WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Veteran journalist Cal Thomas has asked presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for a detailed answer on who the New York billionaire thinks Jesus is, and the answer is likely to leave Christians with even more questions about the candidate's faith.
At the conclusion of a wide-ranging interview on Social Security, education and military-foreign policy, Thomas spoke of how difficult the job of the presidency is. He said presidents in the past have all "called upon God at some point," reminding Trump that Abraham Lincoln spoke of spending time on his knees in prayer.
He then said to Trump, "You have said that you are a Christian."
Trump interrupted Thomas, reminding him of his high level of support among evangelicals.
Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind.
"Yes, I know that," Thomas said. "You have said you never felt the need to ask for God's forgiveness, and yet repentance for one's sins is a precondition to salvation. I ask you the question Jesus asked of Peter: Who do you say He is?"
Trump didn't answer with a traditional Christian response, such as: He is the virgin born Son of God, the King of Kings, or the risen Savior. Instead he addressed Thomas's comment about forgiveness.
"I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won't have to be asking for much forgiveness. As you know, I am Presbyterian and Protestant," Trump said.
"I've had great relationships and developed even greater relationships with ministers. We have tremendous support from the clergy. I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians. In the Middle East — and this is prior to the migration — you had almost no chance of coming into the United States. Christians from Syria, of which there were many, many of their heads ... chopped off. If you were a Muslim from Syria, it was one of the easiest places to come in (to the U.S.). I thought that was deplorable. I'm going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care."
That answer wasn't good enough for Thomas. He pressed again, "Who do you say Jesus is?"
Finally, Trump answered.
"Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and — because I consider the Christian religion so important — somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind," he said.
That type of answer won't fly with conservative evangelicals who are planning to meet with the candidate and quiz him on his religious beliefs in New York June 21.
"Our goal is to be able to have a conversation that could lead to a better understanding of what Donald Trump has to offer to the country," Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said earlier in May.
Three prominent Southern Baptists will be at the meeting, including Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and megachurch pastors Jack Graham and Ed Young. Noticeably absent (so far) will be Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Trump has called Moore a "nasty guy" for claiming that the candidate is practicing gutter politics and fomenting division.
Moore has since said Trump is a sinner who needs to appeal to Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins, the same as every other Christian.
"My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ," Moore said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
"That's my prayer for any lost person. And then that he would be somebody who would act in terms of principles of justice, which would mean a change, not only in terms of the way in which he's changing the moral character of people, including the people that are supporting him and getting on the bandwagon, having had to excuse the things that they've never had to excuse before, and then in terms of being a ruler in a limited sense within the American constitutional framework who understands principles of justice," Moore said.