For all my friends who don't know much about Christianity, here's a head's up about Donald Trump's mistake at Liberty University yesterday. Most media talking heads are secular, so they don't get how big a deal it is, but it's... huge.
Anybody who's in any sense a regular church-goer has heard scripture read over and over through the years, so you don't have to be a Bible scholar at all to know that what looks like "2 Corinthians" on the page, described in tradition as Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, is never pronounced "Two Corinthians." It is always "Second Corinthians." So the Donald inadvertently let on that he just plain does not go to church.
This is the fun part for me, with one foot in religion and one foot in politics. I can spot things other people don't see -- or don't get.
Trump might as well have begun his speech by sharing a joke that began "Two Corinthians walked into a bar." Second Corinthians is not obscure, like Deuteronomy or Numbers. It is a staple of the Christian church. It ought to be as familiar to him as the words to "Blessed Assurance." He probably couldn't cough up the famous first line of that hymn to save his soul, either. Or to save his campaign.
Not knowing even the slightest bit about an often-quoted book of the New Testament, that would not necessarily be a dealbreaker in Iowa. After all, Reagan didn't go to church either. But the Donald has been literally waving a Bible around during his speeches in Iowa, as though owning the book was a kind of proof of his Christian identity. Blathering about saving Christianity as though it had always been his lifelong mission, and not a convenient political conversion tailor-made for the evangelical vote in an early must-win state.
Here's the kicker: That one little slip about scripture, it goes straight to the heart of his popularity as a candidate and blows a hole right through it. What is his constant message? Trump's most potent campaign message, outside of all the barely veiled racism and sexism, has been his claim that he is not a politician! The Donald is a straight talker! All those other people running for president, they are the liars that you, the audience, all hate! They will say anything for a vote! They are the Whores of Babylon that have become the Whores of Washington! But not me, says The Donald. I, alone, am telling you the real truth. The straight talk. You can trust me folks. Honest!
The video of his Liberty University speech is clear as crystal. The minute those words escape his lips, "Two Corinthians," there is an audible snickering that moves up and down that audience of young Bible-toting evangelicals like the wave at a football game. And Trump, master showman that he is, must have heard it, and felt it. In a desperate attempt to regain his footing, he tried every trick in the book to re-establish his fake Christian identity. He even trotted out the so-called War on Christmas! Islamic militants slicing the heads off of Christians left and right in Syria! And then, obviously still desperate, he reached into his mental bag of tricks for something, anything, to prove to these religiously savvy kids that he was, absolutely positively, one of them. Thereby making his second mistake.
He tried to impress the students at Liberty University (founded by fundamentalist preacher and former presidential candidate Jerry Fallwell, senior, in the 1980s) by telling them all he's a "proud Protestant, a Presbyterian in fact." This was proof positive that Trump is so far from evangelical or fundamentalist that he has no idea what the words even mean. Friends, Presbyterians are not fundamentalists, and certainly not evangelical. They do not endorse a fundamentalist view of the Bible. Evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit comes to them and gives them the power to speak in tongues. Presbyterians believe the Holy Spirit is moving within the church, in a dignified and proper way, to move them all towards social justice. Some Presbyterian churches bless same-sex unions and ordain openly LGBT clergy. They ordain women, and they are a pro-choice denomination.
The evangelicals and fundamentalists of Iowa have been fooled before. They are wary of being fooled again. The GOP voters in Iowa are going to be talking about this for a long time, whether the talking heads of the media know it or not. And the Ted Cruz campaign operatives should have a field day with it, all the way to caucus time, when they will reap what The Donald has sown.