hispanic woman elected as a bishop of the United Methodist Church and a Catholic nun who is an outspoken Washington lobbyist for social-justice causes blast Trump for the views he expressed in his fight with the pontiff over what it means to be a Christian.
“Mr. Trump cannot defend that which he does not seem to understand,” Bishop Minerva Carcano of Los Angeles, an immigration reform advocate, and Sister Simone Campbell, leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, write of Trump’s pledge to be the “greatest representative of the Christians they’ve had in a long time.”
Trump’s rhetoric against immigrants and minority groups -- Mexicans and Muslims in particular -- has drawn sharp rebukes from many faith leaders even as his bluster seems to have buoyed him with GOP primary voters.
The New York businessman has also periodically rapped the pope for his comments and actions on behalf of the poor and marginalized, and he sharply criticized Francis earlier this month for the pope’s decision to celebrate Mass near the U.S.-Mexico border during a visit to Mexico -- a liturgy aimed at highlighting the plight of migrants.
Asked about Trump’s criticisms, Francis later said someone who espouses positions attributed to Trump “is not Christian,” a comment that further angered Trump, who called the pope's remarks “disgraceful.”
“What is disgraceful is Mr. Trump’s xenophobic zeal,” write Carcano and Campbell. “Stirring up fear of immigrants by calling them rapists and then offering a giant wall as a solution is anything but a solution.”
“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.”
The bishop and the nun conclude by widening their critique to include “holier-than-thou claims by presidential candidates wearing Christian costumes.”
“It will take more than holding up a false placard declaring that one understands what it is to be Christian,” they write.
(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS. He assisted Sister Simone Campbell in writing her 2014 memoir, “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community”)