In the wake of sagging poll numbers in Iowa, Donald Trump assures Iowa voters that he is a “great Christian.” At a rally in Sioux City, he declared:
Will you get these numbers up? I promise you I will do such a good job. First of all, I am a great Christian. And I do well with the evangelicals, but the evangelicals let me down a little bit this month. I don’t know what I did.
NPR reports that Trump’s campaign has been handing out pictures of his 1959 confirmation ceremony in an attempt to establish his Christian bona fides.
I doubt that anyone is buying this. I’m not questioning the fact that he is Presbyterian or that he goes to Christian churches when he goes to church (which is very rare by his own admission). I am questioning the suggestion that what he means by Christian is what evangelicals mean by Christian.
Evangelicals define a Christian as one who has been born again, who trusts in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and who seeks to follow Christ through the power of the Spirit. I don’t think Trump is claiming to be a Christian in the evangelical sense, and I’m not even sure he would know the difference anyway.
What is clear is that he wants the votes of evangelicals in Iowa, and he thinks that this is the way to do it: “See, I’m just like you!” And that’s the part that evangelicals should be skeptical about. They should also be skeptical about the suggestion that a candidate has to be an evangelical in order to be qualified for President.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see a bona fide evangelical assume the presidency. But I don’t believe that evangelical faith ought to be a prerequisite for our vote. Instead, we ought be looking for a candidate who has proven his commitment to the issues that we care about most: life, marriage, and religious liberty. For me personally, the life issue is the most important of all. And it is precisely here—on the life issue—that Trump fails miserably. To wit:
1. Trump has recently said that he’s open to funding those parts of Planned Parenthood that do not involve abortion. But this is not a good argument. He’s a businessman, so I assume he understands that money is fungible. And that is why we cannot tolerate a single dime of federal money going to Planned Parenthood. But Trump has argued otherwise. His remarks led the The Daily Beast to declare that “Donald Trump is Planned Parenthood’s Favorite Republican.” His openness to support Planned Parenthood in any measure is not a pro-life position.
2. Trump claims to be pro-life, but the position he recently articulated on CNN follows pro-abortion logic. In his own words:
“I am pro-life and I am strongly about pro-life, but I also feel that you go with the exceptions… I’m for the exceptions and the health of the mother and the life of the mother and so is Ronald Reagan for the exceptions, by the way.”
Did you catch that? He said that he not only favors exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother but also for the “health” of the mother. Anyone who knows anything about the legal situation on abortion understands that the Supreme Court has interpreted “health” so broadly that it allows abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. Does Trump realize that he not only just made the case for funding Planned Parenthood but also for the continuation of Roe v. Wade? This is unacceptable. I suppose it is possible that he didn’t realize what he was saying, but ignorance on abortion politics is equally unacceptable.
3. Trump has said that he thinks his sister—who is a federal judge—would make a great Supreme Court justice. And yet his sister is a pro-abortion extremist who once wrote a heated judicial decision in favor of giving constitutional protection to partial-birth abortion (source). How can a candidate be pro-life when he supports the appointment of judges like his sister—a defender of Roe v. Wade and of partial birth abortion?
As far as voting is concerned, evangelicals should be far less concerned about Trump’s claim to be a “great Christian” than they are about his claim to be pro-life. It wasn’t that long ago that he was openly pro-choice. But even now that he claims to be pro-life, we have more than enough reason to be skeptical. If the sanctity of human life is more than just a slogan to you, Trump is not your candidate. And no amount of confirmation pictures will change that.
UPDATE (1/16/16): In 1999, Donald Trump said this about his views:
Even though Trump claimed then to be very pro-choice and okay with partial birth abortion, now that he’s running for President he says he’s pro-life. What should we make of his recent “conversion” to the pro-life cause? Color me unconvinced. I share Scott Klusendorf’s skepticism:
Pro-life advocates shouldn’t immediately assume the worst when a candidate pivots and identifies as “pro-life.” Sometimes the change is indeed for the better. For example, G.H.W. Bush changed his view when Reagan made him VP. Later, as President, he vetoed pro-abortion bills sent by the Democrat Congress.
That said, when you are Donald Trump and your paper trail suggests a firm commitment to unrestricted abortion, you owe the public a minimal explanation for your change of mind. It might be as simple as, “Ya know, it finally dawned on me that it’s un-American to hurt people because they are small. I want this country to be great again and it won’t be as long as you can be killed because you’re in the way.” He might also add: “President Obama said ‘we need abortion because this is a nation where everyone has a right to pursue their own dreams.’ But he never told us if ‘everyone’ includes the unborn. He just assumed it did not. I was just as bad. For years, I was talking out both sides of my mouth. I called abortion appalling, but said people had a right to do it. I never asked why it was appalling. I finally did and that changed everything.”
So far, I am unaware of Trump doing anything of the sort. Until he does, his pro-life critics are not unreasonable to question his alleged pro-life convictions.