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Donald Trump’s Greatest Faith Has Always Been In Donald Trump

A few words about Donald Trump’s faith.

It was, as you know, called into question last week by Pope Francis. Aboard the papal plane returning from a visit to Mexico, the pontiff was asked about the mercurial billionaire turned Republican presidential candidate who has vowed to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico and somehow make the Mexicans pay for it.

The pope’s response: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Somehow, the Vesuvius of Id that is Trump did not erupt (“This pope is a loozah! Worst pope ever!”). Instead, Trump confined himself to calling the pope’s words “disgraceful” and suggested Francis would want him to be president if ISIS ever stormed the Vatican. By his standards, that was downright restrained.

This being the Bizzaro World campaign of 2016, this contretemps was soon subsumed by others. But let’s not move on without thanking the pope for saying what has needed saying for a while. After all, Trump’s inauthenticity is hardly a revelation, given how painfully awkward have been his attempts to pass himself off as a man of faith.

We are talking about a guy who tap dances like Sammy Davis when discussing the Bible, who when asked his favorite verse, declined to give it “because to me, that’s very personal,” who replied “probably equal” when asked if he prefers the New Testament or the Old. Then there’s his mangling the name of the Bible book containing the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth: Did he really call it “Two Corinthians!?” Don’t even most atheists know that it’s called Second Corinthians?

Generally one should avoid questioning another person’s religious conscience. But Trump merits an exception. Faith, after all, is an act of surrender, the subordination of human ego to divine will. It is, putting it mildly, difficult to imagine this fellow ever subordinating his ego to … anything. Donald Trump’s greatest faith has always been in Donald Trump.

Yet his threadbare impersonation of a Christian seems not to have hurt him a bit. That’s startling given that faith has always been a primary litmus test of American politics. Indeed, every major elective office might as well have a sign at the door: The Non-Religious Need Not Apply.

Yet the respected political blog FiveThirtyEight reports that in romping over the rest of the GOP field in last weekend’s South Carolina primary, Trump commanded 34 percent of the evangelical Christian vote, considerably better than the more believably Christian Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

The apparent willingness of evangelical voters to give him a pass leaves you wondering if perhaps a candidate’s faith no longer matters so much to them. Or maybe it’s that his anger matters more. Maybe those voters have opted for expedience over religious purity. Maybe they are unhappy with the social and demographic changes the country is undergoing, and he represents their last best hope of forestalling that change or, failing that, their primal scream of protest.

Fine. But let’s not call that faith.

As the pope said, faith is about bridges, not walls. It is potting soil for the things we hope. It is an obligation to serve and protect “the least of these.” And it is an assurance that at the end of the day, no matter how bad it looks, we win.

You see little of that in politics. And the pope was right: you see none of it in Trump.

Monday night found him campaigning in Las Vegas when a man in the audience apparently staged some kind of demonstration. Donald Trump, man of faith, watched as security guards hauled the protester out.

“I’d like to punch him in the face,” he said.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

(c) 2016 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo: Donald Trump holds a Bible given to him by an audience member at a campaign rally in Windham, New Hampshire, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder 

A Senator’s Faith — And Humility

WASHINGTON — There are few moments of grace in our politics these days, especially where conflicts over religion are concerned. Last week, I witnessed one. Perhaps it was a mere drop in an ocean of suspicion and mistrust, but it was instructive and even encouraging.

The venue, in a small meeting room at a Holiday Inn not far from the Capitol, was a gathering of members of the Secular Coalition for America whose mission is “to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.” One cause of the contentiousness of our politics is that both secular and very religious Americans feel misunderstood and under assault.

Enter Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

The Secular Coalition invited Coons to speak because, as he said of himself last Thursday night, he is “dedicated to the separation of church and state and to the equal protection under the Constitution which I swore to uphold, whether you are religious or secular.”

More than that, Coons told the crowd that he is uneasy with “rigid certainty” on religious questions. He understands that many are skeptical of faith, both because “religion [has] come to be so closely associated with right-wing politics” and because the Bible “has been used as a document, as a foundation, to justify discrimination.” The revered text is, to some, “the basis of intolerance, based on outdated teachings and moral codes and has been a source of pain and distance and discomfort for many.”

If Coons had left it at that, this would have been another in a long series of Washington speeches in which a politician tells his allies how much he agrees with them. But as “a practicing Christian and a devout Presbyterian,” Coons had a second message.

Early on, he quoted the very Bible others find offensive, noting that Jesus’ command in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned had “driven” him throughout his life. As a young man, he spent time in Kenya and South Africa working with the poor and with leaders of the South African Council of Churches, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And then he told a story. As a Yale Law School student, he decided to pursue a separate degree from the university’s divinity school, and what he encountered was a long way from tolerance and open-mindedness.

“I was very active in the progressive community in my law school and most of my friends were politically active progressives,” he said. “But I was unprepared for their response when word started filtering out that I had enrolled in divinity school. Some of them literally disowned me; my own roommates moved out. Several folks literally stopped speaking to me, and acted as if I had lost my mind.”

His own background was thrown in his face, with friends saying: “Chris, you’re a scientist, you’re a chemist, you trained as a chemist as an undergraduate, how could you possibly believe this insane stuff?”

What he experienced, Coons said, was “real bigotry.”

“Frankly, we were a group of progressives who were really proud of how welcoming and open we were and how virtually any possible lifestyle or worldview or attitude was something we would embrace — right up until the moment when I said I believed in God.” For many progressives, “accepting someone of expressed faith was one of the hardest moments of tolerance and inclusion for them.”

Believers among you are probably cheering Coons at this point. But ever the peacemaker, he didn’t stop here. The other lesson he learned was that many nonbelievers “had personal experiences of deep pain and of alienation … that had driven a big wedge between them and religion.”

And he offered this: “When I think about this country’s founding, the central tenet of secular governance, I also think about the importance of doubt and of humility. As a person of faith, I think it’s foundational to our country that if we allow people to choose their path of faith, they must of course be also free, welcomed, celebrated, to choose not to have faith in a supreme being.”

It’s to the credit of the Secular Coalition crowd that they cheered a speech that was as challenging as it was affirming. Coons’ message was deceptively simple: that we must find ways of “getting past some of our misunderstandings of each other.” The problem: Respecting each other on matters of faith and politics seems beyond our current capacities.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne. 

Photo: Wyoming_Jackrabbit via Flickr