In case you missed it, at George H. W. Bush’s funeral last week, “baby Christian” Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump did not recite the Apostles’ Creed. This was in contrast to the Clintons, Obamas, and Carters.
Who cares, right?
A lot of people, actually.
Above, former presidents and their spouses read or recite the Apostles’ Creed. The Trumps do not participate.
The most obvious explanation is that Trump does not know the Apostles’ Creed And why should he? He claims to be Presbyterian, and that faith tradition uses the creed, but the only thing Trump picked up in church is Marla Maples, so it would be unrealistic to expect that he would have learned it there.
Why didn’t he read it, then? (Let me interrupt myself for a moment. If you are a church-attending Christian, please consider reading the stuff you might otherwise recite. It helps newbies feel less embarrassed that they don’t know the prayer, creed, Bible passage, or words to the hymn.)
It’s probably more that he doesn’t have the attention span, not that he can’t sound out words.
And, to be fair, the Apostles’ Creed does have some advanced vocabulary (“conceived,” “Pontius Pilate,” “resurrection”) in it.
This also seems to be the argument that Franklin Graham is forwarding, though he probably doesn’t read it that way. When Graham, a big fan of Trump and hater of refugees and immigrants, defended Trump’s silence during the creed, he compared it to his own decision not to sign in church.
“Guess what—I don’t usually sing in church. Why? Because I can’t carry a tune! And, I have no rhythm,” he explained on Facebook.
First of all, Franklin, talent has nothing to do with praising God. Once again, your theology is garbage. Second, you just told everyone in your congregation that if they aren’t good singers, they should shut up. Once again, you’re a lousy pastor. Third, finish this analogy: you don’t sing because you don’t do it well, just like Trump doesn’t read because ____________. Really? I mean, it’s true. He doesn’t seem to have the reading comprehension to realize that he’s Individual-1 in the Cohen sentencing guidelines. So, thank you for being honest.
Or maybe he was just too busy thinking about something else, argued Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, one of the most patriotic, tackiest Baptist churches in America. “I imagine the leader of the free world has a few things on his mind,” he told The Christian Post. I think this actually is a likely excuse. I have no doubt that Trump was thinking about something else since he has shown no ability to think about the presidency in its historic context, reflect on the successes of another person, or pay attention for the duration of a funeral sermon.
Mainstream Christians—the Episcopalians, like Bush Sr was—have taken this as evidence that Trump’s not really a Christian, and they keep mentioning it as if the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump will care about his failure to recite or even read from the funeral program.
But the evangelicals who support Trump aren’t going to be persuaded by this because many of them don’t say the Apostles’ Creed. Not just that, but lots of them (okay, us, because this was definitely the thinking I grew up with) view the recitation of creeds as getting pretty close to idolatry. The rote repetition of words you don’t understand? That’s basically pre-Vatican II Catholicism! Not speaking directly from the heart, as the Spirit guides you, when you pray aloud? Hypocrite! The ONLY acceptable traditional, pre-written prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, and that’s only because Jesus directly told people they had to pray it. Bible recitation is one thing—that’s the word of God—but any creed that came after the Bible is necessarily a work of man, not God. So: no.
Which makes Trump (get ready for it!) a better Christian than those hypocrites sitting in the pews next to him.
Or, even if you think that this proves that Trump isn’t a Christian, then you should appreciate his honesty in not professing the creed; he is living according to his conscience.
And, just to make sure that they have all their bases covered, conservative Christians can rest assured that if Trump was silent because he’s too principled to pray a lie, that’s okay, too, because it just reaffirms that he is their King Cyrus. Cyrus wasn’t a Jew, but he was appointed by God to provide them with the space and material support to reassert their faith—specifically, to rebuild their temple, surrounded by a protective wall so that they could maintain an exclusive hold on both religion and politics. They draw this analogy from Isaiah 45:1-4, where God promises Cyrus all power, even though he doesn’t recognize God. Here is verse 4:
For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
Yep, conservative Christian logic is impenetrable. No matter how you looked his silence, it was evidence of something conservative Christians love about him: he’s plain spoken and doesn’t have time for those his smooth-talking predecessor used; he was too busy thinking about how to slash taxes that provide a safety net for the poor; he is the kind of Christian who prays sincere prayers from the heart, not one who recites ancient words not even from the Bible; he’s not a hypocrite like the Clintons or Obamas, who go to church but perform late term abortions and secretly worship Allah; and, anyway, the gap between his personal piety and his commitment to restoring Christian hegemony means that he’s really appointed by God, because why else would a secular person do so much for the faith?
More likely, he needs reading glasses and simply refuses to put them on because doing so would mean admitting to weakness and aging. We might not believe that he’s the fittest person to even run for office if we saw him peering over some readers. Vanity and pride—and insecurity and living a lie—are pretty likely explanations.
Above, Nicholas Poussin’s painting of the 12 Apostles.
But I suspect that, even if Trump wasn’t too insecure to wear glasses and wasn’t embarrassed to have to read a text that those next to him know by heart and if he wasn’t going to struggle with the two- and three-syllabus words, he still wouldn’t have read it.
Recitation of a prayer—following the lead of a spiritual leader, humbling yourself to join voices with a group of fellow believers, losing yourself in the history of millions who have said this same prayer—that’s not exactly Trump’s style. It requires humility, vulnerability, and the willingness to be subsumed into something greater. For some Christians, this is precisely what makes prayer of this kind so powerful. Common prayer isn’t common because it is ordinary; instead, it holds us in common and that is decidedly uncommon, especially in an individualistic culture, including an individualistic religious culture. We join in it together, with no on voice above the others. Trump couldn’t do that if he tried, and so he didn’t. It would have been a lie to pray, not merely because he doesn’t believe in what the Apostles’ Creed professes but because he does not believe in anything he’s not the star of.
Christians who support Trump should be very concerned about that. Cyrus didn’t try to compete with God. Trump, you get the sense quite clearly, has no god but himself. That is something that, eventually, conservative Christians will find they can’t manage.