NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Donald Trump will soon meet with evangelical leaders at an invitation-only event to listen to their vision for America and discuss the issues most important to them, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
The meeting, scheduled for Sept. 28, is a logical step for Trump, who leads solidly among evangelicals, but who has had difficulty discussing his faith and church membership in terms familiar to most evangelicals. Trump is a mainline Protestant who has only been a member of churches affiliated with the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA).
Trump, for example, was asked by pollster Frank Luntz in a recent interview at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, if he had ever asked for forgiveness from God.
"I am not sure I have," Trump said. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so. 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."
According to reporters in the room, the comment set off a wave of murmurs and had more than a few heads shaking in disbelief.
Trump attempted to make good on the comment when he later said he believed communion, where he drinks his "little wine" and eats his "little cracker" was "a form of asking for forgiveness," a statement out of line with his denomination's view of the communion – known to evangelicals as the Lord's Supper.
Trump's bungled statements on the basic elements of his faith might have torpedoed his support among evangelicals, but according to multiple polls the voting bloc is solidly behind the billionaire real estate mogul.
In a Washington Post poll Aug. 6, Trump was said to be leading in courting the evangelical vote at 20 percent. Scott Walker was at 14 percent, while former Southern Baptist pastor and conservative icon Mike Huckabee only pulled in 12 percent. Still worse, another poll has Trump polling at double the support received by Huckabee.
An MSNBC poll after the first presidential debate also showed an uptick in Trump's support among evangelicals, when he rose from 36 percent to 38 percent.
Why support for Trump is surging among evangelicals is unclear, but it is certainly turning heads and prompting more pointed questions about his faith. To counter, Trump is restating his Protestant credentials.
In Iowa Aug. 25, Trump touted his record of Sunday school and church attendance and the instruction he received under his longtime pastor, Norman Vincent Peale – author of the bestselling book The Power of Positive Thinking.
In a press conference after the statement, Trump was asked, "You say the Bible is your favorite book; is there anyone in the Bible that you relate to that you can compare your life to and look up to?"
Trump, perhaps wisely, avoided comparing himself to any biblical personality, but acknowledged, "It's a great question."
"I love the Bible. I love the Bible. I'm a Protestant. I'm a Presbyterian. I went to Sunday school. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking, was my pastor. To this day one of the great speakers I've seen. You hated to leave church. You hated when the sermon was over. That's how great he was at Marble Collegiate Church."
Peale's book, popular for decades, is a book on "applied Christianity." Although it contains references to the power of prayer and the glory a life surrendered to God can bring, most of the book is about the power of the will to accomplish great things if the world is viewed positively.
Trump then said he had also attended church in Jamaica Queens where he grew up.
"I was there [at First Presbyterian Church of Jamiaca] for years and that's where I went to Sunday school," Trump said.
"One of the groups I lead with substantially – evangelicals – and I led in Iowa, too, with the evangelicals because they get it. They are incredible people that are smart and want to see the country thrive. But the beautiful thing because it was such a comprehensive poll in New Hampshire and they just went over everything, Tea Party like leading by a lot. Moderates leading by a lot. Everybody. It's literally, I think, you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I led with every single group and by substantial numbers. So I was very honored to lead with the evangelicals. I love the evangelicals."
The non-committal answer has led to further questions about Trump's faith.
Wednesday on Bloomberg TV's With All Due Respect, hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann asked Trump what verse in the Bible was his favorite. In an answer not likely to please evangelical voters, Trump said the subject was "very personal."
"I don't want to get into it," Trump said. "The Bible means a lot to me but I don't want to get into specifics."
"Even to cite a verse that you like?" Heilemann asked. Trump did not answer.
Halperin then asked Trump if he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament.
"Probably equal — I think it's just incredible– the whole Bible is incredible," Trump said. "I joke when they hold up The Art of the Deal; that is my second favorite book of all time. I think the Bible is something very special."
Trump, according to tax records, had made small donations to evangelical causes in the past. In 2013, Trump gave $10,000 to Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse. In the previous year, he gave $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Foundation, $25,000 to Samaritan's Purse, $10,000 to First Presbyterian Jamaica Queens, and several other gifts to smaller churches.