Donald Trump spoke about his faith this week in an interview with columnist Cal Thomas, boasting of his "great relationships" with ministers and the clergy and predicting he will do very well with evangelicals in the general election.
"I'm going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care," Trump said in the interview. And on who Jesus is to him, Trump answered, "Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind."
Trump, over the course of the election, has played up his Presbyterian faith in typical Trump fashion as a way to appeal to evangelicals — praising the Bible by saying it is even better than his book The Art of the Deal and answering that his favorite verse is "an eye for an eye." But throughout his career in public life before his presidential run, Trump's actual views of religion and his own personal faith have been difficult to pin down.
In a lengthy 1990 profile with Playboy, Donald Trump said he did not believe in heaven or hell but that the dead "go somewhere."
In the profile, Trump was asked by reporter Glenn Plaskin if he was worried about his own mortality. "No," Trump answered. "I'm fatalistic, and I protect myself as well as anybody can. I prepare for things. But ultimately we all end up going."
Trump was heading up the stairs to dinner when he turned back to Plaskin, contemplating the afterlife. "No," he said. "I don't believe in reincarnation, heaven or hell — but we go someplace."
"Do you know," he said, "I cannot, for the life of me, figure out where."
Plaskin told BuzzFeed News of Trump's comment to him more than two decades ago: "In a thoughtful way, he was expressing what many people may feel — that death is a mystery, that we don't quite know what happens after it."
In a 1997 profile in Playboy, Trump is described as "not a religious man":
Trump is not a religious man, not in the traditional sense nor in Marla's New Age manner. Still, she pesters him to go with her to church on Sundays.
"I don't want to go to that hillbilly church you go to," he tells her. "If I'm going, I want to go to a church where somebody knows me."
What purpose if one is not seen to worship?
"Tony," he asks his butler, "what's that church?"
"St. Andrew's, sir."
"Who does Donald know at St. Andrew's?" Marla asks.
"God," says Tony.
And the Donald laughs all the way up the stairs.
By 1999, when Trump began looking at a run for president on the Reform Party ticket, he differentiated between belief in God and participating in organized religion.
"Well, I think there's a difference between believing in God and organized religion, number one," said Trump on Today. "I think that God and the belief in God is more important than organized religion. But I think organized religion's important in that it keeps people in the straight and narrow."
Today, Trump describes himself as a regular church-going Presbyterian.
"I love Iowa. And, look, I don't have to say it, I'm Presbyterian," said Trump earlier this year to Post. "Can you believe it? Nobody believes I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness."
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at email@example.com.
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