Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters
In an increasingly divided world, Pope Francis offers a surprising voice of moral reason— especially on the death penalty, world refugee crises, and the continuing conflict in Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately for the Grand Old Party and its presidential hopefuls, his message conflicts with their die-hard and misguided views. Republicans, historically (and whenever an election rolls around) grandstand on Christian ethics, and wrap themselves up as defenders of Christian values. Their imagined moral high-ground collapses when compared to Pope Francis. For the Christians and Catholics among the candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, and Ted Cruz, the recent Papal visit to the United States only demonstrated the hypocrisy of their views.
For Republicans seeking the presidency, the Holy Land has become a campaign stop used to shore up the wealthy pro-Israel vote. While the US is committed to the maintenance of the state of Israel, it is also committed to the creation of a state of Palestine—much to the chagrin of zionist Israeli politicians.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently wooed zionists with his declaration that the occupied West Bank is part of Israel. Granted, the Pope may not be the ideal intermediary between Palestine and Israel due to the Catholic Church's history with the Jewish people, but the Vatican formally recognized the State of Palestine this year (which includes the West Bank), thus placing Republican Christian conservatives like Huckabee and Ted Cruz at odds with the spiritual leader of most of the world's Christians. Despite this, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Pope Francis "a more powerful peace advocate than the UN". In June of last year, he managed to bring the leaders of Israel and Palestine together for shared prayers.
Why would prayers be necessary? A partial answer may be found in scripture. Jesus taught his disciples that the most important of all the commandments was to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Mark 12:32). In essence, this means social justice and peace for people of all faiths and cultures.
Take note, Republican presidential hopefuls— this includes Palestinians.
The path to the presidency need not come from pandering to the militant supporters of an Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Instead, one could please liberal voters in favouring a two-state solution all while appealing to conservatives by justifying the stance with Christian ethics and the support of the Pope. In a conflict that has lasted decades with atrocities committed by both belligerents, Pope Francis' message of forgiveness and peace is a policy of common sense and blissful simplicity. So Republicans, why not listen to Pope Francis on this one and realize that a lasting peace will require concessions on both sides?
Republicans do not just disagree with the Pope's stance on Israel and Palestine, but also with his thoughts on immigrants and refugees. Francis' call to all Catholic parishes in Europe to accept one family fleeing the violence that grips the Levant is a plea that transcends politics, and shows how caring citizens can join forces as a community to save lives without asking their government to do it for them.
For example, the Archdiocese of Toronto is raising money to sponsor 100 Syrian refugee families, the Archdiocese of Vancouver has initiated a program to aid in private refugee resettlement, and Catholic parishes in the United Kingdom are preparing to house a large share of the 20,000 Syrian refugees on their way to safety. When the Pope asks for such compassion and mercy from the faithful, it demonizes Christian politicians who would deny migrants and refugees the safe haven that their wealthy countries can offer.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions argued that the duty to accept Syrian refugees lies with countries in the Middle East because, according to him and his unsubstantiated evidence, ninety percent of recent refugees are receiving food stamps and the government does not have the resources to screen for extremist ideology. Ted Cruz went a step further, saying it is crazy to let Syrian refugees into the country because some among them are coming to murder innocent Americans. Where Republicans are actively trying to stop refugees from entering the country, the Catholic Church is fighting to accept them. After all, according to Francis, "it is violence to erect walls and barriers to block those seeking a place of peace".
If indeed it is violence to build walls to stop refugees and immigrants seeking a better life, then some Republicans (Trump) must be among the most violent in the country. While many conservatives in the US oppose many of Francis views of mercy, forgiveness, and defence of life, they in fact represent the pinnacles of Christian ethics. To put it simply, Pope Francis is just preaching what Jesus actually said. It is time Republicans do too, or they could continue listening to the Jesus they made up.
The notion that the Jesus would have turned away immigrants to a country and even contemplate violently deterring their entry is patently absurd. But even that merciless policy does not compare to Republican's love of the death penalty, which Francis has called an "offence against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person". The death penalty does not create the just society that Republicans crave, it creates a vitriolic and vengeful society in which the answer to “what would Jesus do to a murder?” becomes “he would murder him right back.” That does not sound like this Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Although a devout Catholic, Republican candidate Rick Santorum supports the maintenance of capital punishment when the official stance of his religion is categorically opposed to it. That's what some have called being a cherry-picking Catholic. Additionally, he went the extra mile in his attacks on President Obama, alleging that he is not a Christian and that his education platform was secular indoctrination in disguise.
It is mind-boggling that Republicans can say that Obama "is against what Christians stand for" while lauding themselves as the true defenders of Christian values. They come out swinging, calling Islam a “religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet,” but are silent on the fact that the US government put 41 citizens to death in 2011 alone and continues to permit roughly 33,000 people to die a year thanks to inaction on gun violence. Dear Republicans, if we want to talk about murderous mayhem, let's talk about the equivalent of the entire population of Charlottetown dying each year to firearms. If you're going to talk about defending life at the moment of conception, why not defend the lives of people long after they've been born?
Pope Francis, though not free from controversy himself, has shown up the sanctimony of the Republican party. They wrap themselves in Christianity and call their opponents unchristian, all while defending the death penalty, and demonizing immigrants and muslims. Practice what you preach, Republicans. After all, the Pope is technically infallible. More importantly, Jesus may have been a nice guy, but he did not like hypocrites.