Last September Donald Trump addressed the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. Memorably bounding on to the stage with Bible in hand, I along with some of my students sitting next to me, found it fascinating that the first words out of his mouth explained how this Bible was a childhood gift from his mother with his name written on the inside cover. My students’ reactions were immediate and unforced. Their chuckle and horizontal nod clearly indicated a disbelief in the speaker’s message. Millennials are pretty good at sizing up authenticity.
Since then, Mr. Trump has unabashedly presented himself as not only a Christian, but a “strong Christian” as most recently seen in his post Houston debate interview with CNN. Today, seldom does a public figure, let alone someone running to be President, refer to him or herself as a “strong Christian.”
One thing is certain: Being a Christian has nothing to do with the citizenship indicated on one’s birth certificate, level of education, socio-economic status or whether you are a catholic or protestant, member of a mainline church or a conservative evangelical. It boils down for everyone to a personal, voluntary choice. There are two essential elements in making that decision: one, do I confess my sins by asking for forgiveness from God since all of us have sinned against Him due to our fallen nature; and two, do I ask in faith for Jesus Christ to come into my life to direct my heart and mind. This decision, clothed in a humble repentance and a genuine belief in the salvific work of God through his son, Jesus Christ, makes one a Christian. Such a belief is more than an intellectual assent, but rather a transformed life for all to witness.
An important aspect of this transformed life in Christ is seeking forgiveness. Not asking for forgiveness disqualifies anyone from claiming to be a Christian by definition. While once the individual controlled his or her life, behaviors and beliefs, the new Christian begins to allow God to have control. Individuals who have made this personal decision will tell you of a new found peace and joy as well as a profound change of purpose. This kind of transformation is so deep that one often remembers exactly when and where it occurred or the event or crisis that brought it to bear.
Because candidate Trump opened the proverbial door to honest review of his Christian experience, shouldn’t voters have the right to hear more specifics on this matter? When did you actually become a Christian? Was there an event or crisis that drove you to commit your life to Christ? How do you believe God changed your life? What evidence or “fruit” would you point to that gives credence to your transformation? What changed behaviors, attitudes, priorities substantiate a Godly influence both in your personal and professional life? These kind of questions are not offensive to anyone who genuinely calls him or herself a “Christian” let alone a “strong Christian.” A “strong Christian” welcomes honest inquiries concerning their faith journey, and would never assert a privatized faith. Ironically, Mr. Trump had the perfect platform and audience to share his personal testimony, but he never did. Instead, he spoke of being enraged that people are criticized for saying, “Merry Christmas,” and how that would change if he became President.
Some in American society might ask, “what’s the big deal as to whether Trump is a real Christian or not? Why not take him at his word?” Documenting the historical context of the first “unchurched generation” in our Millennials is the reason for the big deal. The Church ought to educate pre-believers that merely attending a church or being a member of a particular denomination doesn’t make that individual a Christian any more than living in a barn makes one a cow. Furthermore, simply proclaiming that one is a Christian doesn’t equate to that person living it out. Coaches and teachers understand this principle when the “talk” and the “walk” of their athletes and students do not produce moral coherence. They say, “I see better than I hear.”
So voters have an obligation to examine whether Donald Trump’s word demonstrate fidelity with his actual practices as a “strong Christian.” Let’s hear directly from Mr. Trump as to examples of building genuine bridges at all levels in relationships that bring glory to God instead of himself. When he becomes that open, honest, and transparent, we the voters will get a sense of how accurate, deep, and possibly, how sincere his faith is. If Mr. Trump won’t answer questions regarding his personal relationship with God - questions he initiated - then he obviously isn’t willing to be authentic with Americans, and thereby, not “close the deal” with them. That’s the sense of dread I felt as Trump concluded his remarks at the Values Voters Summit by lifting up his Bible again, pointing to it and saying, “This is what it’s all about.” That moment felt like the Bible was used as a prop to enhance his brand. It was like a salesman making his pitch.
If you really do believe, Donald Trump, that God’s Word is “what it’s all about” - that it is the story of God’s never-ending passionate pursuit for a redemptive relationship with His beloved creation, mankind - then give us insight as to its significance in your daily life as opposed to it merely being a convenient prop to bolster your political future?