Donald Trump and Ben Carson
Candidate for President Donald Trump’s sideswipe at fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist faith calls for a response from those who are what Mr. Trump is not – a Presbyterian.
Although Mr. Trump attended Sunday School and was confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens, NY, he is not a member of a Presbyterian Church. His church of choice on Easter and Christmas is Marble Collegiate Church, the historic Reformed Church in America congregation in midtown Manhattan best known for the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking.
“I am Presbyterian Protestant. I go to Marble Collegiate Church,” he told reporters in Greenville, S.C. Two funny thing about that: 1) Marble Collegiate Church is not a Presbyterian church, and 2) even if it were, Mr. Trump is not a member there, according to the church itself.
Why does it matter?
Who cares? UNTIL Mr. Trump presents himself as a Presbyterian in contrast to another candidate’s Seventh Day Adventist faith in a way that is typically very un-presbyterian.
“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian. I’m a Presbyterian!” he proclaimed with pride, insinuating that he is in the mainstream while Dr. Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) is a fringe group outside the mainstream of American religious life. He seemed unaware that 1) Seventh Day Adventists are one of the fastest growing churches both in the U.S. and the world with a worldwide membership of 18.1 million, and 2) unlike the overwhelmingly white Presbyterian Church to which he claims to belong, the SDA is full of color and immigrants.
As to his own faith, Trump’s answer to Frank Luntz’ question of whether he’s ever asked for forgiveness offers further insight:
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.'”
The Presbyterian-Reformed Tradition
There are a few things about the Presbyterian-Reformed tradition of the Christian faith that Mr. Trump seems not to know or has forgotten:
- The Reformed-Presbyterian faith shuns ostentation.
- Simplicity is a characteristic of the Christian life.
- “The sins forbidden by the First Commandment” include “self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, and affections upon other things;…hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security” (Larger Catechism, Q 1).
- Confession of sin – both in private prayer and in the “Confession of Sin” in every Sunday service of worship – is a daily spiritual discipline of Christian life and practice.
- Divine grace and the forgiveness are the sources of personal and communal renewal and reconciliation.
- Respect for other religions -“Christians find parallels between other religions and their own and must approach all religions with openness and respect” (Confessions of 1967 IIB3) – and humility about one’s own religious claims are called for before God.
Local Presbyterians and Seventh Day Adventists
Every Sunday for seven years Momoh Freeman, a gifted Liberian refugee musician, served as Director of Music at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska; on Saturdays he served in the same capacity at a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Minneapolis. The beliefs and practices of the two congregations are distinctly different in many respects, but we became fast friends.
The SDA Choir, comprised of Liberian-Americans, Liberian refugees, and African Americans, performed in concert at Shepherd of the Hill at our invitation, singing both African hymns and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus a cappella!
We Presbyterians joined our SDA friends in Minneapolis for Saturday worship, including the foot-washing ritual that preceded the Sacrament of Holy Communion to which we were also welcome. None of us went to the table “drink my little wine…and have my little cracker.”
A remedy of humble faith
Considering the disrespect in the run up to a presidential nomination, a good foot-washing seems in order.
When Jesus washed Peter’s feet, Peter replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13.9)
- Gordon C. Stewart, Presbyterian Teaching Elder (i.e., Minister of Word and Sacrament) H.R., Chaska, Minnesota, October 28, 2015