Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
A few years ago I was a first-time guest on a news radio show on Detroit’s National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate. Following the show, the host asked me if I’d like to be invited back for other topics that might concern me. I told him I enjoyed the discussion and would be interested. Not long after that, I received a call to return as a guest. When I asked what the program would be about, I was surprised that I had been invited. The topic for the full hour of the radio broadcast would be a review of the year in religion, but the focus would be on the new pope. Uh oh, I thought to myself, I better go read up on Catholicism in general and Pope Francis in particular.
It turned out that the host of the NPR show, Craig Fahle, was intrigued by the wide praise the new pope was getting from all faith traditions and wanted to hear from various local religious leaders what we thought of Pope Francis during his first year. Like the other faith leaders sitting to either side of me, I explained how Pope Francis seemed wonderful and charismatic. I talked about refreshing it was to see a pope break from tradition and put human rights ahead of doctrine. We discussed the pope’s views on homosexuality and abortion, in addition to his close relationship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka and his embrace of interfaith relations. When the discussion turned to the question of Papal Infallibility, a dogma of the Catholic Church, I explained that as a Jew I cannot say that any human being is free from error. No one is infallible because we all make mistakes.
That point was made last week when Pope Francis misspoke about Donald Trump’s faith. While in Mexico, the pope was asked his views on presidential candidate Donald Trump. He said, “A person, who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” My ears perked up when I heard the pope saying this on television. It didn’t sound much different than ultra-Orthodox rabbis saying that liberal Jews aren’t really Jewish.
I don’t have a problem with Pope Francis making political statements, although he claimed his comments weren’t intended to give any indication of how he thought American Catholics should vote in the upcoming election. My issue was that a religious leader saying that a man’s views nullify him from considering himself part of a faith tradition are problematic. The pope can say he disagrees with Trump’s stated immigration policies, but to say he’s not Christian is a slippery slope. I remain impressed by Pope Francis and applaud his efforts in the realm of human rights and interfaith relations, but saying Donald Trump is not Christian warrants a papal apology.