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!
23 thoughts on “From the Huffington Post: Donald Trump is NOT a Methodist”
The church he claims to attend (but which denies ever having seen him there) is actually Reformed (RCA) in the Continental Dutch tradition…. so maybe he actually even knows that the RCA and PCUSA are in “communion” with each other and in the same family of denominations! But doubtful…
Mr. Willimon, I would hope you would take this article down. Mr. Trump is not a member of a Presbyterian congregation. This has been made clear. Also, your article denigrates our denomination and those who practice faith in our congregations. I cannot understand why you would write these words or to what end? You seem to be painting one denomination with one brush, and I must say, I am very disappointed to see this in print. Where is the spirit of ecumenism? I would also draw your attention to this letter from our denomination’s Stated Clerk to Mr. Trump: https://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/10/2/clerk-issues-letter-trump-refugees-immigrants/
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Shannanvanceocampo, you are apparently a member of the PCUSA, a fine Christian denomination that does much excellent work for the Kingdom. I don’t blame you for not wanting to claim Mr. Trump. But there are other denominations in the Presbyterian family, so you can probably speak only to Mr. Trump’s lack of relationship with the PCUSA, not with them. In terms of Bishop Willimon’s satire, please understand it for what it is–a humorous caricature, not a serious depiction of your denomination. Please note that he makes disparaging remarks about Methodists as well (his own tribe).
Presbyterians are not the butt of Bishop Willimon’s joke. Donald Trump is. The only reason Presbyterians are mentioned is Trump’s claim to be a member of your tribe.
None of it is humorous to me. This is a very serious concern. You are right, I am in the PCUSA and only speak for that. We have far more important things to be doing for God’s beloved community than wasting our time in this sort of “humor” these days.
Do you not consider exposing dangerous, racist, xenophobic hypocrites running for our nation’s highest office who pretend to be serious followers of Christ one of the important things the Church has to concern itself with today? Trump as president would have disastrous worldwide implications.
Mr. Willimon, I too must agree with Shannan, above. As a Presbyterian minister, I find your broad-stroke characterizations of the PCUSA off-putting in some parts, outright offensive in others. Also, I’m not sure you do your own denomination many favors here, either. No single denomination has any sort of claim on the truth, but (what I can only assume is) poorly written satire denigrates the work we are doing together, to be the body of Christ, even in our differences. I’m saddened by this piece.
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Bishop Willimon, since you’re discussing political figures (so far all GOP) and Methodism… How about broadening the discussion? Hillary Clinton is also a United Methodist.
So same question: Is Hillary a Methodist?
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I felt the same sense of gloom when I learned Trump claimed to be a Presbyterian as I did when a seminary professor told us that Jim Jones, instigator of the Koolaid debacle, was a Presbyterian. I was cheered this time by the pity letter of response from the current Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. Advent Blessings! Donna Bowling
“Who am I to judge?” Seems to me that’s all you’ve done here…..
But he isn’t judging Presbyterians or Methodists or even Christians. Bishop Willimon is exercising the Old Testament prophetic function and identifying Donald Trump, a would-be leader/king, as a hypocrite and a liar, not to be trusted or followed. I am confident Bishop Willimon would agree to be judged by this same standard, which is what the saying of Jesus to which you allude actually says.
You have to have a sense of humor to be a Methodist. Some Presbyterians have one, too. Let’s appreciate Dr. Willimon for poking holes in windbags of all kinds.
I realize this supposed to be satire, but it’s done in such a ham-handed way, and brings out all of the old stereotypes about us Calvinists. We are not, in fact, a humorless people, and can take a little fun at our expense. And Trump deserves some fine satire to disarm his dangerous rhetoric. This is not that fine satire, nor is it done in a way that I, as a life-long Reformed Christian, find acceptable. Please reconsider your post, sir.
I too am a Presbyterian Minister, and I enjoy and find refreshing Willimon’s humor! Keep it coming!
I am a lifelong PCUSA member and elder, and I found Will’s essay hilarious–and all too close to the truth!
I am not enthusiastic about Trump’s candidacy or unaware of his decidedly unchristian beliefs. “Doesn’t feel the need for forgiveness” is about as far from orthodox Christianity as one can get. Nevertheless, do you think your dare I say snarky article (which will mostly be read by non-Christians) will do anything to build up the body of Christ?
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,…” 1 Peter 3:15
It is interesting to me that conservative /traditional Methodist clergy are told not to make political comments on social media because we have to “be pastor to all people” and yet, it is perfectly good and acceptable for the well-known, the liberals, the progressives to ridicule and thank candidates for not being Methodist. There are a lot of Methodists who disagree with Trump but they are equally disappointed in the church hierarchy and leadership. I, for one, would be glad to have him as a Methodist where he could be “brainwashed” into our kind of Christianity since this article comes across as demeaning Prysbyterians/Calvanist as much as it does Trump. May I remind us all that we, as Methodist, are to first do no harm. I am disappointed in the tone of this article.
Oh, I do love my “Peculiar Prophet!” A real sense of humor, an amazing intellect, and a willingness to tell it like it is, wrapped in a lifetime of Christian service to thousands, of all ages and all faiths. Thanks, Will, for the so many ways you call us to accountability, yet always with a smile, a twinkle in your eye, and a heart full of love.
I love you too! Of course I mean “love” not in the way that The Donald has practiced the phrase. Thank the Lord for Presbyterians with a sense of humor!!! And for Methodists too!!
Willimon…. like Trump… Never apologizes.
If Trump really believed Reformed theology, his conscience would torment him. As a real Presbyterian what s/he has done wrong, better bring a bag of sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. You’re going to be there a long time.