Four times on Saturday in a speech in Jacksonville, Fla., Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared himself to be Presbyterian.
Trump said, “Look, I don’t have to say it,” and then said, “I’m Presbyterian. Can you believe it? Nobody believes I’m Presbyterian.”
Then, with increasingly emphatic speech, Trump declared, “I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian.”
Concluding he said, “Boy, that’s down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness.”
The only way that being Presbyterian is “down the middle of the road” is if you’re driving off the left shoulder. The political and social positions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Trump’s assumed denominational self-affiliation, are so far to the left you can’t see the middle of the road anymore.
Have you seen those motorcades that avoid driving among the bothersome masses — speeding their way around traffic by driving on the left shoulder? That’s pretty much where you’d have to be to think that the PCUSA was “down the middle of the road.” The denomination’s advocacy in both Washington, D.C. and at the United Nations includes everything from amnesty for illegal immigrants to universal ammunition registration to divestment from companies doing business with Israel to progressive taxation and the redistribution of wealth and, yes, support of same-sex marriage. Bernie Sanders is much more Presbyterian than Donald Trump if you look at the PCUSA’s official social witness positions and political advocacy.
Trump seems to have an image of what it means to be Presbyterian that does not jive with the reality of his own chosen denomination.
At the outset, Trump says that it goes without saying and then he says it: “I’m Presbyterian.” Saying what goes without saying is classic political speech. Admitting that no one believes what you’re saying about yourself is not.
When Trump admits that “nobody believes I’m Presbyterian” he’s telling a truth that he doesn’t seem to understand. The repetitive emphatic insistence of his faith credentials reveals an ardent depth of feeling but not what he actually means when he says “I’m Presbyterian.”
Does he mean he’s a member of a particular church? (No church claims him as a member.)
Does he mean he actively worships and participates in church life? (No church claims him as an active participant.)
Does he mean that he tithes? (I’m pretty sure we’d know if he did as his tithe would be big news.)
Although Trump claims to be Presbyterian, no actual Presbyterian church or denomination is laying public claim to him. One assumes that he considers himself Presbyterian by his baptism as a child at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a Presbyterian Church (USA) church in Queens, NY. But does that make a person a Presbyterian?
That begs the larger question: who gets to define a term like “Presbyterian?”
Presbyterians assume that Trump means PCUSA when he says he’s a Presbyterian. That makes his affiliation with the faith tradition historic, not active. The Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, the highest ranking official in a Presbyterian denomination, issued an open letter schooling Trump on the position of the PCUSA on immigration – a position that couldn’t be further from Trump’s position.
What is a Presbyterian?
Part of Trump’s challenge on this issue is that the PCUSA itself is in the midst of an identity crisis. The Moderator of the denomination has called for a national conversation to gather public opinion around the question of the PCUSA’s identity and mission. One can only hope that Trump will participate in the cattle call for what the Presbyterian Church (USA) is and is called to be.
Maybe Trump can help the denomination find its way out of its liberal political rut that has led it into an ever deepening financial and membership ditch. Maybe Trump can help make the Presbyterian Church (USA) great again. But to do so he’s going to have to begin seeing it for what it is: a denomination that has been driven off the left shoulder on every social and political issue.
People don’t believe Trump is Presbyterian because they know where the Presbyterian Church (USA) stands on issues that differ significantly from Trump’s positions. Here’s a quick run down from the left lane:
- Abortion and Presbyterian support of Planned Parenthood
- Same-Sex Marriage
- Gun control and ammunition registration
- Tax Reform
- Reform of the financial sector
- Immigration and Comprehensive Immigration Reform advocacy efforts
Trump still doesn’t know what his own church believes
“One can only hope that Trump will participate in the cattle call for what the Presbyterian Church (USA) is and is called to be.”
But Trump is excluded from said participation. The survey that will be considered by next year’s GA is only open to individuals who are members of a PC(USA) congregation. All others (including Trump) are excluded.
Always praise the Lord for Carmen’s articulae and persuasive fidelity.
For more on Trump using the “P” word in his campaign, go to http://www.koppdisclosure.com
What kinda P?
Now I’ve truly seen everything. The Layman thinks that Trump can fix the PCUSA.
My take on the Trump remark is :
Trump wants people to know he was baptized in a real church, and that it was not a Roman Catholic Church.
He no doubt wishes people to infer that he is a God-fearing man who embodies the Protestant work ethic.
End of story.
Is that what you REALLY took from this piece, Tom?….seriously? I think you are missing alot.
I am embarrassed when I read or hear that Mr. Trump claims to belong to the same denomination as I do. His demeaning of communion is particularly disheartening.
Oh come on, Tom. How can you doubt for a moment that Donald Trump is capable of fixing the PCUSA? Gradie Parsons did his best for many years to kill off the PCUSA, and he did manage to inflict a lot of pain and suffering on a lot of people in the process. In the end, however, he just didn’t have what was needed to put the 32-year-old basket case out of its misery. Donald Trump is every bit as spiritual as Rev. Gradie, maybe even more so, and much more intelligent. I suspect that if the Donald were chosen as the next Stated Clerk, he would have the PCUSA stone cold dead and buried within two years, three years tops. And that would, blessedly, fix all of its problems.
Editor’s note: Comments are not the place to post personal attacks of any kind. Therefore, a string of comments has been removed from this article. Some of the deleted comments in the string did not contain personal attacks but leaving them up would have been confusing as they would have appeared out of context.
He sounds like the perfect PCUSA “member”. He hasn’t a clue where the denomination stands on issues. He more than likely doesn’t know where the PCUSA stands on Jesus Christ either. If he did he would probably recant on his “I’m a Presbyterian” chant.
Agreed or maybe a greed? He gets to claim whatever faith he wants though and it isn’t up to us to question his faith claims of christianity or presbyterianism. Who questions yours?
A little research at Wikipedia reveals that Donald Trump’s mother was Scottish immigrant Mary Anne MacLeod, who was born on Stornoway Island in the outer Herbrides in Scotland. We all know that John Knox converted most of Scotland to the Presbyterian (reformed) faith. It is very likely that Trumps mother was reared in one of the several Presbyterian denominations in Scotland.
It is even more likely that she had her son baptized in a reformed church, perhaps the Marble Collegiate Church
While Trump seems to have observed his faith mostly in his absence from attendance at Church, he does have a claim to being a Presbyterian, but not of the PCUSA.
Just because someone stands in a garage it does not make them a car.
Trump’s ideology was shaped by Norman Vincent Peale and the power of positive thinking. As upset as evangelicals got with Jeremiah Wright’s Liberation Theology and Obama, we need to either call out Trump’s misunderstandings of the gospel (and the deceitfulness of the Power of Positive thinking) and/or stop giving him the attention he craves.
One might ask if the General Assembly defines “Presbyterianism.” I would argue that the true definition of “Presbyterianism” lies not so much in the stances and statements of the General Assembly as it does in the hearts and minds of those who have historically made up the church. What has come out of the General Assembly in the past few years is contrary to much of historical Presbyterianism.
To the Layman – thanks for keeping the discussion clean of personal attacks.
Regarding “Presbyterians” like Mr. Trump – there are many like him, who either do not attend a congregation but claim it as the theology as their spiritual base AND/OR who do not align themselves theologically or spiritually with where the PCUSA is today. In this regard he is like a significant number of Americans.
It is also like the earliest Colonists who, upon reading a tract written by a Presbyterian, wound up telling Governor Gooch they were Presbyterian. It was good enough to save them from the charge of sedition. It was also good enough to start the formal founding of the Presbyterian Church in Virginia.
What’s the fuss? He seems very Presbyterian to me. He claims to follow a Bible he has never read, claims he does not need forgiveness, loves to take other people’s property, and that hair! PCUSA is rug central, I mean come on, let’s be fair, I’ve never seen more carpet outside _____________ (you fill in the blank, I had trouble finishing this joke…)
Obviously Trump is making a political statement, not a theological one. (He is a politician not a theologian – though some would argue he isn’t even a politician either)
Presbyterianism, as the above referenced Oxford dictionary definition clearly states, is a form of church government, not a theology. The theology adopted by most Presbyterian denominations comes out of the Reformed tradition, as does the theology of a few thousand other denominations. But that is not what makes them uniquely Presbyterian.
The only mistake Trump made is to assume most Presbyterians know what “Presbyterian” really means. It would seem, at least among the commenting readership of the Presbyterian Layman, that is not the case.
Which probably says more about the state of the Presbyterian churches than it does about Donald Trump.