NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – When it comes to religion, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has a message for fellow candidate Ben Carson – mine is better than yours.
During a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Fla., Oct. 24, Trump said while discussing recent polls in Iowa – polls which show Carson gaining a sizeable advantage on the New York real estate mogul – that his opponent in the primary was suspect because of his denominational affiliation.
"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."
On Sunday, after the comments were reported by media, Trump said he felt no need to apologize for hinting Carson's Seventh Day Adventist faith was outside of the mainstream of American Christianity, but said he would apologize if he had said something bad about Carson's religion. He insisted he had not.
"All I said was I don't know about it," Trump told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News This Week. He denied the host's suggestion that he was trying to send the message that Seventh Day Adventists are not Christian.
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.
"Not at all, and I think nationwide I am beating Ben with the Evangelicals, but no, not at all. I just don't know about that particular religion."
"I'd never say bad about any religion," Trump added. "I said exactly, 'I don't know about it.' That's not an insult."
This is, however, not the first time Trump has tried to diminish Carson's faith. In September, Trump said on CNN's New Day with Chris Cuomo that Carson only began talking about his faith when he decided to run for political office. He also said he was only responding to Carson's criticism of his candidacy after the neurosurgeon said he didn't see Trump as someone who was humble and feared the Lord.
"He's starting to hit me, so I hit back. I only hit back when I get hit. I'm a great counter-puncher,"Trump said in September. "But, Ben Carson, you're talking about his faith, excuse me, Chris, go back and look at his past. Go back and look at his views on abortion, and see where he stands. You talk about abortion, I mean, go back and look at his views on abortion, where — now all of a sudden he gets on very low-key, I mean, frankly he looks like — he makes Bush look like the Energizer Bunny. He's very low-key. He's got a lot of donors, a lot of people pushing him. But, Ben Carson, you look at his faith, and I think you're not going to find so much. And you look at his views on abortion, which were horrendous. And that's, I think, why I'm leading with all the Evangelicals. I'm — as you know in your poll, number one, I'm leading Ben Carson by a lot. ... I'm almost double his numbers."
Carson later apologized for his comment about Trump's faith.
After the most recent barbs from Trump, Carson said in a Fox News interview that he would not discuss Trump's faith again, but said he found it ironic that Trump "went ballistic" about his criticism and now the billionaire candidate is doing the same thing.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said in a Fox News interview that "people who think being a committed Christian is important may be gravitating to Carson because people see his faith as sincere and central to his life."