President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.
He’s also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don’t appear to come naturally to him.
One of the first interviews Trump sat for as president was with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.
“I’ve always felt the need to pray,” Trump said in that late-January interview. “The office is so powerful that you need God even more because your decisions are no longer, ‘Gee I’m going to build a building in New York.’ … These are questions of massive, life-and-death.”
“There’s almost not a decision that you make when you’re sitting in this position that isn’t a really life-altering position,” Trump added. “So God comes into it even more so.”
Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval.
“I believe the weight of the office that he now holds and the burden of responsibility that it carries is humbling him somewhat and causing him to acknowledge and admit his reliance on God,” said Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor who has known Trump for six years and supported Trump’s campaign and served on his transition team. Scott was last at the White House in February for a meeting Trump held to mark Black History Month.
But others who have long followed Trump — a businessman who was known more as a playboy than a practitioner of faith — are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.
“Donald has never been a spiritually or religiously serious person,” said Timothy O’Brien, author of the Trump biography “TrumpNation: The Art of Being Donald.”
Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President,” said: “He’s a transactional guy with humans, and it’s no different with God — it’s all about whatever is to his advantage with regard to his supporters, and referencing God is exactly and only that.”
There’s also the question of Trump’s church attendance as president. On the morning of his inauguration, Trump and his family attended a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House and then participated in an interfaith prayer service that Saturday at the National Cathedral. He also appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast in early February.
On Sunday, Trump went to Easter services at the Bethesda-by-the-Sea Church in Florida, where he and his wife, Melania, were married in 2015.
But there’s no public knowledge of any other church services Trump has attended, and if he has, it has been without the knowledge of White House pool reporters.
The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump has been attending church as president.
Trump’s frequent invocations of God in his remarks as of late are a change from both his past life as a businessman and his time on the campaign trail. Generally, candidate Trump did not reference God during his rallies and mostly talked about religion only when asked during interviews and during a handful of speeches at faith-based events.
And some of those comments didn’t go over so well.
Trump was ridiculed during the campaign for referencing “two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians” during a speech, and for explaining to conservative Christian leader Cal Thomas his enjoyment of Holy Communion by saying, “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.”
Both O’Brien and Blair also noted that the churches to which Trump has the deepest ties are known more for their individual empowerment messages.
They pointed to Norman Vincent Peale’s influence on Trump. Trump attended Peale’s Manhattan Marble Collegiate Church with his family growing up, was married there along with both his sisters and attended the funerals of his mother and father there. Peale, author of the best-selling book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” helped lay the foundation for what would emerge as the “Prosperity Gospel” — a controversial doctrine among mainstream Christians that focuses on personal wealth and happiness.
“He hasn’t budged from the first of ten rules in Norman Vincent Peale’s manual, The Power of Positive Thinking, which was something of a surrogate Bible in the Trump family: ‘Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold to this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade,’” Blair told POLITICO in an email.
“It was a big part of his life,” O’Brien said of Peale’s church and teachings. “But that wasn’t traditional religion. It was the gospel of getting ahead. … It was about how to win.”
Trump on the campaign trail praised Peale, who died in 1993, as “the greatest guy” and “one of the greatest speakers” he’d seen.
More recently, Trump has shown a fondness for Paula White, who served on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board during the campaign and delivered a prayer at his inauguration. She’s also credited with helping Trump find Jesus Christ.
White, who came to fame as a televangelist touting the prosperity gospel, is now the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Orlando. Her website describes her as “a humanitarian leader” and “a much-in-demand speaker.” White is a controversial figure among mainstream Christians and was the subject of a 2007 congressional investigation into the lavish use of church funds by some televangelists.
White’s office did not respond to POLITICO’s multiple requests for comment.
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