Prosperity gospel vs. social gospel: What religion means to Trump, Clinton & Co.

In back-to-back features this week, NPR delves into the faiths of the Republican and Democratic presidential tickets.

It's safe to say that these profiles — by Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten — are not definitive journalism on what Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton & Co. believe.

In fact, these reports are more like CliffsNotes study guides for those interested in a crash course on the candidates' religious backgrounds. But taken as such, these accounts are really nicely done.

On the Republican side, NPR focuses on how positive thinking and the prosperity gospel define Trump's faith outlook:

On the Democratic side, Gjelten explores how Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine are driven by their faith in a social gospel:

In each case, the author allows the candidates to describe their faith in their own words.


"I go to church, and I love God, and I love my church," Trump told the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa last year. "Norman Vincent Peale, the great Norman Vincent Peale, was my pastor. ... He was so great. And what he would do is, he'd bring real-life situations, modern-day situations, into the sermon. And you could listen to him all day long."


"My study of the Bible," she said, "my many conversations with people of faith, has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do. And there is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoner, taking in the stranger creating opportunities for others to be lifted up, to find faith themselves."

Moreover, NPR quotes outside experts who provide insight into the candidates' faith.

In Trump's case:

In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, and in his preaching, Peale promoted a faith message that appealed to Donald Trump.
"Peale got very interested in the notion that the Gospel could unleash power, that having a divine relationship with God could unleash power within a person for success," saysMichael Hamilton, a historian of American Christianity at Seattle Pacific University. "And he defined success pretty broadly, so it partly included material success. God didn't want people to be poor."

In Clinton's case:

Clinton's statement that the "most important commandment" requires Christians to love their neighbors genuinely reflects John Wesley's teaching, according to Rev. Wendy Deichmann, a professor of history and theology at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
"John Wesley said you could have all the theological correct answers and yet really not be a Christian if you don't feel the love of Jesus Christ in your heart and actually practice that toward your neighbor," Deichmann said. It was a philosophy, she noted, that John Wesley exemplified during his own ministry in eighteenth century England.

However, NPR's approach does have a few shortcomings — including the tendency to boil some complicated details into opinionated material with no attribution.

From the Trump story: 

Trump himself has never claimed to be transformed or "born again." But that may not matter, if he outsources the responsibility for religious outreach to his running mate. As Indiana governor, Mike Pence bolstered his conservative credentials by signing a religious liberty law to protect business people — critics said it would allow them to discriminate against gays and lesbians. If Pence now says Trump is a good man, that may be enough for voters who care about their candidates' faith.

That analysis fails to take into account that some conservative Christians — such as GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway, now a senior editor with The Federalist — believe Pence eventually caved on religious liberty:

And from the Clinton story:

Kaine's faith profile in this respect mirrors Hillary Clinton's. Just as she comes from the liberal side of Protestantism, Kaine comes from the liberal side of Catholicism. Their candidacies raise the prospect that Democrats may have an opportunity to narrow the "God gap" they have had with Republicans. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans who see the Republican Party as "friendly toward religion" outnumber those who say the same of Democrats, by a margin of 42 to 30 percent.

Who says their candidacies raise that prospect? Where's the attribution and evidence? 

But again, with the few caveats noted above, this week's features are interesting and worth your time. Especially if you haven't been paying attention all along.

Image via

Please respect our Commenting Policy