Once upon a time, Donald Trump tried to turn his name into an adjective. “You’re looking very Trump today,” a billboard for his Atlantic City casinos said. This slogan is definitely open to interpretation, but given the context “Trump” was probably meant to be shorthand for some combination of rich, dashing, and stylish.
Nowadays, Trump is synonymous with the cult of political celebrity. And some on the religious right are kind of star-struck by the thrice-married gambling magnate. This weekend Franklin Graham made headlines by suggesting he could support Trump’s presidential aspirations. “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a joke,’” Graham said. “But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘You know? Maybe the guy’s right.’”
A few weeks ago, Trump began his courtship of Christian conservatives by sitting with CBN’s David Brody for a lengthy interview, in which he declared himself pro-life, talked about his Christian faith, and made direct overtures to religious right leaders such as Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins. In response, Reed and Perkins both gave Trump nods of mild approval. Reed:
“There is a nascent and growing curiosity in the faith community about Trump. Evangelicals will like his pro-life and pro-marriage stances, combined with his business record and high-wattage celebrity all but guarantee he will get a close look from social conservatives as well as other Republican primary voters.”
“Given Donald Trump’s background in the gambling industry and his flamboyancy, one would not think he would be a fit with Evangelical voters. However, given the wide open field of candidates, strong statements that Trump has recently made on core social issues combined with an overarching desire to see a new occupant in the White House, he may find support among social conservatives.”
Conservative Christian commentator Cal Thomas isn’t buying what Trump is selling though. In a recent syndicated column, he said:
…While a candidate’s faith should matter only if it affects policy, if someone wishes to use his or her faith to win votes, then voters ought to be able to judge the depth of that faith as a means of determining the candidate’s credibility.
What should we make of Trump telling Brody that people send him Bibles all the time and that he stores them “in a very nice place”? “There is no way I would ever throw anything, to do anything negative to a Bible. I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive so actually I store them and keep them and sometimes give them away to other people.”
Does he read the Bible and believe what it says? How about the parts concerning marriage, divorce, and fornication? Would that be something Trump should take to heart? Brody didn’t ask and Trump didn’t volunteer. He did say he goes to church “as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion.” Christians know a lot of people who attend church only on Christmas and Easter and special occasions. They are usually not serious about their faith. Not to judge, but if Trump intends to use faith to win votes from people of faith, then those people have a right to determine whether he is sincere or simply trying to manipulate them.
Thomas also slammed Trump for making campaign contributions to Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hilliary Clinton and Rep. Anthony Weiner. Perhaps the divide between Perkins and Reed on the one hand and Thomas on the other reflects uncertain prospects for Trump among Christian conservatives. Or maybe it just reflects Perkins, Reed and Graham’s desire to play nice with the Republican favorite du jour…even if it means cozying up to a gambling magnate who is a very recent convert to their causes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 despite Giuliani’s support of gay rights and abortion rights. Early in the primary season, social issue bona fides sometimes get subordinated to political calculation.
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The following post was written by FPL Executive Director Jennifer Butler and is cross-posted on Huffington Post.
Conventional wisdom about faith and politics usually (and falsely) divides “values voters” motivated by opposition to abortion and gay marriage from an electorate focused on kitchen-table issues like jobs and taxes. This misleading script became a major media story after the 2004 presidential election when a flawed exit poll question separated “moral values” from broader concerns about the Iraq war, the economy, education and health care. This faulty premise assumed that Americans who care about economic fairness, immigration reform and other moral issues at the heart of their religious traditions left their faith and values outside the voting booth.
This old narrative has dramatically changed since 2004, as progressive and moderate religious leaders and people of faith challenge the myth that conservative Republicans have a monopoly on our nation’s moral agenda, and that agenda is limited to abortion and gay rights issues. As the 2012 presidential election season begins, faith leaders are speaking out against budget cuts that hurt the most vulnerable, condemning Islamophobia that stains our highest ideals, standing up for workers’ rights and defending the health care reform law from partisan attacks.
In fact, a recent poll shows that Catholics and evangelicals in Ohio — a key swing state — morally oppose Republican economic policies that hurt working families. Sponsored by Faith in Public Life, the poll of 2,000 Ohio registered voters found that 57% of Catholic and 59% of evangelical/born-again voters think restricting collective bargaining is wrong. Sixty-one percent of Catholics and 63% of evangelical/born-again Christians also believe that Gov. John Kasich’s approach to addressing the state’s budget challenges — which includes cuts to services such as education and health care — is unfair. These voters are speaking up. Over 1,000 people of faith in Ohio signed petitions that local clergy leaders have delivered to the State House.
Newt Gingrich, a likely presidential candidate who warned voters about a “secular-socialist agenda” at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa recently, will grab headlines with his reckless rhetoric. Others will continue to outdo each other by exploiting ungrounded fears of Sharia law. But I believe many voters will see through sensationalism and support leaders who speak to the authentic values of their faith traditions rather than using religion as a weapon to divide and distract us from serving the common good.
So as campaigns heat up in the year ahead, which candidates will recognize the economy is a moral issue? Who will ask why economic inequality has reached Depression-era levels? Who will stand up for families, good jobs and workers’ rights as these priorities are threatened? Values voters will be listening closely for answers.
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We had an exciting year here at Bold Faith Type. New authors gave us the opportunity to write more posts on a wider array of topics, and our readership numbers continued to climb.
Here’s a round-up of some of our top posts from this past year. Feel free to remind us of your favorites in the comments.
In no particular order:
Working After Christmas? WWJD – Nick showed why Sens. DeMint and Kyl’s complaints about working the week after Christmas ring hollow, with responses from faith leaders.
Donahue defends Beck, but who’s the “phony”? – Beth explained why Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s defense of Glenn Beck’s anti-religious statements misrepresents Catholic teaching.
Faith leaders support Cordoba House, Denounce Anti-Muslim rhetoric – Dan featured the statement of over 40 diverse faith leaders in support of the Cordoba House project and against religious bigotry.
Misinformation in Action: Fox News and the TSA “Muslim Exemption” – Nick tracked down the myth that TSA was exempting Muslims from security screenings at airports.
Keeping our faith in our sights – Kristin highlighted a report from ABC Nightline news that a gun manufacturer was inscribing rifle sights for U.S. soldiers with Bible versus.
Faith Gets Better – Inspired by Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” video in response to the rash of LGBT teen suicides, we invited people of faith to submit their own videos to be featured.
Tea Party, Evangelicals and Race – Beth highlighted one of the American Values Survey’s most interesting (and troubling) findings: regressive racial attitudes are widespread among Tea Partiers.
The Real Stephen Colbert – Nick highlighted Stephen Colbert’s powerful testimony on Capitol Hill about his day working with migrant farm workers.
An authoritative analysis of the Senate health care bill’s abortion policy – Dan posted legal expert Tim Jost’s in-depth analysis of why claims that health reform would provide federal funding of abortion are untrue.
Post-Election Breakdown: Religious Voters, the Economy and Moral Values – John crunched the numbers on exit polls from the mid-term elections.
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Public Religion Research Institute released a post-election poll yesterday, which follows up on their American Values Survey released earlier this fall. The data on racial attitudes in the Tea Party and shifts in public opinion on gay rights have already made a splash in the blogosphere, but what jumped out at me was a finding suggesting that the distinction often drawn between “kitchen table” elections and “values voter” elections is a false dichotomy:
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of voters said that compared to previous elections, their faith or religious values played the same role this year in how they decided to vote. Nearly equal numbers of voters said that faith played a larger role this year (6%) as said it played a smaller role (8%).
Even in an election dominated by economic concerns (47% said the economy was their top concern, compared to 19 percent who said health care was most important), the role of faith didn’t diminish. This suggests that religion isn’t a compartmentalized influence only pertaining to social issues.
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Appearing on Face the Nation Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said
“People who supported us – political independents – want it repealed and replaced with something else. I think we owe it to them to try.”
As we noted last week, the interpretation of the election as a mandate to repeal health reform is dubious at best. According to the National Election Pool’s exit polls, 28 percent of midterm voters were independents, 56 percent of whom voted for Republican candidates. That equates to 15.7 percent of midterm voters being independents who cast their ballots for GOP House candidates. Meanwhile, 62 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, compared to 18 percent who said health care was the most important. (Of this 18 percent, 52 % voted for Democrats.)
Some crosstabs of the exit polls could settle this very clearly, but even without them, it’s really, really hard to make the case based on the data that we do have that independent voters want the GOP to repeal health care. Throughout the health care debate FPL, independent experts and faith leaders played a key role in fact-checking false claims about health care reform. Based on the claims made by anti-reform leaders in the wake of the election, our work on this front isn’t over.
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