The Prime Minister’s Support Hose

Has there ever been a prime minister or president or political leader anywhere, in any era, who used his socks to send out political messages?  I can’t think of anyone.  When Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau went to NATO headquarters, he wore NATO-themed hose. (Hose, a seldom-used word today meaning stockings or socks.)  When he attended the LGBT rainbow flag-raising ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa recently, he wore rainbow-striped socks.  When the prime minister gave a speech at a Muslim welfare centre, he wore Muslim-themed socks.

For a political leader who likes to demonstrate his support by what he puts on his feet (weird, no?), the fact that the Toronto Gay Pride Parade and the Muslim festival of Eid Mubarak fell on the same day–as they did this year–must have posed something of a dilemma for Canada’s PM.  What socks could he wear that would affirm both groups?  He decided on a pair of striped socks inscribed with the words Eid Mubarak.  It didn’t really matter that the stripes in the Eid Mubarak socks were not the same six stripes of colour that make up the rainbow flag.

How a pair of socks celebrating an Islamic festival came to be in the PM’s sock drawer is interesting:  The Muslim owners of a Toronto-based company that sells Islam-themed socks had enlisted a Muslim member of the Liberal government to present the socks as a gift to the prime minister.  On June 25, Canada’s prime minister wore his gift of Eid Mubarak socks, first as he attended a ‘Faith and Pride’ outdoor church service, then as he marched at the head of the Toronto Gay Pride parade.

Given Islam’s view of homosexuality, I wonder how the Muslim sock-manufacturers reacted when they saw their Eid socks at a Gay Pride parade.  And what about the feelings of the Muslim-community at large.  The PM’s actions could only have been an affront to devout Muslims.  In the hadith (the sayings and actions of Muhammad), Islam’s prophet called for those who perform homosexual acts, not to be celebrated, but to be executed (Sunan Abu Dawud 4462).  In 40 out of 57 Muslim-majority countries and territories homosexuality is a criminal offense and gays can be fined, flogged, and jailed.  In ten Muslim-majority countries, homosexual activity can lead to execution.   And in two countries, it does.  Iran hangs gays in public; the Islamic State (or ISIS) hurls gay men to their deaths from roof tops.

Eid Mubarak socks at a Gay Pride parade?  What was the prime minister thinking?  The answer lies in what the PM said before the parade.  Sporting a rainbow-striped maple leaf painted on his cheek, he commented:  “It’s all about how we celebrate the multiple layers of identities that make Canada extraordinary and strong.” The prime minister’s socks were meant to show his support for two of those layers:  the LGBT and Muslim communities.  The PM’s socks were a sign of his commitment to inclusiveness: the highest ideal to which a just society should now aspire.

What is becoming clear, though, is that, even as Western political leaders tout the virtues of inclusiveness–some of them like Trudeau through their socks–some layers of society are being deliberately excluded.  The Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter prevented the Toronto police float and uniformed police officers from marching in the Gay Pride parade.  South of the border, in Chicago, marchers carrying rainbow flags with an Israeli flag imposed on top were excluded from a parade of dykes because the Israeli flag was deemed to be ‘triggering’.

The idea of what an inclusive society looks like seems to be changing.  When you hear political leaders speak of an inclusive society, don’t assume they include you.  I won’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fig Tree without Figs

No, not mine; my fig tree continues to thrive.  I’m already contemplating what to do with the growing figs–all four of them–when they are ripe:  Will I eat them raw, or will I grill them?  And when will they be ripe enough to eat?  I squeeze them every few days to check (probably not a good idea).

More FIg)

(This is a photo of my fig tree taken today.)

As I watch the figs on my fig tree grow bigger with each passing day, I’m reminded of another fig tree in the Bible: the one that Jesus encountered on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem during what has come to be called  ‘Passion Week’. The encounter is described in both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels (Mt  21:18-19, 20-22; Mk 11:12-14, 20-25).  The encounter went like this:  As Jesus was returning to Jerusalem after spending the night in Bethany, he became hungry.  Spotting a lone fig tree by the side of the road, he went over to it to get some figs to eat, but he found no fruit on the tree, only leaves.

Until I had a fig tree growing in my own backyard, I had no idea just how unusual that would be.  As I observed my own tree after the period of winter dormancy had ended, I noticed little green swellings–immature figs; leaves made their appearance after.  This growth pattern would be true of the fig trees that grew in Judaea as well.

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(This is what my fig tree looked like back in April.  Jesus’ encounter with the barren fig tree occurred just prior to the Passover in the Hebrew month of Nisan (our March/April).

If there were leaves on the fig tree encountered by Jesus, there should have been evidence of fruit.  Finding no fruit, Jesus said to the tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mk 11:14). In Matthew’s account, the fig tree withered immediately (21:19).  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples observe the withered tree the next morning as they head back into Jerusalem (11:20). At first glance, Jesus’ destruction of the fig tree seems like a gross over-reaction.  After all, as Mark notes, Jesus found nothing but leaves for it was not the season for figs (11:13).  The first crop of figs does not ripen until June.

To make sense of Jesus’ harsh reaction, Bible scholars suggest that we think of it as a prophetic gesture, or sign-action.  Hebrew prophets not infrequently dramatized their messages in order to get their points across. Often their actions took bizarre forms.  Consider Jeremiah, for example, who was directed by the Lord to buy an earthenware jar, then take some of the elders and some of the senior priests, and together go out to the valley of Ben-hinnon.  There, Jeremiah was to break the jar in front of them to illustrate how God was going to break the people and the city of Jerusalem in judgment (Jer 19:1-15).

Jesus’ prophetic gesture was directed at a fig tree in the company of his disciples.  Why a fig tree?  The answer lies in the writings of the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, and Micah where Israel is not infrequently pictured as a fig tree.  In the book of Hosea, God says:  “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; / I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season” (9:10).  In Joel, God calls Israel “my fig tree” (1:7).

History confirms that Jesus’ destruction of the fig tree was indeed a prophetic sign-action.  In AD 70, thirty-seven years after Jesus’ crucifixion (believed to have taken place in AD 33), Roman armies penetrated Jerusalem’s walls, destroying the Temple and razing the city. Not one stone of the magnificent Temple was left standing on another, just as Jesus had predicted (Mk 13:2). Sixty-five years later,  in AD 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian founded a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, on the ruins of Jerusalem.  Jews were forbidden access to the new city built now according to Hellenistic plans.  Where the Jewish Temple once stood, Hadrian had a temple erected to the pagan god Jupiter Capitolinus.  And, in order to erase all Jewish connection to the land, Hadrian renamed what was once the Roman province of Judea as Syria Palaestina.  The fig tree had indeed withered to its very roots!

That Jesus’ ‘cursing’ of the fig tree was a predictive act is clear.  That said, it was obviously an indictment of Israel’s spiritual barrenness as well.  Not only had Israel’s religious leaders failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, they had become his fiercest opponents.  There was an outward display of religiosity–like the showy leaves on the fig tree–but no faith.  That would be true of many churches today as well.

As I read the story of the withered fig tree, I can’t help but think how differently I must view it compared to someone reading it in, say, 1017 or 1517 or 1917.  Unlike earlier generations of Bible-readers, I am part of that generation which has witnessed the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland; the creation of the modern state of Israel; and the re-taking of Jerusalem.  To me, these events say that the story of God’s ‘fig tree’, Israel, is still unfolding.

 

 

 

 

My Fig Tree Is Making Scripture Come Alive

Last summer I was given a small fig tree to grow in a container in my backyard.  I hadn’t  realized that such a gardening feat was even possible until I saw a fig tree with ripening figs, growing in a container on a friend’s small wooden deck.  I knew then that I wanted one for my back yard, too.  Watching an exotic tree grow would be fascinating, I thought, and if all went well, in time I might have the satisfaction of eating a couple of my own home-grown figs.

There were no visible changes in my little fig tree before it shed its few leaves and went dormant for the winter.  With the coming of spring, my fig tree suddenly came to life!  First there were barely-discernable tiny green bumps on the two stems, signs of fruit to come; then leaves began to sprout.  No visible flowers, though.  The tiny, green flowers produced by a fig tree grow inside a receptacle called a syncomium, which eventually becomes the fig.

As I watched the transformation unfolding before my eyes, I was reminded of Jesus’ response to his disciples who wanted to know when the prophesied destruction of the Jerusalem Templewould take place:  “[L]earn the parable from the fig tree:  when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near, ” he had said to them (Mark 13:28).

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My Fig Tree As It Begins to Grow Fruit and Leaves in the Spring

As I thought about this, other occurrences of fig trees in the Bible, both literal and figurative, came to mind.  The first mention of a fig tree comes in the third chapter of Genesis in the story of ‘the Fall’.

The Garden of Eden must have been indescribably beautiful:  “the LORD GOD made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Ge 2:9). Only two trees in the garden are named:  the tree of life standing in the very middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9).  Out of all the trees in the garden, only one was ‘off limits’ to Adam and Eve:  the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If they were to eat of it, God warned them, they would die (2:17).

Nevertheless, our first ancestors, seduced by the lies of the crafty serpent, did eat the fruit (3:6). (What kind of fruit it was, we don’t know, but it probably wasn’t an apple.)  Instead of finding themselves clothed in fine white linen like gods, Adam and Eve discovered that they were stark naked, and so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves up before running off to hide from God among the trees (3:7-8).

Growing up on the prairies and thus having no idea what a fig tree looked like, I had envisioned Adam and Eve frantically stitching together leaves about the size of arugula to make some sort of covering.  Their leafy creations have been translated variously by Bible translators:  aprons (KJV), loincloths (ESV), loin coverings (NASB), and coverings (NIV).  Knowing now just how big fig leaves get to be, even on a tree as small as mine, I think they were able to put something together quite quickly.

My Fig Tree at the Time of Writing This Blog

The primordial pair chose what was no doubt one of the largest leaves among the trees in the garden  The suggestive shape of the leaf may have had something to do with their choice as well!  Medieval artists seem to have thought so.  Adam and Eve and their fig leaves were depicted frequently in medieval art.

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A Painting of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) (Public Domain)

Making coverings from fig leaves was an act of desperation by the primordial couple, experiencing shame and fear for the  first time.  Sin had entered the picture, ending their intimate relationship with God.  Yet, even before God drove them out of the garden, He announced His plan to restore that relationship.   He cursed the serpent and declared war on him:  “…I will put enmity / Between you and the woman, / And between your seed and her seed; / He shall bruise you on the head, / And you shall bruise him on the heel” (3:15).  Christians believe that the “seed of the woman” is a reference to Jesus and, thus, this passage has come to be known as the Protoevangelium, the ‘first gospel’.  The good news:   the estrangement between God and humans will not be permanent.

 

 

Betrayal at the UN

In eighteen days time, Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency will have ended and President-elect Trump will have been installed as the 45th president of the USA.  By now, many have likely forgotten how Pres. Obama, in office for only a few months and before he had accomplished anything of note, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.  Widely criticized for their choice of recipients, the Norwegian Nobel Committee justified their selection of the fledgling US president thus:  It was because Pres. Obama had “created a new climate in international politics.”  (The award was intended, as much as anything, as a rejection of the foreign policies of Pres. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.)

In 2009, Pres. Obama hadn’t as yet created the “new climate in international politics” that the Norwegian Nobel Committee believed he had.  But that is not the case eight years later.  Just look around at the world he leaves for his successor.  The world’s greatest exporter of terrorism, Iran, is billions of dollars wealthier, courtesy of the US.   An ascendant Russia now ‘calls the shots’, literally, in the Middle East, thanks to a leader content to “lead from behind.”

Not only has Pres. Obama empowered two of the biggest threats to the West and, ultimately, to world peace–Iran and Russia–he has abandoned the one and only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.  It had been a longstanding tradition that when the United nations Security Council (UNSC) attempted to pass resolutions targeting Israel over the issue of so-called ‘settlements’, the US as one of the permanent members would use its veto power, and thus the resolution would fail to pass.  On 23 December 2016, the Obama administration, breaking with tradition, abstained rather than using its veto power, thereby allowing UNSC resolution 2334 to pass.

This unprecedented abstention will have far-reaching consequences.  Resolution 2334, unlike previous resolutions, calls for Israel not only to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, but to withdraw from East Jerusalem.  Consider what such a withdrawal would mean for the Jewish people:  It would mean abandoning the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temples; it would mean forsaking the Western Wall where Jews pray; it would mean turning over to the Palestinians the entire Jewish Quarter of the city, including the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.  Resolution 2334 calls for the Jewish people to deny their historic and religious connections to Jerusalem.  It calls for Israel to do the unthinkable!

 

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(Personal photo taken on a trip to Israel in 2014)

Israelis remember all too well what life was like when Jordan occupied the same territory (1948-67).  During the 1948 war between the nascent Jewish state and its Arab neighbours, Jordan seized control of the west bank of the Jordan River as well as the Old City of Jerusalem.  Jordan’s seizure and annexation of this territory, interestingly, was viewed as an illegal act by the Arab League; Britain recognized it.  The 1949 Armistice Agreement that ended the war was supposed to give Israelis access to their religious sites in the Old City/East Jerusalem, but Jordan never honoured the agreement.  Israelis were barred from entering the Old City; some 58 ancient synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were either desecrated or destroyed; and tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used to build army barracks and even latrines for the Jordanian army.  Slum dwellings were allowed to abut the Western  Wall where Jews once prayed.  The site most sacred to Jews worldwide came to resemble a garbage dump.

Contrast Israel’s treatment of religious sites today with that of Jordan’s.  In Israel, all religious groups are allowed administration over their own holy sites.  The administration of the Temple Mount has been retained by the Islamic Waqf, as it has been for centuries.

Because the US president abandoned Israel at the UN, expect to see more boycotts, divestment, and sanctions placed on Israel goods (economic warfare); more Israelis and their supporters hauled up before the International Criminal Court (lawfare); and, ominously, anticipate even more resistance a.k.a. terrorist attacks.  The Palestinian Arabs have had their claims to East Jerusalem affirmed by the UN Security Council, so why bother to negotiate with the Israeli government?

With the West’s enemies empowered and Israel abandoned at the UN, war is more likely now after eight years of an Obama presidency than before. This is the new climate in international politics created by the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:  Pres. Obama.

 

The Russian Bear’s New Best Friends

If you are someone who depends solely on the Main Stream Media (MSM) for your news, you likely are  unaware that a geo-political shift of seismic proportions has occurred in the Middle East.  Like me, probably all you have heard from the MSM is that, for the first time ever, Russia launched a bombing raid on the so-called Islamic State (IS) from a base inside Iran.  Nor is it likely that you learned Turkey wants to make Incirlik, the US military’s major base of operations in Turkey and site of the US’ largest stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons on foreign soil, available now to Russia as well.

In an unprecedented move, and something even the shah of Iran never allowed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has permitted a foreign power, Russia, to use one of its air bases–Shahid Nojeh air base 50 km north of Hamadan–from which to launch bombing raids against IS in Syria.  (Critics of Russia’s bombing campaign claim that Russia targets predominantly moderate Syrian opposition forces, allies of the US, not IS.)  What does Russia get out of this new arrangement?  A greatly reduced flying time to terrorist targets in Syria.  What does Iran get out of collaborating with Russia?   Given that Iran calls the US ‘the Great Satan’ and Israel ‘the Little Satan’, I can’t think of anything good to come out of it for Israel and her allies.  (Since Russia “bragged” about its use of the Iranian air base, Iran has announced an end to the arrangement after only three sorties by the Russian bombers.  Be that as may, that Iran would allow it even once is jaw-dropping.)

Then there’s Erdogan’s Turkey,  a fellow NATO member, although, who could tell these days?  After the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan ordered the blockade of Incirlik, the major base of operations for the  US military in Turkey, home to 5,000 US airmen and site of the US’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on foreign soil.   He has asked the US to hand over to Turkey the tactical nuclear weapons  (the US hasn’t).  Furthermore, he wants to make continued use of Incirlik air base by the Americans contingent on the US turning over Gulen, who Erdogan claims was behind the coup.  And, astoundingly, Erdogan wants the air base at Incirlik to be available now for use by Russia  as well.  An American presence on Turkish soil was established during the Cold War as a deterrent to the threat posed by the former USSR! Ironic, isn’t it.

The ‘cozy’ relationship developing between Russia, Iran, and Turkey should be a major news story, but to most, it isn’t.  Those who take Biblical prophecy seriously, however, are sitting up and taking notice.  In the Book of Ezekiel, the Hebrew prophet describes a coalition of nations, led by a leader named Gog, who attacks Israel in the latter days with disastrous consequences for the world (Ezek 38 and 39) in what has come to be known as ‘The War of Gog and Magog’.   Only one of the nations who make up this coalition is readily identifiable today:  Persia, or Iran as it is now known (38:5). Consequently, this has led to a lot of speculation as to the makeup of the rest of this latter day coalition.  Some claim that “Gog, prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:3) refers to Russia and its leader, and “Togarmah” (38:6) is Turkey, hence the interest in the new Iran-Russia-Turkey axis.

How did Russia come to be the dominant power in the Middle East, seemingly overnight?  I asked someone this question and he replied:  “The Russian bear moved into the Middle East, and Obama moved into the bathrooms of America.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.  In pursuit of so-called “transgender rights,” the Obama administration, through its policies and decrees, is forcing radical social change on America.  Under Obama, who claims to be acting on behalf of the 0.6% of the American population who identify as transgender, the concept of male-female is being made irrelevant.   Just last week, Pres. Obama decreed that every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every courthouse, every school,  indeed,  every federal building in the US, is now open to people of either gender.  One’s sexual identity–now considered a matter of personal choice–determines what bathroom or locker room one can use, and not the set of ‘plumbing’ one was born with.  Social change:  this is Pres. Obama’s priority at this moment in time.  I predict that future generations will regard this period in history with utter disbelief, trying to,  and failing, to make sense of the Obama administration’s  obsession with bathrooms at a time like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glamourizing Oppression

There was a Marks & Spencer (M&S) Store for a time in a city where I once lived.  I liked to wander the aisles of this British commercial icon; it was like taking a mini-trip ‘across the pond’.  There were tantalizing jams and marmalades, biscuits, candies, etc.:   products that one would normally encounter only in the UK.  Mostly I looked and salivated, though.  I think I purchased products from the frozen food case a couple of times.  Unlike the food offerings, the store’s limited selection of women’s clothing held little appeal for me, as it would have for most North American women, I believe.  I found their clothing rather matronly, even dowdy.  There must have been too many consumers like me, for the store closed its doors for good after what seemed to me like the briefest of forays into the local market.

M&S’s latest business venture is making news headlines these days.  For the first time, M&S will offer burkinis for sale in the UK, beginning with their flagship store at Marble Arch in London.  A burkini,  for those who don’t know, is a women’s bathing ‘costume’ which meets the Quranic requirements for Muslim women.  Resembling the wet suit worn by divers, the burkini covers the whole body except for the face, hands, and feet.  Up until now, M&S sold burkinis only at its stores in Dubai and Libya.  M&S will be selling two versions in its London store:  a blue item with a floral print across the front, and a black number with a paisley pattern.  “It’s  lightweight so you can swim in comfort,” promises the ad.

I wonder about that “swim in comfort” claim.  I have seen a woman wearing a burkini.  It was at a public pool during adult swim time.  As I watched her doing lengths, seemingly oblivious to the swimmers around her–young men with their bare chests and sleeve tattoos, female swimmers  wearing the latest swimwear–I couldn’t help thinking:  What must it feel like to do lengths in a soggy body-length suit?  Maybe it was tolerable while in the water, but one certainly wouldn’t want to sit around in it after coming out of the water.

Like M&S, a number of the world’s foremost fashion houses have recognized that there is money, big money, to be made in Islamic fashion for women.  A 2013 report revealed that Muslims spend $266bn on clothing and footwear–more than Japan and Italy combined.  The biggest buyers of haute couture fashion are not Westerners, but Arab women.  Determined to capture a corner of the lucrative Islamic fashion market, the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana has launched, for the first time ever, a line of fourteen abayas ‘loose-fitting, full-length cloaks worn over clothes to conceal the woman’s shape’ with matching hijabs ‘head scarves’. Their new line of Islamic clothing, according to some, is so beautifully-made that even non-Muslim women would like to wear it.  Other fashion houses are getting into the act:  Chanel, H&M, Gucci, to name a few.

Thankfully, not everyone believes  that designing and selling clothing for Muslim women that meets Quranic standards is the right thing for Western businesses to do, and they are speaking out.  British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, herself a Shia Muslim, protests, “These companies might not think they are encouraging fanaticism, but they are.  They’re complicit in a version of Islam that believes women must be subjugated in public.”

Pierre Berge, French businessman and co-founder of the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, outraged by what fashion houses are doing, told a French radio station that “creators should have nothing to do with Islamic fashion…[that] designers who do are taking part in the enslavement of women…Designers are there to make women more beautiful, not to collaborate with this dictatorship which imposes this abominable thing by which we hide women and make them live a hidden life.”

Another voice of protest is that of France’s Minister of Women’s Rights Laurence Rossignol who argues that “What is at stake is social control over women’s bodies.  When brands invest in this Islamic garment market, they are shirking their responsibilities and are promoting women’s bodies being locked up.”

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(Courtesy Pixabay)

Glamourizing abayas and hijabs by trimming them with black lace, beads, and flowers does not alter the garments’  purpose, namely, to conceal the feminine form from public scrutiny.

Is being made to wear abayas and hijabs a form of oppression?  And do those who design and sell the garments contribute to that oppression?   I still vividly recall a scenario I witnessed while sitting on a park bench in Vienna.  Having spent several hours inside the cool of Vienna’s war museum and not realizing how hot the weather outside had turned during that time, I started out for the bus stop, managing only to make it as far as the first park bench before being forced to take a ‘breather’.  As I sat there, a young female jogged by at a brisk pace, arms and legs bare, pony tail flying!  Behind her, along the path plodded three young Muslim women–comparable in age, I would guess–wearing hijabs and abayas, only their hands and faces exposed.  Looking uncomfortably warm, they plunked themselves down on the park bench down from me.  Their actions and that of the jogger spoke volumes to me that day.

The Pope’s Politics vs. Trump’s Christianity

The spat between His Holiness Pope Francis and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to have ended. The unholy brouhaha began when Trump, speaking on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”, called the pontiff “a very political person” who didn’t understand the dangers an open border with Mexico posed to the US.  “I think Mexico got him to do it,” claimed Trump, “because they want to keep the border just the way it is.”

The pope pushed back by calling Trump’s profession of Christian faith into question, averring that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump, in turn, called the pope’s questioning of his faith “disgraceful.”  Realizing that a fight with the pope would not likely endear him to Catholic voters, Trump has since assured everyone that he actually has great respect for the pope.

Pope Francis, to quote ‘the Donald’, is “a very political person.”   Just how political is the pontiff?   On the last night of his visit to Mexico, the pope, hoping to influence the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election (what other explanation could there be?)  turned the celebration of the Catholic Mass into a piece of political theatre.  On the evening of 17 February, the pope, accompanied by some 200,000 people, gathered on the southern shore of the Rio Grande River across from the city of El Paso, Texas, for an open-air mass.  On the US side of the river stood about four hundred or so.  During the ceremony on the Mexican side, the pope laid flowers on a memorial dedicated to those who had perished trying to reach the US.  He lamented “the forced migration” of thousands of Central Americans. As the pope well knows, what to do about the US-Mexican border is a huge issue in the 2016 election.  Deliberately injecting himself into the debate as he has done, the pope made it clear where he stands.

How political is the pope?   In 2014, the pope wrote a letter to Pres. Obama, urging the president to pursue a closer relationship with Cuba and to ease the trade restrictions imposed on the island by the US after Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution.  Pope Francis, who acted as mediator between the US and Cuba throughout 18 months of secret negotiations, can be credited with the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  (Interestingly, the Holy See never broke off relations with Cuba even after Castro imprisoned or exiled the priests and confiscated all Catholic property on the island.) In protesting the economic embargo imposed by the US, the Cuban people knew they had an ally in the Vatican, which had always objected to the embargo on the grounds that impacted most adversely Cuba’s poor.

Overcome with gratitude for the economic lifeline Pope Francis has thrown him,  Raul Castro gushed on a recent visit to the Vatican:  “If the pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic church–and I’m not saying this jokingly.”  A new Catholic Church is slated to be built on the island at Sandino, the first one since the 1959 Revolution. Strangely enough, since the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, the number of imprisoned dissidents has reached the highest level in five years.

How political is the pope?  Probably the pope’s greatest political achievement since assuming St. Peter’s Throne  has been the historic meeting between him and His Holiness  Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, which took place on 12 February at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba.  This was the first meeting between a Catholic pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054. This was not a political meeting, however, the pope claimed:  the purpose of the meeting was for the two branches of the church to deal jointly with the dire problem of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.   The pope might have not regarded their meeting as political, but it was nevertheless.

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Photo from Asia News .it  01/27/2016

The meeting could never have taken place if Russian President Putin had not first given the patriarch the ‘green light’ to attend.  His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the first patriarch since the breakup of the USSR, is closer to the Kremlin than any of his predecessors, even to calling Putin a “miracle from God.”  [I wrote about the unusually close relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in a previous blog (2 January 2015).] The pope’s meeting with the saintly-looking Russian patriarch (rumoured to be, like Putin, a former KGB officer) helped to restore–somewhat–the image of Putin’s Russia in the West.

Trump was correct when he called Pope Francis a very political person.  How does one account for the pope’s political activism?  The answer is:  Latin American liberation theology aka ‘Christian’ Marxism.  Liberation theology puts social action on an equal footing with the gospel message.  In the eyes of the Argentine pope, someone who would build a wall to keep migrants out is not a Christian.

Is Trump a Christian?  When it comes to determining who is or is not a Christian, it is not our place to judge, but, as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘fruit inspectors’.