Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trump, Newt and Christianity - Part 1

Like so many articles, I began this a couple of months ago and got sidetracked. Although the news is now a bit dated, the principle remains extremely relevant, even timeless. This writing began when I read a column by CBN News political correspondent David Brady entitled Evangelical Leaders Say Donald Trump May Find Support from Social Conservatives. About ten days later, an article appeared in the Christian Post entitled Donald Trump on Faith: I am Christian, Sunday Church Person.

These articles came out when Mr Trump was flirting with the idea of running for president. He later declared that he is not running, but has said that he might change his mind. Mr Brady’s article was primarily political in nature, reporting the support that Mr Trump might find support among evangelicals due to his conservative positions on some of the issues. The article then provided many quotes from sources identified by the author as “key national Evangelical leaders”. In our opinion, the most accurate quote comes from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council who stated:

“Given Donald Trump's background in the gambling industry and his flamboyancy, one would not think he would be a fit with Evangelical voters. However, given the wide open field of candidates, strong statements that Trump has recently made on core social issues combined with an overarching desire to see a new occupant in the White House, he may find support among social conservatives.“
This is all we wish to say about the political aspect of this issue. Instead, we’d like to focus on the second article, and examine Mr Trump’s claim to be a Christian. The Christian Post article states:
Potential GOP presidential contender Donald Trump opened up about his faith during an interview with a Christian network, saying he is a Christian and that he's a "Sunday church person."

“I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is THE book. It is the thing," Trump told Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.

[In the interview], Trump shared that he used to attend First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica Queens. "I'm a Protestant, I'm a Presbyterian. And you know I've had a good relationship with the church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion.”

When asked by Brody where he stores all the Bibles people send to him, Trump said that he keeps them in a "very nice place" since his Manhattan location doesn't allow him to keep all the mail he receives. "There's no way I would ever throw anything, to do anything negative to a Bible, so what we do is we keep all of the Bibles," said Trump. "I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive so actually I store them and keep them and sometimes give them away to other people."

As for church attendance, the host of NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" indicated that he makes an effort. ”Well, I go as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there's a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I'm a Sunday church person. I'll go when I can.”

After this article came out, I heard many people say (often with an amazed expression), “I didn’t know that Donald Trump was a Christian.” To which I usually reply, “Neither did I… and I still don’t know”. I’m then often asked, “What makes you think he’s not?” In reply, I usually say something to the effect of, “I’m not saying that Mr Trump is not a Christian. I don’t know him personally so I’m only basing my thoughts on the news accounts, which provide very little evidence either way”.

In examining Mr Trump’ statements, he first says “I believe in God”. To many people, we would ask “Which god?” but his additional comments leads us to believe he is indeed referring to the true God of the Bible. It is not clear how much, or how little he knows about God, but mere acceptance of His existence only qualifies one to be a demon (James 2:19). Mr Trump does state that “I am a Christian”, but merely making this statement only puts him in the same company as Barack Obama and over 80% of Americans who claim to be a Christian. When follow-up questions are asked (which evidently was not done in Mr Trump’s case), we find the number of possible true Christians drops by more than half.

Mr Trump relays how he keeps his Bibles in a “very nice place”, but gives no word on whether he actually reads them. He also spends much time talking of his church denomination and attendance (Christmas, Easter and special occasions). Aside from good deeds, church attendance is one of the first things mentioned by most people when attempting to give evidence of their Christianity. For example, after meeting and attempting to witness several times with Mr Obama, Franklin Graham stated “For [Mr Obama], going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior. That’s the definition of a Christian; it’s not as to what church you’re a member of. A membership doesn’t make you a Christian.”

Similarly, we have the article, Newt Gingrich: Why I Became Catholic, that appeared to coincide with Mr Gingrich campaign launch. The difference with Mr Trump's article is that Mr Gingrich’s article only chronicles his choice of denomination and does not address the issue of whether or not he is a Christian. Mr Gingrich writes

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in April of 2008 was a turning point for me. The Holy Father presided over solemn vespers with the U.S. bishops in the Crypt Church at the basilica in Washington. Callista’s choir was asked to sing for Pope Benedict at vespers, and as a spouse, I had the unique opportunity to attend the papal visit and was deeply moved by the occasion.

Catching a glimpse of Pope Benedict that day, I was struck by the happiness and peacefulness he exuded. The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things I had been thinking and experiencing for several years.

That evening I told Msgr. Rossi [Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica in DC] I wanted to be received into the Catholic Church, and he agreed to join Callista [Mr Gingrich’s third wife]as my sponsor. Under his tutelage, I studied the Catechism of the Church over the next year and was received into the Church in March of 2009 in a beautiful Mass at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill.

Mr Gingrich’s article was primarily about his journey toward the Roman Catholic faith, but the timing suggests that it was also written for political gain (as was Mr Trump’s interview). Some have suggested that if Mr Gingrich had run into the equally peaceful and happy Dalai Llama, he might have become a Buddhist instead. We find this highly unlikely sine there aren’t 40-50 million Buddhist voters in our country. It remains to be seen if this article will help him to erase his divorce problems, since his 6-year extra-marital affair with Callista was a primary cause of the breakup of his second marriage.

This all said, the primary objective of this two-part article is not to focus so much on Mr Trump and Mr Gingrich, but to caution Christians to be alert for false Christians. Before I go any further, let me say again that Mr Trump and Mr Gingrich may both be Christians, but we should be careful to assume this without evidence. Let me further say that, this is not written so that Christians can respond with condemnation, but so that we do not miss a witnessing opportunity.

As we mentioned above, less than half of those professing to be Christians are actually saved. It is very sad that, upon their physical death, so many will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Mt 7:23). Perhaps even sadder still is the fact that many of these lost people genuinely believed that they would go to heaven, and the saddest part of all is that, many true Christians might have missed witnessing to them because we also assumed that they were saved.

The Scriptures tell us that only God can truly know the heart (Lk 16:15), but we can also know blatantly false Christians (Mt 7:20, Titus 1:16) by their actions. Unfortunately, the Bible also speaks of a more difficult case, that of those who are difficult to distinguish from true Christians (Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares in Mt 13:24-28). So, we must be ever vigilant in our evangelism.

We’ll get much deeper into this issue in Part 2. The link will be posted here when completed.

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