The following appeared today on my Facebook page: “The Pope has suggested that Donald J. Trump is not Christian because he wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He said, “A person who thinks only about building walls wherever they may be and not building bridges is not Christian.” I agree that as Christians we should try to build bridges with everyone that we possibly can, but that doesn’t mean that we should compromise our national security. Donald Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a wall—other Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, and John Kasich as well as millions of Americans, also want to build a wall—in order to protect America from enemies who want to use the U.S./Mexican border as a way to enter our country and do us harm. Are they not Christian either? My advice to the Pontiff—reach out and build a bridge to Donald Trump. Who knows where he may be this time next year! – Franklin Graham
It wasn’t my intention to start my latest blog post by referring to the present Pope’s suggestion that given Donald Trump’s fixation on building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, rather than building bridges to address some of the underlying issues that give rise to such sentiments, makes him out to be not a Christian. While many will welcome the Pope’s comments, given some of what Trump has said in recent days they see as being inconsistent with the Christian message, there are many Christians, especially from Conservative Evangelical quarters, who consider that much of what Trump has gone on record as saying is entirely consistent with the Christian message and would agree with what Graham has written. While I could well elaborate on my less than favourable views on the rights and wrongs of what Trump has said and whether or not he has acted in a “Christian” manner, I am not qualified to declare one way or another whether he is a Christian or not, which is the prerogative of God alone when all will be revealed on the Day of Judgment.
Rather my intention is to talk about the subject of unity and the two issues that closely relate: love and truth. The fact that the Pope and Franklin Graham are not united on the matter is merely the tip of the iceberg concerning the history of the Christian church, which is full of examples of disunity, evidenced these days by the large number of denominations, many of which have little to do with each other. My own journey on the road to unity has been a long and torturous one. As a recently converted teenager I was told a story by one of my Plymouth Brethren elders. He recounted how someone was being given a guided tour of heaven. St. Peter pointed out different groups who were doing things associated with their particular denomination. When finally they came across a group from the Brethren huddled behind a wall, St. Peter entreated them to be silent because these believed they were the only group there.
While the “funny story” may be deemed by some to be in poor taste, it did illustrate an aspect of my upbringing that I have fought long and hard to distance myself from – “unless you go along with what we believe we won’t have anything to do with you and we doubt whether you really are Christian”. These days, if given a choice between Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical, I will always go for Evangelical, yet often I sense unity with those from other camps. Moreover, given the sanctimonious bigotry and not getting the need for social justice I sense among many Evangelicals, I sometimes feel I have more in common with some non-Evangelicals, even when on many truths I care deeply about we may differ.
One of the major influences on me in my student days was the Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer. He understood more than any the culture wars that had been unraveling from Enlightenment days up to now and was an effective apologist of the Christian faith. He also believed in the importance of unity, not so much between institutions aka Ecumenical movement but hearts and minds of Christians from every background. It was he that got me thinking of the significance of Jesus words that the world will know we are his disciples by the love we have for one another and in his great high priestly prayer when he prayed that we (his followers) be one (as was he and his Father) that the world might know the truth. My grave concern is we are still a long way from seeing such a unity.
A couple of days back, a Facebook friend posted a link to an article titled: “No unity at the expense of truth’: a response to Justin Welby’s Presidential Address” which I read along with the Archbishops address. This is in the light of the recent Primates conference when an uneasy accord was struck regarding the “gay” issue. This was clearly something the archbishop wanted to encourage in the Anglican communion, recognising differences yet doing so in love and on the basis of trust. The crux of the argument by Welby’s critic was that in trying to bring together a fractured church on the basis of love he was down playing the importance of truth, without which unity is impossible. The arguments from both the “truth” and “love” emphasising camps were well made yet not compatible. Given my Brethren roots, I might be expected to side with the former and on balance I do. Yet I also want to reach out to those who see things differently bearing in mind Jesus’ words.Before I do move on, I should say that the Archbishops speech was delivered at an Anglican Synod which allowed gay affirming stalls to display but not Christian Concern – hardly a good advert for unity!
When I posted the “no unity” link on my Facebook page, one friend commented: “Who’s truth, all cherry pick the Bible?” My response was “the only truth that matters is the Truth and as for cherry picking I grant that we all have that tendency – some more than others. However, we have no mandate to call God a liar! “ It seems to me that unity is still one of, if not the greatest need for the Church today. As for truth and love we all need an abundance of both, and here I have to leave it, even if the matter is not fully resolved.