Pope Francis and Donald Trump have both been speaking out about what a Christian is -- or is not.
The Pope started it by saying, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel." This was to journalists who asked his opinion on Mr. Trump's proposals to halt illegal immigration in the USA.
Trump called Pope Francis' comments "disgraceful" but has since been doing all he can to recover any ground he may have lost with the Christian vote by doing that. But he added, "no leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."
Actually, that's exactly what a prophet should do. It's exactly what Jesus did.
Right-wing, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians often forget that the only class of people that Jesus did not like were those who were certain that they, and only they, were right. Only they were worshipping properly.
Jesus loved the poor, the needy, the sick, the tax-collectors, the dispossessed and the children. He hit out against the Scribes and Pharisees who were utterly certain that they were right -- and whom he called hypocrites.
But the work of the Christian is only to follow Jesus. It is not to worship him. Jesus never asked us once to worship him. To worship Jesus without following the teachings of the Gospel is hypocrisy.
Whatever you may think of the migrant crisis both in Europe and Mexico, whatever your fears may be about people taking jobs or even being terrorists, can you honestly see Jesus standing there with his hand held up, saying, "'We will not help you?" I can't.
I know Jews, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics and atheists who are better Christians than I because they are more loving (and I'm an ordained minister). Anyone of any faith or none is a better Christian than those who condemn a 'sinner' in Jesus' name. The whole point of Christ is healing, inclusivity and forgiveness. Jesus was never punitive, triumphalist or exclusionary.
Orthodox Christians will always use their biggest weapon when it comes to criticising those who are not what they see to be correct Christians. This is the quotation from the Gospel of John (14:6): "I am the way the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me."
They use that to mean that you must worship Jesus Christ. That's it. You can then happily go to Church on Sunday and know you are saved even if you don't do one single thing that Jesus did.
But, did you know, that's only one translation of that phrase from the original Greek? There are more than 30,000 different versions of the Gospels in Greek all of them with the odd word that is different here and there - and some of them with large tracts that are not as we would now understand them. Some are purposeful changes in text to make a point and some are simply copying mistakes (see Bart D. Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus for more details). An equally valid translation would be 'No one comes to the Father except as I am."
Except as I am. That would be far too dangerous a translation to hit the mainstream because it would mean you simply couldn't be a Christian without loving all those whom Jesus loved. Or without being a healer.
This is the form of Christianity that Pope Francis is teaching. It was Francis who said, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about homosexuality even though St. Paul taught against it. He went on to say, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."
The fundamentalist will assume that God rejects the person, that Jesus would reject the person because it's against "the law." But God is a living God, not an out-of-touch entity existent only in historical context. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law and he made it abundantly clear that the primary law was love -- for God and each other -- all the others must bow to that.
G. K. Chesterton had it right when he said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
And St. Theresa of Ávila summed it up when she said, "Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world."
It comes down to this: most Christians assume that Christ is Jesus' surname. It is not. It is the state of consciousness that Jesus reached -- he was "one with the Father." He also said "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and ... he will do even greater things than these" (John 14:12).
Do you have to believe in Jesus to do such things? No, you have to believe in the Christ Consciousness. What is the Christ Consciousness? It is Love.
That Christ Consciousness was personified by Jesus but it is available for all humanity even if we can only touch it for a second.
We aspire to reach it through discernment and mercy. Discernment in looking at every single written religious teaching and finding the love within it, just as Jesus did as Christ. We love our neighbour as ourself, not more, not less.
Donald Trump, I can love you as a brother, I can see the wounded human being in your eyes. But I really don't think you - or anyone who believes in excluding the hurt, the poor, the different from the "accepted norm" or anyone who disagrees with your version of "the truth" - can be a Christian.
Am I right? I don't know. But I will try as hard as I can to be love.
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