National Public Radio recently did a feature on the religious beliefs of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
According to NPR, you can boil it down to the “prosperity gospel” of Trump vs. the “social gospel” of Clinton.
Trump learned Christianity at the feet of Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking,” a blend of pop psychology and spirituality which promoted self-confidence as a life philosophy.
“Believe in yourself.”
“Have faith in your abilities.”
“Never think of yourself as failing.”
Such “Peale-isms” provide a clue as to why Trump is so relentlessly self-assured, even in the face of sliding poll numbers.
Trump biographer Gwenda Blair writes that if you want to understand what goes on underneath the blond comb-over, you need look no further than to Peale.
Trump’s parents took him to Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, where he heard sermons extolling human ability and presenting Christianity as the pathway to success.
Peale put self rather than the cross at the center of Christianity, and he promoted the idea that the Gospel could unleash power within a person to succeed in life, based on the assumption that God didn’t want anyone to be poor.
Hillary Clinton might agree about God not wanting anyone to be poor, but her solution is not Peale’s optimistic faith in the individual but an optimistic faith in government as provider and guarantor of civil and economic rights.
“We know what’s good for you,” said the Rev. Donald Jones, a United Methodist clergyman and Clinton’s spiritual mentor, speaking of his denomination’s emphasis on social and political action.
Methodism’s support of the temperance movement of the 19th century segued into later movements to transform society through prison reform, restorative justice, universal health care and abortion rights.
Clinton was raised in a devout Methodist family, and Jones, who died in 2009, exerted a lifelong influence on Clinton.
“(He) taught me the meaning of the words ‘faith in action’ and the importance of social justice and human rights,” she stated.
Religious faith in action means just that — doing something — and including political and legislative means whenever necessary.
Jones said it this way, “My sense of Hillary is that she realizes absolutely the truth of the human condition, which is that you cannot depend upon the basic nature of man to be good and you cannot depend entirely on moral suasion to make it good. You have to use power.”
Translation: Government coercion.
While not judging the faith of either Trump or Clinton, they represent competing religious agendas, both of which seem to cherry-pick Bible passages to support either wealth creation or wealth redistribution.
Blogger Gene Edward Veith writes: “Both the prosperity gospel and the social gospel promote a ‘this worldly’ faith, as opposed to the actual Gospel of Christ dying for sinners and giving them eternal life.”
While Christians can and should be active politically, it must be remembered that Jesus came to save sinners, not society, and he proclaimed God’s acceptance of the poor, not a formula to make them wealthy.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.