Donald Trump went to a service at a Presbyterian Church in Iowa last Sunday and said that his faith meant "a lot" to him. I'm glad that he considers himself to be a Presbyterian -- not because he is a good one, but because he needs the perspective of the denomination.
We Presbyterians believe in:
1. The sovereignty of God. One of our central beliefs is that no one is as great as God, and all things are under God's rule and control. We are God-centered, not human-centered. One of our statements of faith is The Scots Confession of 1560, which describes God as "eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, [and] omnipotent." God is the one who has created "all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible."
In his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, Trump describes himself as "a great builder" with a Trump brand that is "one of the world's great icons of quality and excellence." He wants to build a wall to control illegal immigration and a powerful military to stand up to any and all foes. In such a human-centered approach, the president has tremendous rule and control, and Trump dreams of using this power to "make America great again."
But Presbyterians believe that only God has this kind of power.
2. The danger of idolatry. Presbyterians understand that our love for God and other people can easily be corrupted by love of money, sex and earthly power. Trump is proud of having "built a great company and a massive net worth." One of his Atlantic City casinos had an in-house strip club, and in his book The Art of the Comeback he speaks about his "experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women." He enjoys the power he wields in the world of business, and would like to have similar influence in politics.
But money, sex and earthly power are idols. Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller calls them "counterfeit gods," and argues that they cannot give us what we really need. Money and sex are stumbling blocks for many elected leaders, and the exercise of unilateral power is rarely an effective strategy for a president.
3. Total depravity. This hallmark of the Presbyterian tradition asserts that everything is tainted by sin, even our best intentions. Jesus himself said, in response to a rich man, that "No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:18). Total depravity does not mean that everything is evil, but instead that we cannot find perfection anywhere in this world. Such an understanding keeps us humble and aware that we all stand in need of forgiveness.
Trump should be reminded of this doctrine, because he said in an interview on CNN, "I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad." But total depravity is a reminder that everything is tainted by sin, included a statement such as "I am good." Such a positive self-description is a clear sign of the sin of pride.
The sovereignty of God. The danger of idolatry. Total depravity. Donald Trump needs to hear this kind of Presbyterian preaching. And maybe some is breaking through -- after listening to the Scripture at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, he said, "I have more humility than people think."
Since we all need to grow in humility, I'm glad he's been sitting in a Presbyterian pew.