Donald J. Trump has a message for Pope Francis ahead of the pope's trip to pray with migrants along the Mexican border: You don't get it. The pope is planning to go to the Rio Grande next week while on a visit to Mexico. He plans to offer prayer and show solidarity with suffering refugees. Mr. Trump does not approve. In an interview with the Fox Business Network on Thursday, the Republican presidential candidate, who has proposed building a wall along the United States's southern border, suggested that Francis was serving as a pawn of the Mexican government.
First up from the God Machine this week is a leading Republican presidential hopeful picking an unexpected fight with one of the world's most prominent religious leaders.
Over the course of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump has feuded with a surprising number of people, countries, groups, states, news outlets, and minority groups. But as the New York Times reported, the GOP frontrunner this week directed at least some of his ire at Pope Francis.
Echoing a complaint Trump first made several months ago, the Republican candidate complained that the pope "is a very political person." Trump added, "I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is. They're making a fortune, and we're losing."
For the record, there is no "open border," illegal border crossings have declined, and border security has reached an all-time high in the Obama era.
I spoke yesterday with John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington, who said, "If Trump wants to persuade Christian voters, he shouldn't pick a fight with the most popular religious leader on the global stage. Pope Francis knows that defending the dignity of immigrants isn't about playing politics. It's a Christian imperative. Trump likes to show off his family Bible, but he missed a central lesson about welcoming the stranger and protecting the refugee."
It's true that in the larger electoral context, Trump is making a concerted effort to appeal to Christian voters, and his criticism of Pope Francis probably won't help. Then again, in upcoming primary states like South Carolina, the vast majority of Republican primary voters are Evangelical Protestants, not Catholics, so perhaps Trump is willing to take the chance.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Speaking of the pope, this meeting represented quite a breakthrough: "Pope Francis met Friday with Patriarch Kirill in the first-ever papal meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, an historic development in the 1,000-year schism that divided Christianity that may, however, be more about Russia asserting itself than any new ecumenical progress."
* Even for the senator, this was weird: "On Saturday, at the latest GOP debate, ABC moderator Martha Raddatz asked [Marco Rubio] why he had a problem with Obama's mosque visit. Rubio responded, 'My problem with what he did is, he continues to put out this fiction that there's widespread discrimination against Muslim Americans.'" It's fiction?
* Also at the intersection of campaign politics and religion: "Two men with mirrors and a wooden cross interrupted a campaign event in Raymond, New Hampshire to perform an exorcism on Ted Cruz on Monday, saying that the Republican presidential candidate was 'possessed by a demon.'"
* And finally, Bernie Sanders this week became the first Jewish candidate to ever win a U.S. presidential primary. It may seem like a relatively minor breakthrough, but it is a historic development nevertheless.