Sanders, Trump, and the Pope: Whose Justice Is It, Anyway?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (photo credit: Michael Vadon via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (photo credit: Michael Vadon via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last Monday, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd at the largest Christian evangelical school in the world.  While his honest speech and the reciprocating respect of the Liberty University students highlighted the great need for civil public discourse in both our schools and our politics, his remarks also revealed a deeper problem in both American politics and society at large: the practice of selective justice.

Quoting Scripture to the crowd, Sanders reflected that Biblical justice means “treating others the way we want to be treated, treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity.”  Due to the great income inequality in American today, however, he said that “it would be hard to make the case that we are a just society, or anything resembling a just society today.”

Regardless of the economics behind income inequality or the feasibility of his proposals to eradicate the income gap, Sanders is concerned with the poorest among us, and he cited his agreement with Pope Francis to prove it.

“The current financial crisis originated in a profound human crisis, the denial of the primacy of the human person,” he quoted the Pope.

News sources have also applauded Sanders for not “shying away” from the greatest divide between his views and that of his conservative Christian audience.

“I believe in women’s rights and the right of a women to control her own body. I believe in gay rights and gay marriage,” he said.  “Those are my views and it is no secret.”

Students, on the other hand, were not so easily fooled.  Many identified that while he may be forthright about his political positions, Sanders shies away from the real question underlying his desire for justice.

“I thought that he was overlooking the real question of whether or not it is a human being inside the womb,” concluded Liberty University student Lance Barnett. “It’s easy to talk about how difficult it is for the mother, but those arguments don’t matter if a separate human life is involved.”

For Sanders, justice applies to the poverty question, but not to the abortion question.

His appeal to Pope Francis was also reminiscent of another vocally pro-choice politician who recently invoked the Pope’s “moral authority” in support of his views.

Several months ago, President Obama told new sources that “I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis’s encyclical, and deeply admire the Pope’s decision to make the case — clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position — for action on global climate change.”  This statement also required ignoring the full moral authority of the Pope’s position on abortion.

For Obama, justice applies to the environment question, but not to the abortion question.

And then there’s Trump, who calls himself pro-life, yet continues to make degrading comments towards immigrants.  On the same day that Sanders applauded Liberty University for trying to “teach it’s students how to behave with decency and honesty and how you can best relate to your fellow human beings,” Donald Trump re-labeled America as “a dumping ground for the rest of the world,” implying that immigrants are no better than trash.

For Trump, justice (mostly) applies to the abortion question, but not to the immigrant question.

So these three politicians bring to light an important consideration for the upcoming election.  In a political arena that reflects our society’s selective justice, whose view of justice do we want in the White House?

The fact is, justice has no winners or losers.  It treats all people with the dignity due to them by their humanity.  If pro-lifers find it unacceptable that Sanders will give justice to the poor but not to the unborn, why are so many of us comfortable with allowing Trump to pick his own winners and losers?

Anna Pfaff works for American Principles in Action.