Religious leaders are coming to Donald Trump’s defence after Pope Francis suggested Thursday that the Republican presidential candidate “is not Christian.”
“I’m convinced he’s a Christian,” Jerry Fallwel Jr., an evangelical leader, president of Liberty University, and a Trump supporter, told CNN.
“I believe he has faith in the lord Jesus Christ, but I don’t think that’s the issue and I think the pope is mistaken,” Falwell added.
I think John F. Kennedy would be rolling over in his grave right now if he could hear what the pope was saying. Because that’s a man who fought to be president against a lot of prejudice because a lot of protestants in this country did not want to elect a Catholic president and he broke down those barriers and now here’s the pope saying we have to elect leaders that share his faith or share the Christian faith.
Falwell added that, in the middle of a presidential election, the pope was bringing up Christianity as a criteria to be president.
“It’s not our job to choose the best Sunday school teacher, like Jimmy Carter was,” he said.
In a Thursday Facebook post, the Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelical leader who is also the son of the famed Rev. Billy Graham, said Francis should “build a bridge to Trump.” Graham noted that fellow GOP candidates have also mentioned building walls along the border.
The Raw Story reported that another prominent pastor, Robert Jeffress, suggested that Pope Francis was “confused” about the role of the church.
“The pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens,” the pastor was quoted saying during a Thursday interview with conservative talk-radio host Sean Hannity.
“And I want to make a prediction,” Jeffress added. “I think the pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.”
Francis first said “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” at the conclusion of a six-day trip to Mexico yesterday, per The New York Times.
The answer was in response to Trump’s well-known and frequently touted stance on illegal immigration, which includes building a massive wall along the US-Mexico border.
Trump fired back quickly, saying during a rally in South Carolina on Thursday that it was “disgraceful” to have a religious leader question someone’s faith and that Francis would wish for a President Trump “if and when” the Islamic State were to attack the Vatican.
“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “Because this would not have happened.”
The Vatican seemed to downplay the apparent rift on Friday. A Vatican spokesman said the pope’s comments were not a “personal attack” and did not intend to target Trump. Trump often touts his Presbyterian faith while making his pitch to evangelical voters on the campaign trial.
Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Lemelson, a Greek Orthodox priest who also works as a hedge fund manager and has been dubbed the “hedge fund priest” told Business Insider in an email that Francis should take Trump “at his word” about his faith.
“Donald has confessed the Christian faith and stated he intends to defend it,” he said. “He has asked for the blessing of an Orthodox Christian Priest in sincerity and humility. Let us take him at his word.”
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