Did you know that President Donald J. Trump is Christian, believes in God, and has deep faith? Well, if you only read or watch mainstream media, you might not.
Mainstream media would have you believe that unwavering support of Trump by evangelical Christians rests on politics: antiabortion, appointment of conservative judges, pro-Israel, the right to bear arms, a pledge “to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” protection of religious free speech on campuses, or seasonal tidings of joy – “Merry Christmas.” This list does not inspire spiritual faith. Politics and religion may share aims, but at the same time, they are worlds apart. Politics cannot penetrate the meaning of Trump’s impassioned call in a Miami church: “In America we don’t worship government, we worship God!”
A Christian Charisma
Trump joins evangelicals through faith. Sustained faith cannot be faked, it is based on experience, a spiritual fact. Trump’s charisma in a church is not that of a visiting political potentate; he is energized by authentic Christian fire. What other major politician could speak for over an hour in an evangelical church with unscripted spontaneity, secure in Christian belief, moving in-and-out of conversation with congregants or pulling them to the pulpit as witnesses? Like his “I am one of you” rapport with blue collar workers based on long close contact in the construction world, when in the presence of evangelicals Trump is moved by a similar lived Christian experience that radiates from his pores.
Guided Through the Church
Trump acknowledges only two people in his life as “mentor,” his father, Fred Christ Trump Sr., and Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993), pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church of New York for six decades. From late childhood into adulthood, near fifty years, Trump attended Sunday services and heard Peale’s sermons. Peale mesmerized Trump: “Dr. Peale commanded the pulpit like no one else. He was perhaps the greatest speaker I have ever watched…. I especially liked his sermons. He would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself. I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons. I learned a lot from Norman Vincent Peale.... I think people are shocked when they find out that I am a Christian, that I am a religious person. They see me with all the surroundings of wealth so they sometimes don’t associate that with being religious. That’s not accurate. I go to church, I love God, and I love having a relationship with Him. I’ve said it before — I think the Bible is the most important book ever written” (2016). At his inauguration Trump swore on both the Lincoln bible and one received in childhood from his mother whose prescription for life he often quotes: “Trust in God and be true to yourself.”
Reading Peale’s still popular book, “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952), reveals the spiritual framework of Donald J. Trump’s policies throughout his life including the presidency.
A Presidential Witness
“The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16) and Romans 8:15 includes an emotional “cry” affirming witnessing. Evangelicals do not listen to Trump with cold intellects assessing politics. “Religion is under siege…. The day I got sworn in the Federal war on religion came to a very abrupt end…. A nation without faith cannot endure…. Faith and family lead to the stability, happiness and prosperity of nations” (Trump, 2020). Trump’s passionate faith embraces an evangelical’s ardent search for the path to salvation — a witnessed faith. Responding to Trump’s outsized religious fervor evangelicals are energized, joyful, and hopeful. Trump’s ease of witness elicits a similar witnessing from the congregation. Trump’s authentic affection for his co-religionists — united in faithful belief – stokes his rhetorical blaze and fosters acceptance of his words. Words are secondary. Faith is first.
Trump bears witness through lifelong faithfulness. Politics while undoubtedly significant cannot explain Trump’s profound appeal to those who pursue salvation. In this religious struggle of the faithful, his empathic talent to excite contagious witnessing captures the hearts of believers. How could it not! He aids and abets the salvation of their souls. Donald J. Trump has Christian charisma.
Dr. Sheldon Roth is a retired psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is publishing a book this Spring called, "Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J. Trump."