The National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event organized in part by the Fellowship Foundation, serves as meeting between Christian leaders and the President. Since President Eisenhower, the leader of the free world has come before this gathering, offering scripture and reflection in what is clearly an event focused on religion and faith.
While Donald Trump has identified as a devout Presbyterian, either he has read a heavily edited version of the Bible, or he (more likely) uses the semblance of faith to propel his egomania. Though Trump would not be the first President accused of phony religiosity, his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast—centering on his acumen, his superior television ratings to Arnold Schwarzenegger with religious elements diverting drastically from his normal tone—should cause outrage for the devout.
As an atheist, I have no dog in this fight. However, a lack of faith has not isolated me to such a degree that I cannot understand why Trump’s speech would (or should) spark anger. Though the media has focused on Trump’s digressions regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings as his replacement on “The Apprentice,” his characteristic lack of humility and shame were particularly shocking given the venue.
In one passage, Trump argued, “Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways. And I've never seen it so much and so openly as since I took the position of President. The world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out. Okay? That's what I do. I fix things. We're going to straighten it out. Believe me.”
In a moment toward the end of his address when he opened the door to freedom of religion, a core tenet of American life and liberty, he returned to his favorite topic: himself. It is hard to understand how religious groups who find much to speak out against in public life would be happy to watch a man reduce faith to a footnote during the National Prayer Breakfast.
Moments capable of genuine reflection, such as remarks regarding the funeral of Chief William Owens, who was killed during a recent raid in Yemen, were given as much attention—if not less—than moments of pure egoism.
There is little use in questioning Trump’s religious devotion. The Fellowship Foundation, one of the sponsors of the breakfast, lists its dedication to a “mission to leaders [involving] facilitating candid, intimate, and thus private, relationships among their peers in governments, businesses and other organizations, based on the leadership principles taught and practiced by Jesus.”
Though my knowledge of the Bible pales in comparison to that of devout Christians, I fail to recall any sermon in which Jesus implored followers to shamelessly lead and place power, ego and self above all others, including God.
Isn’t it more offensive to watch a man make a mockery of the core lesson of humility than to listen to people debate the place of religion in life, love and happiness?
Even if Trump’s understanding of the Bible goes beyond Samuel L. Jackson’s passage in “Pulp Fiction,” his actions prove he is a man conveniently manipulating religion just as he manipulated millions during the election cycle. Trump’s attempt to promote his faith to the forefront of his personal life and policy agenda, particularly in his cultural and political opposition to Islam, serve to irreparably divide. Debate regarding the position of religion in American life is as old as the nation itself, with the rise of the Religious Right creating a powerful and sought-after voting bloc. Trump’s manipulation, however, marks a dramatic and dangerous turn.
The content of this speech was not surprising for Donald Trump. His addresses are drowned in deceit and selfishness. It is not up to others to decide if Trump’s address at the National Prayer Breakfast should outrage religious communities. However, given the nature of his remarks, it is hard to understand how that would not be the logical outcome of such blatant disregard and disrespect.