The Problem of Donald Trump's Faith

The Donald is at it again. 

 Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In a swarm of unlikely GOP candidates, Donald Trump caps it off by convincing almost a quarter of likely GOP voters that he's the one to go up against Hillary. There's already talk that if Rick Perry gets his way, Donald will personally fund his own third-party candidacy. This would likely rob Republican votes of a worthwhile GOP candidate and almost guarantee a win for the Democrats in two Novembers time. In a world where Fox News has warned its viewership of the plague of political correctness, it's not surprising that a straight-talking, wildly-rich, anti-political Mr. Fix It is attracting a bunch of regular folks who are fed up with the current Administration

At this point, Trump is almost impenetrable. He denigrated a beloved maverick. He read aloud a private cellphone number of a likable bachelor. He, perhaps most dramatically, racially profiled millions of America's workforce. And somehow each time, no matter how much the press has pushed him, he's managed to weasel his way out only to grow in the polls. It is fascinating.

His bit about John McCain at The Family Leadership Summit was untrue, unwarranted, and wildly stupid and though it received, by far, the most media attention, it wasn't the the most remarkable part of that interview for me. I found myself entranced by his comments about faith. Most significantly, forgiveness.

Bluntly, Trump was asked, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?"

Trump answered it as Trump always does, as only he can. "That's a tough question. I don't think in terms of...I'm a religious person, shockingly...I'm Protestant, I'm Presbyterian, I go to church and I love God and I love my church." He continued with a story about "the great" Norman Vincent Peale, a man he reveres and whose sermons made a lasting impression on him. Never, of course, answering the question, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?"

I love this next part. The moderator didn't let it go. "But. Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?" The audience laughed. Trump responded, stumped. "I'm not sure I have. I just go and try and do a better job from there. I don't think so."

He likely could not have been more honest. While later he rightly referred to taking the "wine and crackers" at communion as a way of asking for forgiveness, there was a certain attitude of humility and repentance that the moderator was looking for to which Trump, truthfully, could not admit. Maybe it's because Trump can't admit to wrongdoing; that certainly seems likely. Maybe it's because Trump thinks he's the greatest man to walk this earth; that seems possible.

I can't help but point to his own admission: his pastor, to which he immediately made reference and shared exuberantly about his influence, may have shaped--or at least allowed--this mindset of Trump. 

To those familiar with recent American history and theological thought, the name Norman Vincent Peale isn't foreign. A controversial pastor after the release of his book, "The Power of Positive Thinking", Peale's teachings were shunned by both the mental health and theological communities being regarded by some as heretical.

Indeed Peale's writings are problematic for Christians who seek not to find faith in themselves but to find faith in Jesus Christ. Even Amazon's description of Peale's best-selling book says it bluntly:

"With the practical techniques outlined in this book, you can energize your life—and give yourself the initiative needed to carry out your ambitions and hopes. You’ll learn how to:

· Believe in yourself and in everything you do
· Build new power and determination
· Develop the power to reach your goals
· Break the worry habit and achieve a relaxed life
· Improve your personal and professional relationships
· Assume control over your circumstances
· Be kind to yourself" 

Seems an odd set of goals from a Christian pastor, eh? It's a self-help book, sure, but its Christian message, if there even is one, leaves much to be desired.

Wikipedia's entry on Peale quotes John Krumm(the book linked above), Reinhold Niebuhr, and G. Bromley Oxnam on Peale's anti-Christian espousing in his book. Wikipedia's choice of quotes from Liston Pope was my favorite though, "There is nothing humble or pious in the view this cult takes of God. God becomes sort of a master psychiatrist who will help you get out of your difficulties. The formulas and the constanat reiteration of such themes as "You and God can do anything" are very nearly blasphemous." ("The Case against Easy Religion," William Peters. Redbook Magazine, September 1955, pp. 22–23, 92-94). I mean, come on Dr. Pope, tell us how you really feel.

Either Trump needed to name-drop to evade a question about his own brokenness or Norman Vincent Peale made a lasting impact on The Donald through his preaching. The evidence, Trump's refusal to admit to his need for forgiveness, points to the latter. If a preacher preaches that one can overcome the most difficult obstacles and accomplish anything simply by thinking positively about it, how can one be convinced of their own need for redemption and forgiveness?

It doesn't take a political genius to realize that Trump's humility is lacking. I'm convinced, as a Christian minister, that humility and a self-awareness of one's own brokenness is essential to their discipleship. If one claims to be a Christian, as Donald does, one must be convinced of their own need for grace. Without it, there's no point in Jesus.

The problem? GOP voters have already proven in large part that politicians speak louder in their hearts than their pastors do and conservative pastors continually shape the work of their sermons and their reading of Scripture within the political atmosphere. I fear that an influential presidential candidate might renew a sense in America's Christians that one's own humility is not necessary for the gospel.

That is a lie. That is a problem. 

-B