Baker Academic

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Christian?
Donald Trump is a Presbyterian. He may well be the most famous Presbyterian in the world at the moment. Does this make Trump a Christian? Well, I suppose, sort of…. yeah. As a Presbyterian myself, I would like to make a distinction between identity and representation. In other words, someone can be a Christian (e.g. many Nazis were) and not represent Christianity.

Last week Pope Francis said something to this effect: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.” Whether or not Pope Francis was directing this at Donald Trump is now a matter of dispute. Even so, I agree: this is not the gospel. Donald Trump does not represent Christianity for any number of reasons (see below), but does this make him something other than Christian? As much as I want to say otherwise, Donald Trump is a Christian.

Trump is Christian in the same way that he is “conservative.” If someone claims a label—especially when that label represents an ideology—it is difficult to prove otherwise. But few will doubt that Trump’s emphasis of his Christianity is political expediency. This claim fits hand-in-glove with his claim to be a conservative. We should not commit the sin that American xenophobes did in claiming that Obama is not really a Christian (such thinking is still prominent among Trump’s following). Rather we should acknowledge that there are Christians who do not, by their words or actions, represent Christianity. This is true in the same way that it is true that there are conservatives who do not represent conservative ideology.

Since the 1970s American conservatives have wanted four basic characteristics in a president:
(1) hegemonic Commander-in-Chief with a demonstrated history of support for military expansion; (2) traditional social values with an emphasis on the nuclear family and human fetal rights;
(3) fiscally minimalist (cf. Nozick) with a history of deconstructing “big government”;
(4) faith resembling evangelical Christianity with all of the appropriate dog-whistle comments. There are, of course, more criteria, but these are the table legs of the platform. By these criteria, Trump fails to represent conservative ideology. Fails miserably. And yet, we must acknowledge that conservatives like Trump exist because Trump exists.

So, yes. Donald Trump is a conservative who does not represent conservatism. Trump is a Christian who does not represent Christianity.

I will go further. Donald Trump does not represent any Christian I have ever met. Not only does he not represent my faith, he does not represent any sort of Christian faith that I have ever encountered. Allow me to give only a short list of examples. (A) He is at odds with Pope Francis (who does that?); even Christians who are anti-Catholic like this pope! (B) He claims to have no need for God’s forgiveness or any need for repentance. (C) He exhibits almost no Christian virtue of character. Consider this post by evangelical author Max Lucado:
I don’t know Mr. Trump. But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. He referred to the former first lady, Barbara Bush as “mommy,” and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail. He routinely calls people “stupid,” “loser,” and “dummy.” These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded, and presented.
Allow me to add that he called most Mexican Americans rapists, called for a ban of Muslims entering the U.S., repeatedly disparages women, and claims to be able to murder people with no consequence. And the list could go on and will indeed go on as long as Christian voters continue to overlook his clear lack of virtue.

Admittedly many Americans (including many Christians) seem have other reasons for supporting Trump. The most common opinion I have heard is this “He has no experience in government. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.” This sort of rationale is (bafflingly) meant as an endorsement. Allow me to pause from the religion talk for a moment and test this out with other occupations. I'll just stick with the Ps.
  • pilot: She has no experience with planes. But at least she says whatever is on her mind.
  • police chief: He has no experience in law enforcement. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.
  • professor of mathematics: She has no experience with mathematics. But at least she says whatever is on her mind.
  • puppeteer: He has no experience with puppets. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.
  • painter: She has no experience with painting. But at least she says whatever is on her mind.
  • plumber: He has no experience in plumbing. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.
  • piano tuner: She has no experience with pianos. But at least she says whatever is on her mind.
  • priest: He has no experience in Catholicism. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.
  • poultry inspector: She has no experience in food safety. But at least she says whatever is on her mind.
  • proctologist: He has no experience in medical science. But at least he says whatever is on his mind.
Aside from reality-TV personality, is there any job that this rationale suits?

Finally, returning to the topic of Christian virtue, can we agree that lacking a verbal filter is not Christian (Prov. 12:18; 15:4; 18:21; James 3:6-8)? Say what you will about Bush and Obama. Both have had glaring and lamentable imperfections. But both at least had a modicum of professionalism. And that, my friends, is where I am at with Donald Trump. The man has gotten me to say something nice about George W. Bush.

Is Trump a Christian? Yes. Does he represent my Christianity? No.


  1. Thanks for making this post. I was looking for it for too long of a time.

  2. Great post!

    My reaction to what you've written begins with a political reality: the present-day Republican establishment includes prominent figures in the American conservative evangelical movement, and this movement is a powerful voting block in American politics. We might also include American Mormons, and a growing block of American Catholics, within this voting block. Even if these Christians are not necessarily comfortable with each other religiously, they do seem happy to join together politically.

    I've long felt there is a danger in too vigorous a mix of religion and politics. The danger I see is not so much to politics as to religion. The problem is when the political values espoused by "religious" candidates become seen as religious values. I've witnessed how political ideas such as fiscal conservatism, the right to own guns and the denial of civil rights to LGBTQ people have become confused in the public mind (by Christians and non-Christians alike) with religion in general, and Christianity in particular. This process can create a kind of political-religious narcissism: the things that Christians seek politically become Christian values simply because it is Christians who seek them.

    We now have candidate Trump, who claims to be a Christian, and promises Christians that they will be winners again if he is elected President. I think this business of "winning" is a perversion of Christianity, which has never been a celebration of winning, but has instead been devoted to "the least of these," to the last being first. I'd be happy if what was "winning" were the core Christian values of compassion, humility, repentance and forgiveness. But Trump expressly rejects these values. What Trump seeks is that Christians "win," regardless of the values they bring to victory with them.

    If we put to one side this business of "winning," Trump's platform is devoid of any evident Christianity, as you have ably pointed out. I think this triggers a Christian responsibility to speak out, because American Christianity has allowed itself to be so closely associated with Republican politics. Unless American Christianity speaks out powerfully against Trump, we risk confusion between Trump's values, Christianity's values and the values of religion as a whole. This would be a disaster for all people of faith.

    If Christians sought Jews to participate in a ringing religious denunciation of Trump, I think you'll find plenty of us eager to join in.

    1. Hard to disagree with anything you write here, Larry, save one thing. Christianity cannot speak out. Only Christians can speak out.

  3. Donald Trump is bigger than Jesus. He has even taken over the Jesus blog. Disappointing.

    1. Once you see The Son of Man -or that is to say, mortals - rule the earth, then low, all-too-human politics becomes a popular obsession. And presidential campaigns become gong shows. Though fairly soon, a more elevated politic - like socialism, which finds value and dignity even in mere men-should emerge.

      Meaning Bernie Sanders, of course.

  4. I'm not sure that after Bourdieu, we really can distinguish absolutely between Identity and Representation. Though I suppose we could accept your framework now and then,for purposes of discussion.

    In more ordinary language: right now, in the Primary, the Republican candidates are seeking to appear very, very Christian. In order to appeal to the regular voters, or the "base," of their party.

    This might seem unlikely of success at first. Since Trump famously wants to build walls between America and other countries. And the Pope, speaking in general terms, just stood at the US and Mexico border, speaking against walls. Condemning them as unchristian.

  5. Christianity has become the hubris of what a political candidate thinks is best for America. That is combined with the anxiety dulling apocalyptic hope that Christ opens heaven's doors, the assurance provided by a psychic moment. Then there is church Christianity of the hope of heaven and the inspiration for good works. And very occasionally Christianity has been awareness of what Jesus said or did to foster cultural revolution, something like the last will walk in the shoes of the first, and the first will walk in the shoes of the last - how ironic that the only candidate suggesting anything close to this is Jewish.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  6. Guns is that Christian? I am confused.

  7. I think that the problem is that all people who say that they are Christian or Conservative or Liberal or whatever are claiming to represent that group, even if they have no official status. They are seen by the people around them as representing whatever it is that they say they represent. Some people do it well and others do it badly. If the people around them only know bad representatives of the group, they get the wrong impression. Trump does an exceptionally bad job of representing what most Christians and official representatives of the faith believe Christianity to be. Unfortunately, the opponents of Christianity are much more likely to believe Trump's version, because it is soooo much easier to discredit. :-(

    1. The interesting thing here is Ted Cruz. The Cuban Irish Hispanic. Who has almost convinced white conservatives that they are true kin.

      Can ideology replace ethnicity as the chief secondary power structure in America?

  8. "... he called most Mexican Americans rapists ..."
    Check the quote and the context, Anthony. I know he continually goes overboard, but I don't think this particular charge is accurate.

    1. Donald Trump's words: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

  9. Exactly. "When Mexico sends its people" is the key phrase. How he can believe (if it's not just campaign bluster) that illegal immigrants are sent by their government and that a large proportion of them are criminals is beyond me (maybe he got it mixed up with the Cuban situation?), but it was clearly these people he was talking about, not Mexican Americans in general.

  10. Arrogant, brash, selfish, unforgiving, lover of money ...

  11. I am stumped by one thing in your essay - the fact that he admits he has never repented or asked for forgiveness. That, to me, is the essence of becoming a Christian. That is what it is to be a Christian. How can he claim to be a Christian without first acknowledging the need for a Savior? Does not compute.

  12. Yes he is a Christian as my sister is a car. She was born in a garage😂😆😭🙋