Some years ago a reporter, doing a piece on the faith of George W. Bush, called and asked if I thought Bush was a Methodist. I said I had heard rumors, but no proof. Bush appeared to be blissfully ignorant of the United Methodist Social Principles, judging from his domestic and foreign policies.
Then the reporter repeated some of the President's statements about religion and I was forced to glumly admit, "Well, it seems he has a woefully limited knowledge of the Bible, a faith lathered by a great deal of sentimentality, and has been repeatedly converted out of some of his bad habits -- maybe 'W' is a Methodist."
Next thing I know, Dick Cheney is alleged to be a Methodist. What fresh outrage was this against my beloved church?
When a noted Christian Princeton Seminary ethicist charged Cheney with "gross immorality" because of his enthusiasm for torture I defended him. "Moral/immoral, evil/good, who can say? It's mainly a matter of his personal feelings. Dick's a Methodist, after all."
This is to explain my elation in receiving the surprising news that Donald Trump is a Presbyterian.
Though I love the idea, I'm having difficulty getting my mind around the thought that The Donald really is a Presby. Maybe that's just an indication of my own limited Methodist stereotypes of Reformed Christians.
First there was the jolt that Trump was featured at this summer's Family Leadership Summit in Iowa. I was incredulous; I'm old enough to remember when Presbyterians had qualms about divorce, adultery, remarriage after divorce and a number of areas where The Donald appears not to have received the memo from Jesus.
He told the Family Leadership folks, "People are always amazed to find out that I am Protestant (Presbyterian)." I'll say.
I was further discombobulated to learn that Presbyterian Trump boasted that he's never asked God for forgiveness. What? Where I come from Presbyterians always began Sunday worship with groveling prayers of corporate confession, gleefully admitting all sorts of flattering iniquities, wallowing in their trumped up sin, begging for divine forgiveness. That was when Presbyterians took the phrase "You're fired" as a threat to their eternal destiny.
Explaining why he doesn't bother God with unctuous requests for forgiveness, Trump explains, "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." That sounds more Vaguely Uninformed Methodist than Faithfully PCUSA, but who am I to judge?
"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." That Donald gets so much out of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper makes all the more sad that he doesn't make it to his beloved New York Presbyterian congregation very often. He's at best a Christmas and Easter attender -- more evidence that Trump really is a Presbyterian.
On the other hand, Donald has been cozy with Christian prosperity teacher and televangelist Paula White, which doesn't sound very Presbyterian to me. I thought Calvinists were all about hard work and earning your keep, not about asking God to bless you with stuff. Donald has had hands laid on him by televangelist and prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland and wife Gloria Copeland, Jentezen Franklin, TBN founder Jan Crouch, Clarence McClendon, Messianic Jewish Rabbi Kirt Schneider, and a bunch of Pentecostal preachers who implored our Lord to make Donald the presidential GOP nominee and President of the US. I daresay that Presbyterians have been grossly underrepresented in these ranks. It's big of them to overlook Donald's steadfast Presbyterian piety and welcome him so warmly. I guess Donald's checkbook trumps his lack of evangelical fervor, to coin a phrase.
Knowing his Presbyterianism puts Donald's periodic anti-immigration, racist, anti-Muslim statements in perspective. It's not that he's racist or Xenophobic by nature; it's just that, as a faithful Presbyterian (on Christmas and Easter) Donald hasn't had much first-hand experience of inclusive, multiethnic worship. Hey, fellow Methodists, cut him some slack.
Lots of Presbyterians have been President: Grover Cleveland, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Harrison spring immediately to mind. I don't think they went to church that often, either. Before you dismiss The Donald, thinking that we are not ready to elect a Presbyterian, think again. Stranger things have happened.
So I say, thanks, Donald, for considerably expanding my limited notions about Presbyterians. But thanks most of all, dear Donald, for NOT being a Methodist!