Donald Trump says he is a Christian—more specifically, a Presbyterian. Should we believe him? Our first answer may be, “We can’t read his mind and heart, so charity demands we take him at his word.” But a more thoughtful response would be, “It depends on whether he speaks and acts in a way that is consistent with Christian principles and values.” Does he do so? Let’s see.
The simplest definition of a Christian is one who endeavors to live by the teachings found in the New Testament. One central teaching is that human beings need to seek forgiveness for their sins. Here is what Trump’s Presbyterian Church said about that in its “Confession of 1967”:
All men [and women], good and bad alike, are in the wrong before God and helpless without [God’s] forgiveness. Thus all … fall under God’s judgment. No one is more subject to that judgment than the [person] who assumes that he [or she] is guiltless before God or morally superior to others.
Theology professor Susan L. Nelson says this about that passage: “If confession is good for the soul, then Presbyterians have been formed in the confessional, following patterns of repentance and gratitude for the grace of God that is our only source of hope. By God’s grace, we have affirmed, we are justified. It is God’s action, God’s forgiveness, that sets us free to become new persons in Christ.”
The principal way that Presbyterians, like other Christians, express this belief is in reciting The Lord’s Prayer, which petitions God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” By the time any practicing Presbyterian has reached middle age, he or she will have said this prayer roughly 20,000 times.
Despite this fact, when asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness, Trump responded, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” He continued, “I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”
This response alone would suggest, at very least, that Trump is confused or downright ignorant about the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Did he repeat the words without considering their meaning all those times he sat in the pew? Did he regard reciting them as theoretical muttering without any connection to everyday life?
But there is more to consider about Trump’s form of Christianity. Jesus instructed his followers to love their enemies as they love themselves, do good to those who persecute them, forgive others as they would be forgiven, and treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.
In stark contrast to Jesus’ instruction, Trump offers this approach: “If somebody hits me, I have to hit them back. I have to . . . What happens is they hit me and I hit them back harder and, usually in all cases, they do it first. But they hit me and I hit them back harder and they disappear.”
These words are not just empty rhetoric for Trump. They are an accurate description of how he has treated others:
He has called Jeb Bush pathetic, phony, a loser, desperate, a total disaster; Ted Cruz a choker, loser, liar, disloyal, a lowlife, a cheater, and a hypocrite; Bernie Sanders a maniac; Charles Krauthammer a clown, a war monger, a flunky, and a dope; Marco Rubio a clown and a lightweight; Megyn Kelly a bimbo with “blood coming out of her wherever.”
He has behaved similarly even when people have not attacked him at all but simply disagreed with him or behaved in ways that did not please him:
He mocked a handicapped man by imitating his disability; called an attorney who needed a break for breast feeding “disgusting”; labeled Wall Street Journal journalists “dummies”; questioned the intelligence of Iowa voters: made fun of Carly Fiorina’s and Rand Paul’s looks; and declared that Senator John McCain, who was captured and tortured by the North Vietnamese, was not a war hero.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that, though Trump may sincerely regard himself as a Presbyterian Christian, he does not meet the criteria for either designation. Moreover, he seems not to realize that fact!
Such a misperception is troubling in a man pursuing the highest office in the land, a position requiring the highest level of perceptiveness and judgment.
Even more troubling is the fact that an estimated 20 million Americans support Trump’s candidacy. That number includes Christians of virtually every denomination—Catholics, mainstream Protestants, and especially Evangelicals. Prominent church leaders supporting Trump include Pastor Robert Jeffress and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Many other leaders, while not publicly supporting Trump, have not questioned his claims to be Christian, which constitutes tacit acceptance of that claim.
That so many Christians are angry with both political parties for ignoring the nation’s problems is understandable. That they would seek a candidate who pledges to address those problems is perfectly reasonable. That they would choose Donald Trump over numerous candidates with laudable records of public service and demonstrated commitment to Christian principles and values defies comprehension.
One man confused about his religious faith is a shame. Twenty million or more Christians confused about theirs is a tragedy that raises serious questions about the future of Christianity in America.
Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved