A great many Americans despise Donald Trump.
An ex-Hillary supporter from 2008 is supporting Trump this year. He is a retired lawyer who is flummoxed by anti-Trump sentiment. This is what he said during the primaries (emphases mine):
For me it all boils down to this: Trump is a gamble. The establishment is a certainty.
The establishment will destroy this nation. That is a fact.
Trump may save it, provided it is not too late. That is the gamble.
I ran into a young lady who wants Bernie, but will not go to the polls to vote for him.
But if Trump is the Republican nominee, then she will go to the polls and vote against him.
She admitted the reasons she would do this[:] because Donald is not nice.
In other words it is a matter of style–NOT SUBSTANCE.
Would it matter to you if he gave you a better future, even though he is not nice?
Would it matter to you if someone who was nice, condemned you to a negative future?
Echo answereth not. Neither did she.
This is the same drivel I got from another young woman eight years ago.
She said she did not want Hillary because Obama was so full of hope.
Like the show title: Just shoot me.
Keeping such sentiments in mind, it is now time to write about Donald Trump’s Christian upbringing. Like him, it won’t be perfect enough or orthodox enough for some. Nonetheless, it deserves to be known.
In April 2015, before he launched his bid for the presidency, Trump gave an interview to CBN. He was confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. He brought his Confirmation picture to the interview.
(Image credit: First Presbyterian Church)
Founded in 1662, it is the oldest continuing Presbyterian congregation in the United States. While the buildings have changed over the centuries, it remains on its original site. It is likely that, when the Trump family — Mary, Fred and their five children — were members, the Revd Andrew Magill was pastor:
He was a dynamic minister and an extraordinary leader. During that time, church membership flourished to more than one thousand as it continued to provide a safe and spiritual environment for the community it served.
The Trumps then began attending the Revd Dr Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. The Federalist found quotes from Mary Trump on the importance she attached to Christian belief:
Trump’s mother hoped that the pastor’s teaching would stick in her children: “I tried to get it into their heads that they had to believe,” she said. “Whether it shows or not, it’s in there because I put it in there.”
Although Marble Collegiate Church is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, many members attending were, or at least self-identified as, Presbyterians. The Trumps were one such family.
Norman Vincent Peale was an unorthodox preacher and the first to promote popular psychology over the Bible. He was Robert Schuller’s mentor. That said, he also took traditionally Protestant perspectives on social issues. My parents’ friends, Protestants, loved his books. My Catholic mother said that the Pope forbade reading them.
Dr Michael Horton, writing for Christianity Today (CT), explains Peale’s style (emphases mine):
Blending pop-psychology and spirituality, Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for 186 weeks. Nicknamed “God’s Salesman,” Peale was criticized for trivializing Christianity. Reinhold Niebuhr said that he “corrupts the gospel,” and that he helps people “feel good, while they are evading the real issues of life.”
In the 1952 election, Peale declared presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson unfit because he was divorced. For his part, Stevenson quipped, “Speaking as a Christian, I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” During the Kennedy-Nixon campaign, which began his long relationship with the Nixon White House, Peale declared, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”
He caught flak afterwards. In 1982, he told People magazine:
“I made a mistake,” said Peale, “You couldn’t get me near a politician now. Government isn’t moral or immoral. It’s just plain amoral.”
Horton says that the Trumps attended Marble Collegiate Church every Sunday. Later, Peale officiated at three Trump weddings, his and those of his two sisters. He also baptised one of Trump’s two sons by Ivana. Trump also threw a 90th birthday party for the minister.
At the time the Trumps began attending, Peale had already transformed Marble into ‘the businessman’s church’. The Washington Post explains:
Fred Trump, then a successful developer in Brooklyn and Queens, began attending the services with his wife, drawn as many business executives were to Peale’s can-do theology and his belief that faith could lead to greater success.
“I know that with God’s help,” the minister wrote, “I can sell vacuum cleaners.”
“He was the embodiment of the salesman’s spirit,” [Michael] D’Antonio [a Trump biographer] said of Peale. “And Fred was at bottom a salesman. It’s not a surprise that Fred Trump would gravitate towards the church.”
The American Spectator quoted Donald Trump on Peale:
I go to church and I love God and love my church. And Norman Vincent Peale. The great Norman Vincent Peale was my pastor. The Power of Positive Thinking.
Everybody’s heard of Norman Vincent Peale? He would give a sermon. You never wanted to leave. Sometimes we have sermons and every once in a while we think about leaving a little early, right? Even though we’re Christian.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale would give a sermon. I’m telling you I still remember his sermons. It was unbelievable. And what he would do is bring real life situations, modern day situations into the sermon. And you could listen to him all day long. When you left the church you were disappointed that it was over. He was the greatest guy.
And Peale thought highly of Trump. First Things tells us:
In 1988, Peale predicted that Donald Trump would become “the greatest builder of our time—he’s a very ingenious man.” Peale also saw in Trump not only kindness and courtesy but also a trait some others have missed—“a profound streak of honest humility.”
I read elsewhere that when Peale married Donald and Ivana, Trump practically melted in the pastor’s presence. It seemed that only Peale could bring him to heel in the gentlest of ways, just by standing in front of him.
The Federalist summed up their similarities and success this way:
Both men successfully cultivated a popular and populist image by convincing Americans that they were hoi polloi even as they hobnobbed with the power elite. Of course, the elite never really accepted either man, but it was willing to tolerate their pandering so long as they didn’t make naked appeals to the worst prejudices of their fans.
Peale was, in a way, a Trump for his church and many Protestants in the second half of the 20th century. The People interview says:
his passionate eloquence, legendary optimism and accessible style, has turned Marble Collegiate from the near-insolvent midtown New York parish it once was into a popular, hot-ticket attraction. Each Sunday there are two sold-out services. (For those who can’t find a pew in the large Romanesque nave, closed-circuit TV is available elsewhere in the church.) People line up 15 minutes beforehand. “You’d think God was holding His closeout sale,” observes a policeman surveying the crowd. Just before the sermon, Peale calls for an intermission. The service is being recorded for TV and radio. Cameramen have to reset their videotape. It feels like the commercial time-out at a pro football game. Marble Collegiate is as up-to-date as space medicine.
His wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, was equally involved in the ministry, which included Guideposts magazine and The Foundation for Christian Living, based in Pawling, NY. Mrs Peale told People:
“I’m here nearly every day,” says Ruth Peale. “Norman has an office here too. But I have the veto power. And I believe the foundation should be run on the strictest principles of efficiency and organization.”
The Peales did very well for themselves:
At present he and Ruth have a nine-room church-owned apartment on Fifth Avenue as well as their extraordinary homestead in Pawling. On Hill Farm’s 200 rolling acres, Dr. and Mrs. Peale can indulge in their favorite pastime, walking, and their indoor pool is close by. But there are no servants on the estate. “I’m chief cook and bottle washer,” Ruth will tell any guest. She is also chauffeur; the license plate on her Cadillac reads RSP5, and she doesn’t trust Norman to drive.
Their children turned out well, too:
The Peale children—Margaret Ann, 48, married to a Presbyterian minister, Paul F. Everett; John, 45, a professor of philosophy at Longwood College in Farmville, Va.; and Elizabeth, 39, whose husband, John Allen, is a vice-president at Reader’s Digest—have shown no sign of rebellion or unseemly negativism.
Peale summed up his Christian belief this way:
“That’s to persuade as many people as I can that the only rational way to live is to follow the greatest thinker who ever thought, namely Jesus Christ. That’s the way to peace—within the individual, within the family, within the world. And it’s the way to serenity, excitement, enthusiasm and the real values of life. I’ve been preaching this now for half a century, and there’s still a few people I haven’t persuaded. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
If Peale’s message has, at times, seemed rather subjective and materialistic, he doesn’t hesitate to answer that criticism. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he says. “That’s one of the most subtle statements in the Bible. The more you esteem yourself, the more you’ll consider your neighbors with esteem.”
This is what the Trumps would have heard and read:
The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter sunshine. Forget self, think of others. Do as you would be done by. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.
They would also have recognised these gems that Politico pulled from The Power of Positive Thinking:
“Believe in yourself!” Peale’s book begins. “Have faith in your abilities!” He then outlines 10 rules to overcome “inadequacy attitudes” and “build up confidence in your powers.” Rule one: “formulate and staple indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” “hold this picture tenaciously,” and always refer to it “no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.”
Subsequent rules tell the reader to avoid “fear thoughts,” “never think of yourself as failing,” summon up a positive thought whenever “a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind,” “depreciate every so-called obstacle,” and “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10 per cent.”
Trump family thinking and Peale thinking went hand in hand. Politico explains:
Long before this self-esteem guru codified his canon, Donald’s grandfather Friedrich used Peale-like confidence and tenacity to make the first Trump fortune during the Klondike gold rush. A few decades later, Donald’s father, Fred, deployed proto-Peale thinking to become a multimillionaire real estate developer in Brooklyn and Queens. And Donald Trump himself has cited Peale’s advice many times in his own career.
in a 2009 interview with Psychology Today he gave Peale’s book credit for his survival. Citing his father’s friendship with Peale and calling himself “a firm believer in the power of being positive,” he said, “what helped is I refused to give in to the negative circumstances and never lost faith in myself. I didn’t believe I was finished even when the newspapers were saying so.”
Trump also incorporated Peale’s style into his own means of communication:
Peale spoke extemporaneously during sermons, in simple, folksy language, a technique Trump uses at his rallies. Peale delivered his message through books and magazines, and even appeared on popular TV shows such as “What’s My Line?” Trump starred in his own reality-television series and is a ubiquitous presence on Twitter and talk shows.
“I can see the similarities,” said Carol V.R. George, a historian who wrote a biography of Peale titled “God’s Salesman.” “The very enthusiastic way Trump communicates. The lack of notes. Peale said you need to know what you’re going to say. He could talk off the cuff for an hour.”
Ultimately, The Federalist says:
This—not an orthodox Christianity or principled conservatism—is the faith that animates Donald Trump and his many followers. It is nostalgic and self-affirming, unconcerned with doctrine but defensive about identity.
Adlai Stevenson once quipped that he found “Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” Those who find Trump similarly appalling should remember that their reaction, like Stevenson’s, is not shared by a great number of Americans. Faulting Trump for his lack of consistency as a Christian or conservative will do nothing at all to dampen the enthusiasm of his supporters.
John Peale, the late minister’s son and a retired philosophy professor, is now 79. He and Trump do not know each other. He told the Washington Post that he sees no reflection of his father’s theology in what Trump says or does:
Peale said he became upset last fall after reading a Politico article that claimed that Norman Vincent Peale helped shape Trump.
The article in question is from an October 2015 edition of Politico magazine.
Two months earlier, in August, Trump said he was still attending Marble, but the church issued a statement clarifying that he is not a member of the congregation. I have read that, in recent years, the church has shifted its theology from self help to progressive social justice, which indicates that Trump is unlikely to have been there lately.
He, Melania and Barron, age 10, definitely attend church at Easter. Melania’s Twitter feed had a photo of the church they went to in 2015: the Catholic one in Palm Beach. (She did not say, but I recognise it, having been there twice with my mother for Mass.) This year, a Trump supporter took a photo of them on Easter Day in a Protestant church in New York. Trump also attended a Presbyterian service earlier this year during the primaries and read the lesson from ‘Two Corinthians’. He told CBN in 2011 that he also attends every Christmas and when he can.
It should come as no surprise that none of the writers of the articles approves of Donald Trump.
But … and it’s a big BUT
Dr Horton, who wrote the Christianity Today article, is a professor, minister and theologian I greatly respect. I have several posts citing his wisdom on Reformed theology.
However, here, by only criticising, Horton’s not helping.
It is evident that the Republican candidate has a flawed, incomplete knowledge of the Bible and Christian teaching. Trump receives the Supper — the ‘cracker’, as he puts it — as a means of forgiveness, forgiveness which he says he has never requested because he doesn’t need it.
A few days ago, Trump spoke in Iowa and told his supporters how much the Evangelical vote meant to him. He then quoted Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’ Schuller. Peale was Schuller’s mentor. Therefore, it would appear that Trump connects all Evangelicals with the self-help-prosperity gospel.
That would be wrong, but, for his purposes, Trump probably did the right thing in citing Schuller, who was born and raised in Iowa. There was no shortage of applause.
Trump does not realise that most Evangelicals know the Bible well and have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. The prosperity gospel does not enter into their way of thinking; in fact, they shun false teaching.
The prosperity gospel is the only teaching — false as it is, by Peale — that Trump knew post-Confirmation.
For that reason, someone as Christian as Horton might have offered to end his article by asking that everyone reading it pray for Trump. However, he did not.
Nor do some people reading this post.
I have not seen one anti-Trump person on here view him with pity or advocate that we pray for his return to a proper church and Christian teaching.
Yet, these same people readily preach forgiveness and pardon of others.
Is that Christlike? Or is it a sin of omission?
I would be interested in seeing Hillary Clinton’s application and practice of Methodism dissected the way Donald Trump’s Presbyterianism has been in the media. But that day will never come.
However, as a nun put it to me about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism in 2012, ‘You’re not appointing him pastor of your church or to another ecclesiastical position, you’re voting for him for president.’
Returning to the retired lawyer’s comment at the beginning of this post, we should be focussing on Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States and the free world, rather than his knowledge of Christian theology.