NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – With a new poll showing a faint pulse for the Jeb Bush campaign, the former Florida governor is making new waves with his assertion that the Christianity espoused by billionaire real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump might not be an authentic.
Responding to a question by an ABC News reporter about Trump's claim to be a faithful follower of Jesus, Bush said Trump was "playing this for political purposes, for sure."
"I'd rather him actually at least accept the fact that we're all imperfect under God's watchful eye, and that we should seek forgiveness. And ultimately, to be a believer is to accept Christ as your savior," Bush said.
Bush then said Trump seems to identify as a Christian because of the circumstances into which he was born, though he didn't mention Trump's Presbyterian lineage specifically. That, however, doesn't define one's faith, he added.
"It's your relationship with the Lord. If you can get to that, I'd feel more comfortable about it," Bush said, seeming to clarify his own view about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
When asked specifically if he knew whether Trump was a Christian, Bush responded:
"No, I don't know what he is. I just don't think he has the kind of relationship he says he has if he can't explain it any way that shows he is serious about it."
News of Bush's negative portrayal of Trump's faith quickly gained traction, but within hours the Bush camp was walking the statement back. The "no" voiced by Bush was in response to the premise of the question, the campaign said, and not meant to speak to whether or not Trump was "saved" in the biblical sense.
Prior to leaving the interview, Bush affirmed his original comment that the candidate's faith is not in line with traditional Christian understandings. Trump said in an interview last year that he could not recall a time when he asked for forgiveness. He didn't need to, he said, because he tried to be a good person.
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"Just accepting the fact that we make mistakes and seek forgiveness – that's one of the tenets of the Christian faith I think everybody can agree on. We're all sinners. Some of us more than others," Bush said.
Trump recently received the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. Just prior to that affirmation, Trump spoke at the Lynchburg, Va., school. There he quoted "Two Corinthians." In the past, Trump has been unable or unwilling to quote Bible verses, claiming they were too personal to trot out in public.
That hasn't stopped Trump from calling into question the sincerity of other candidates' faiths. In October, Trump hit at the Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson while on the campaign trail in Iowa.
"I love Iowa. And, look, I don't have to say it, I'm Presbyterian," Trump said. "Can you believe it? Nobody believes I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."
Then, in December, Trump lashed out at Cruz when he told a conservative Iowa audience that he like Ted Cruz, but "not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba. I'm sorry, but not a lot come out."
Candidate's religious affiliations have always been issues in presidential campaigns. Mitt Romney, a Mormon who ran for the Republican nomination in 2008, addressed his faith in a public speech on religious liberty. President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, did the same thing.