Now that the meeting between President Trump and Pope Francis has concluded, there are important observations to make.
Among the Arab States
At his meetings with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, President Trump came as the leader of the world’s greatest military, financial, and political superpower. His hosts treated him with the utmost respect and dignity. Trump walked and sat among Arab leaders, speaking to them as a first among equals, though the notion of “equality” was a mere formality, a demand of protocol. Arab nations are not among the great powers of the earth. Some are wealthy, some are poor, but none are military or financial powerhouses. Their technology, weaponry, and wealth are all dependent on the intellectual productiveness of the West. Oil is a prime source of wealth, a product that could end up being useless if the West continues pushing for alternative and independent sources of energy.
Trump came bearing a broad smile but spoke quite bluntly about things the Arab nations must do. The first message concerned the problem of terrorism. We must unite in fighting Islamic extremism, he said. No American president has ever given such a speech directly to so many Arab leaders.
The second message was powerful, and just as clear. The First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, dressed in a manner that earned wide praise among Saudis. Melania Trump was modest and regal, both beautiful and inspiring for Arab women. She did not have to say anything to be heard. She did not wear a head covering, which she could have easily done, and stylishly. Saudi protocol does not demand head covering. But Mrs. Trump, as no other First Lady has before her, seemed to say loudly, “It’s time to allow Arab women Western freedoms.” In the West, feminists may have felt Mrs. Trump was too submissive, demure, and quiet. But Arab women would not have missed the example of what they very well might consider a model woman. Melania Trump was a hit in the Arab world as no other First Lady has been.
At the Vatican
The contrast between Saudi Arabia and the Vatican could not have been more stark. The President of the United States did not go to Rome to deliver a message; he went to hear a message. Nearly every act of Pope Francis was a show of disrespect for the president of a sovereign nation. Heads of state usually appear sitting in chairs side by side. This did not happen at the Vatican. Trump sat in a chair in front of a desk dividing him from the Pontiff. Behind the pope was a wall. Trump approached hat in hand, as they say. At least one observer noted that Trump appeared to be a job applicant, a jab at Trump’s reality show The Apprentice and his famous line, “You’re fired!” Trump showed none of that bravado to the pope.
The New York Times headlined one of its stories of the visit this way: “The Pope’s Gifts to Trump Send Some Clear Messages” (May, 24, 2017). This story was all pope and no president. The pope was clearly lecturing the president on morality. The president had not one word of advice for the pope, at least not in public. Trump was clearly on the receiving end of a papal exhortation. The pope wanted the president to “become an olive tree to make peace” (qtd. by the New York Times). The assumption for the whole world is that the pope is the prince of peace and the president is an immoral warmonger. The Times recorded Trump’s response: “I won’t forget what you said.” The pope said no such thing about whatever message Trump might have had for him.
The Times: “But people close to the pope said in the days leading up to the meeting that he would not reprimand Mr. Trump, but seek to impart his values and build a dialogue that could cause a reconsideration of policies by Mr. Trump, if not a conversion.” This statement expresses the papal notion that the pope would have had every right to reprimand the President of the United States. What right does a pope have to admonish the world’s most powerful leader, unless he feels that he is himself a greater power? Pope Francis appears to think this, and apparently so does President Trump.
Mrs. Trump did not attempt to make a point of going without a headscarf into the pope’s presence. Protocol demands head covering for women meeting the pope, but the Trumps were not seeking to send a message to Rome. The Saudis may not demand headscarves, but the pope does. Mrs. Trump is a Roman Catholic, and as such, she is completely free to follow her conscience. The president was in dress code too, however, and he is not a Catholic (black suit, white shirt, dark tie.) According to an article in the Boston Globe, only Catholic queens and princesses of Monaco can wear white in the pope’s presence (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Why Melania Trump Wore a Head Covering in Rome but Not in Saudi Arabia,” May 25, 2017).
The important point is that the Vatican represents both a church and a state, and demands certain clothing be worn in the presence of the pope. When one meets the pope and adheres to a dress code, there is at least a tiny signal given of the pope’s right to demand certain dress. Some years back, a woman in the United States hugged Queen Elizabeth II during a royal visit. This nontraditional act was noted, but not condemned by the press or the queen, who is also head of state and head of the Church of England.
What the Scripture Says
Revelation 13 identifies a power that will persecute God’s people and reign for forty-two prophetic months, or 1260 literal years. Another power will arise at about the time the 1260 years are complete (1798). Seventh-day Adventists have interpreted these two powers to be papal Rome and the United States of America. No other interpretation makes sense of the Scriptural data in a way that can be confirmed by history. Revelation indicates that the first power is superior to the second, and that the second power will do the bidding of the first. Scripture says, “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (13:11-12, NKJV).
President Trump has acted in perfect concert with the words of Revelation 13. The pope clearly achieved dominance over Trump. As a parting gift, Pope Francis gave Trump copies of papal teachings, most importantly his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si. One of the pope’s great hopes is that the United States will stay in the Paris climate accord. Trump has indicated he wants to abandon the accords as unfair to the best interests of the United States.
The governor of California, Jerry Brown, a trained Catholic priest, has predicted that Trump’s climate views will be changed by the pope. Trump promised the pope that he would read what the pope gave him. He said after the meeting that he would make up his mind about the Paris climate accord in the “coming week.”
It will be fascinating to see if the pope will indeed change Trump’s mind. Whatever the outcome in this particular instance, Americans should be clear that the United States is subservient to Rome, just as the Book of Revelation has predicted.
Marcus Sheffield is a professor of English at Southern Adventist University.