Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's God Problem; Why Are Evangelicals Backing a Man Who Knows So Little about Christianity or Even the Bible?

Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's God Problem; Why Are Evangelicals Backing a Man Who Knows So Little about Christianity or Even the Bible?

Article excerpt

Byline: Kurt Eichenwald

To House Speaker Paul Ryan and James Dobson:

In recent months, each of you has endorsed Donald Trump in his campaign to become president of the United States. Mr. Speaker, you undoubtedly took this action in hopes of preserving unity within the Republican Party. Mr. Dobson, because you are the founder of Focus on the Family and arguably the most influential evangelical Christian in America, it is much harder to understand your decision, as I will detail below. In this, my third open letter to Speaker Ryan and my first to Mr. Dobson, I urge you both to withdraw your endorsements to save this country and the movements you two men represent.

I want to first state that this letter is not intended to suggest Donald Trump (or any candidate) must be an evangelical or even a Christian to be president. Nor am I implying that his faith or lack thereof should determine how anyone votes this November. Rather, I am discussing what evangelists purport to believe, compared with who and what Trump is. The primary issue here is the credibility of evangelicalism, particularly as it relates to politics. For years, there has been a logic to the evangelists' support of the Republican Party: Both held similar views on most social issues, and there was more public discussion by conservative candidates about how faith informed their policies. This year, that is not true. Instead, you have a man whose positions on important social issues have changed, whose faith is obviously shallow and who seems to know nothing about even the basics of evangelicalism, Christianity or the Bible. Mr. Dobson, if Donald Trump represents Christian values, those values mean nothing. By endorsing him, evangelists are creating the image that what matters to them is political influence, not the word of God.

Weigh those words against the words of Trump, uttered as he was going through his first divorce: "You know, it doesn't really matter what [the media] write as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." This, Mr. Dobson, is your man of the Bible?

Trump's connection to evangelical beliefs is weak, at best. He has never before expressed any serious connection to the Bible or even a basic understanding of it. He has made occasional holiday appearances at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, but that fact raises even more questions as to why evangelicals--whether out of habit or hypocrisy--would embrace the Republican candidate this year. Marble earned fame because of its half-century of leadership by Norman Vincent Peale, known best for blending pop psychology with spirituality in a form of Christianity centered on the self. As a child, Trump toddled along with his family to Peale's sermons, hearing such messages as the one that opens the pastor's best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking: "Believe in yourself!" He clearly learned that one.

It's clear that Trump has had virtually no other exposure to Christianity, with the possible exception of Joel Osteen, another feel-good-about-yourself TV preacher he counts as a friend. How many churchgoers would call Second Corinthians "Two Corinthians," as he did earlier this year? The name of that epistle from Paul is mentioned whenever passages from it are read during services, yet when caught in the error, Trump didn't say, "Oops, I have a lot to learn." Instead, as is his wont, he lied, claiming that lots of Christian churches around the world call the book "Two Corinthians."

This wasn't the first time he has lied about the Bible to gain an advantage. In August 2015, after his presidential campaign had begun, Trump said his favorite book is the Bible. In 2007, Trump told Forbes his favorite book was The Art of the Deal, by Donald J. Trump, saying, "It was a great read in 1987, a No. 1 best-seller then, and nothing has changed." What changed is that he decided to run for president and knew he needed the evangelical vote. …

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