Donald Trump isn’t exactly known for his religious bona fides. He’s had a series of high-profile divorces, wastes no opportunity to boast about his wealth and has been the subject of scrutiny from the likes of the National Review, which has published pieces uncovering his “surprisingly progressive past.” And yet, according to the polls used by Fox News to grant entry into Thursday night’s debate, Trump sits atop the heap of presidential candidates in a Republican Party that has often prized godliness in its political picks.
So what exactly is Trump’s relationship with the Almighty? The real estate magnate-turned-presidential hopeful is a Christian -- a Presbyterian, to be exact -- a fact that he has trumpeted several times in interviews in recent years.
In a 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said, “I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is the book. It is the thing. ... First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, is where I went to church. ... And you know I've had a good relationship with the church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion.”
Trump expounded on his views in a question-and-answer session at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, in July.
"People are so shocked when they find ... out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church," Trump said.
When moderator Frank Luntz pressed him on whether he has ever asked God to forgive any of his actions, Trump demurred.
"I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so," Trump said. "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."
But Trump’s description of his devotion to the church is certainly not without his signature Trump flourishes, most evident when he narrated his participation in the Holy Communion:
"When I drink my little wine -- which is about the only wine I drink -- and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed," Trump said. "I think in terms of 'Let's go on and let's make it right.'"
Despite a less-than-reverent description of the rite of Communion, many within the party are willing to take Trump at his word on his religious affiliation, especially after his latest call to “shut down the government rather than fund Planned Parenthood.” That rhetoric has endeared him to some evangelicals.
On a recent episode of "Fox & Friends," the Fox network’s morning show, anchor Elisabeth Hasselbeck hosted Pastor Robert Jeffress to discuss Trump’s appeal with some in the religious right.
“What is it about Donald Trump that appeals to Christians and evangelicals?” Hasselbeck asked Jeffress.
Jeffress’ response: “I believe evangelicals, like all Americans, are so concerned with the downward spiral of this country, they’re willing to overlook those comments if it means getting a leader who can reverse the status quo which Ronald Reagan said is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’ … Rightly or wrongly, many evangelicals believe Donald Trump can be that leader.”
Jeffress added that Trump’s opposition to Planned Parenthood is one of those issues evangelicals hope Trump can act on if elected. And despite Trump’s claims in the 1990s that he was pro-abortion rights, Hasselbeck and other conservatives are touting his most recent statements in which he staunchly claims to be anti-abortion.
Trump is the first to believe his own rhetoric. In a May interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump decried the treatment of Christians in the Middle East -- and what he calls double standards for Muslims coming into the United States:
“If you're a Muslim, you can come into the country very easy. If you're from Europe and you're a Muslim, you can come in. But if you are from Europe and you're a Christian you can't come in … meaning it's almost impossible,” he said. “So you tell me about religious liberty and freedom. The Christians are being treated horribly because we have nobody to represent the Christians. Believe me, if I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians they've had in a long time.”