Evangelical leaders who consult regularly with President Donald Trump have requested a meeting with Pope Francis about an article that appeared in the Rome-based La Civiltà Cattolica-- a publication sponsored by the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits. Johnnie Moore, an evangelical adviser to the president, sent a formal letter on August 3 to the Catholic Archbishop of Washington DC, as well as other bishops to request the papal interview for clarification of the article’s contents. Moore is a member of the National Association of Evangelists in the United States.
An article in the influential Rome-based Jesuit publication ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’ argues “a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere” in the United States.
Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest who is the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and Marcelo Figueroa, who edits the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, co-wrote the article in the July edition of the publication that sought to examine the relationship between what they called “Catholic Integralism” and “Evangelical Fundamentalism.” In it, they warned against what they said is a “Manichean vision,” based on a “gradually radicalized” theology growing from the early 20th century fundamentalist movement, among supporters of President Donald Trump.
Spadaro has often been seen at the side of the pope. He has published interviews with Francis as well as transcriptions of some of the pontiff’s private encounters with members of religious orders. Figueroa is a Presbyterian pastor and a close friend of the pope. He was personally chosen by Francis to lead the national L’Osservatore Romano in Argentina, which began publishing in December 2016. Spadaro and Figueroa directly criticize Church Militant, a conservative digital media company based in Detroit that covers Catholic issues and operated by Michael Voris, a lay Catholic.
Spadaro and Figueroa claim Church Militant favors “shocking rhetoric” and “uses Christian symbols to impose itself.” Voris and other Church Militant personnel were recently asked to stop distributing literature during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” sponsored by the U.S. bishops in Orlando, Florida, this July after organizers claimed their activity was disruptive. The authors provided a brief history of American fundamentalism, as well as other evangelical movements such as the so-called prosperity Gospel and “dominionism,” which seeks to establish government based upon “Biblical law.” Saying that these groups believe the United States to be a nation especially blessed by God, they claim that the groups have “demonized” their enemies. “The panorama of threats to their understanding of the American way of life have included modernist spirits, the black civil rights movement, the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements and so on. And now in our day there are the migrants and the Muslims,” the authors write.
“To maintain conflict levels, their biblical exegeses have evolved toward a decontextualized reading of the Old Testament texts about the conquering and defense of the ‘promised land,’ rather than be guided by the incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospels.”
While Trump received 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, it is not clear which way most Catholics went in the last election. Some data shows that about half of US Catholics pulled the lever for Trump. Some Catholic organizations, such as Church Militant, endorsed Trump. Spadaro and Figueroa decried what they wrote is “a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.” They said that the plan for the Catholic/Evangelical ecumenism is the setting up of a “kingdom of the divinity” that generates an “ideology of conquest.”
The religious and political worlds should not encroach on each other, said Spadaro and Figueroa, who claim that this goes against the political philosophy of Francis. “An evident aspect of Pope Francis’s geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight,” they write. “There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends.”
La Civiltà Cattolica is not an official publication of the Vatican, but it is reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State before publication. Spadaro has come to be known as one of the foremost means for understanding the views of the current pope.
In his letter requesting an interview with Pope Francis, Pastor Johnnie Moore wrote that he and his fellow Evangelical pastors choose not to be offended but rather seek peace. Stressing their emphasis on dialogue instead of conflict, he concluded by saying that it is necessary to sit together and deliberate on these issues. Friends, he said, can disagree yet work together to devise an amicable and swift solution. Here follow excerpts from the letter:
''I am writing to request a meeting between Catholic and Evangelical leaders from the United States at a place and time of your choosing. Though, I'm hoping we can meet quickly," reads the letter.
"Your commitment to the poor and to pastoral ministry and your efforts to build bridges and to spread the doctrine of mercy around the world have been a light and hope to us all.
"As you know more than most, all of this has also come at a time of historic Christian persecution in more places than perhaps at any time in Christian history. Together, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical Christians throughout the entire world have shared - as you've said - ‘an ecumenism of blood.’
"It's in this moment of ongoing persecution, political division and global conflict that we have also witnessed efforts to divide Catholics and Evangelicals. We think it would be of great benefit to sit together and to discuss these things. Then, when we disagree we can do it within the context of friendship. Though, I'm sure we will find once again that we agree far more than we disagree, and we can work together with diligence on those areas of agreement.
"I have to confess what prompted this request were articles published in the La Cattolica Civilitas recently and today in the New York Times.
"We would also like to use the time to meet with various other high level officials throughout the Vatican to find ways in which we can cooperate on matters of great concern to us all, especially as it relates to refugees, the poor and the persecuted.
"With all the respect in the world and with love for Christ's Church and every corner of it, I'll earnestly await your reply."
Moore is one of several Evangelical advisers to President Trump. Others include: Paul White, a Florida Televangelist, and Baptist preacher Jack Graham.
In 2016, Moore was joined by other prominent leaders, including Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., in criticizing Pope Francis for implying that Trump's intention to build a wall on the southern border is "not Christian."
"In the middle of an election, to question someone's Christianity, the Pope is bringing up Christianity as a criteria for being president, in my view, that is what he said," Falwell argued. "I think it was wrong for many Christians to refuse to vote for Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon. I don't think that is our job."
Graham wrote on Facebook that a wall to protect national security by building a wall does not defy the Gospel. "The Pope has suggested that Donald J. Trump is not Christian because he wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico," Graham wrote. "I agree that as Christians we should try to build bridges with everyone that we possibly can, but that doesn't mean that we should compromise our national security." Graham added, “My advice to the Pontiff — reach out and build a bridge to Donald Trump. Who knows where he may be this time next year!"
Moore hypothesized in an interview with Newsmax last year hat the Pope's comments would help Trump to win support of Evangelicals. "Now, only one thing matters: Evangelicals in South Carolina," Moore said. "While Trump vs. the Pope might arrest the attention of the world's media, it might strengthen his hand among some Evangelicals in the deep South.
"No one is supporting Trump because of his Christianity," Moore continued. "They are supporting him because they think he can fix America — and now he even has the Pope talking about it."