by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This reflection will doubtlessly sound familiar to members of Pax Christi – USA. It concerns a few thoughts, which are well known to all of us. However, I offer them as a way of further clarifying and strengthening what are surely our attitudes and principles of action.
The subject is President’s Trump’s transparent efforts to use religious sites and symbols to portray himself and his policies as consistent with the Gospel.
Everyone in the world saw this man’s awkward march across Lafayette Park last week, flanked on both sides by police in riot gear; and his silly gesture of holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church there. No words, no explanation. Just a meaningless gesture of faith? Adherence to biblical principles? A statement that God is with him? Strange!
The response of religious people and so many others engaged in legitimate and peaceful protests of American racism was immediate and withering. They can be summed up in the words of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, who said: “I was outraged by President Trump’s use of the Bible and backdrop of St. John’s Church for his political purposes.”
Despite this immediate outcry, on the very next day Mr. Trump brought his entourage through the streets of a roiling Washington, D.C. to the Shrine of St. John Paul II and laid a wreath at the outsized statue of the pope in front of that building. Again, no words, no explanation. Was he trying in this silly way to convince voting Catholics of his Christian credentials?
Again, a spiritual leader, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington’s Catholic Archdiocese, spoke in uncharacteristically condemning words about this moment. “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”
The Archbishop’s statement, I believe, points to another aberration in this whole matter. He condemned any church (and by extension synagogue or mosque) site which would play into Trump’s ridiculous actions for cheap political purposes.
A few days after these events I joined yet another organized protest against racism (as close as possible to fenced in Lafayette Park and the so-called “People’s House”, the walled off White House). I noticed in the large gathering four or five people with signs congratulating President Trump for his ”pro-life” stance. It was entirely disheartening to observe these obviously good Catholic men and women – together with their parish priest – falling for the president’s bizarre claims to moral authority on this complicated issue. (I felt compelled to approach the group in my Franciscan habit and without rancor express my total disagreement with their signs.)
Space here doesn’t allow for further commentary on this moment in our national religious and political history. Next week I hope to reflect more on what it really means to be pro-life. For now just a word of comparison between the danger of Trump’s phony misuse of religion and something I heard long ago.
One of our Franciscan professors had been the Catholic chaplain at the Nuremberg war trials following World War II. In that capacity he came into contact with a high ranking Nazi leader, Hermann Goering. On one occasion, the priest told us, Goering spoke to him of some advice he had given to Hitler: “Give the masses religion. That will keep them quiet!!”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.