A Texas Catholic priest has countered the claim of Texas Baptist pastor and adviser to Trump, Pastor Robert Jeffress, who claimed on Thursday that the president has been given “authority by God” to use nuclear force against North Korea.
In a statement to CBN News Tuesday, Jeffress said that Scripture endowed “rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.” “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un,” Jeffress said. “I’m heartened to see that our president…will not tolerate any threat against the American people.”
However, this is a gross misunderstanding of Scripture, countered Catholic priest Fr. Joshua Whitfield. “No, God did not anoint Trump to nuke North Korea” Fr. Whitfield responded in the title of his opinion piece for The Dallas Morning News.
Catholic leaders, including the U.S. bishops and Pope Francis, have been outspoken about the need to eliminate all nuclear weapons in the pursuit of peace, particularly at this time of escalating tensions. Numerous other Catholic leaders in the recent past, including Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, all opposed the development of nuclear weapons.
In Gaudium Et Spes, a Vatican II document released by Pope Paul VI in 1965, the authority of the Church reiterated its opposition to the arms race, calling it “an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree. It is much to be feared that if this race persists, it will eventually spawn all the lethal ruin whose path it is now making ready.”
The idea that God has given political powers such as President Donald Trump authority to “take out” evil authorities such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un often stems from a misreading of Chapter 13 of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Fr. Whitfield noted. “Particularly, it's based upon those verses that call upon Christians to subject themselves to governing authorities because they serve the Lord as an ‘avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer,’” he said.
But it’s important to understand the context under which St. Paul was writing, he added. St. Paul was writing to people living under “arbitrary and often anti-Semitic pagan rule, offering fellow believers a moral strategy for survival, on how to abide by Jesus' ethic of love until his coming again in glory.” It is not meant to be read as “a theology of politics, not a charter for Christian participation in the affairs of state, not a proof text for subservience,” he said.
“For Paul, it would have been unthinkable to consider a political ruler some sort of anointed Christian prince or president waging war on behalf of believers. We should remember that Paul was biblical, not Constantinian. He saw political authority as something ordered by God rather than ordained by him. Governments, wars, rulers, the innumerable fools of history: All of it, both good and evil, God mysteriously ultimately arranges according to his will,” he said.
Christians are called to imitate Jesus’ way of peace, Fr. Whitfield noted. “That’s what’s biblical, not any sort of sacralizing of national leaders,” he said. “...we shouldn't be so quick to assume God's bellicose blessing (on aggressive use of force). It's why we should pray for peace.”