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Donald Trump’s comments on Ben Carson’s religion: obnoxious or truly despicable?

REUTERS/Daron Dean
Donald Trump: "Seventh Day Adventist? I don't know about. I just don't know about."

I have given up even thinking that I will know when Donald Trump says something so crazy, irrelevant or immodest that it will end his ride atop the polls among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. A lot of much smarter pundits than me have guessed wrong and likewise stopped guessing. I think that’s the best policy.

I am also no expert on the precise line that separates the merely obnoxious from the truly despicable, but one of Trump’s latest expostulations of verbal diarrhea did impress me as possibly crossing that line.

To get the point of this one, you have to know — and I didn’t know until recently — the religious affiliation of Dr. Ben Carson, the former surgeon who recently came in ahead of Trump in one poll, just of Iowans, taken by the Des Moines Register. It turns out Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist, a religious denomination about which I know nothing.

But Trump, in expressing his disbelief — not his surprise, it was literal disbelief — that he had fallen to second in one poll in one state, and upon being asked about  that fact, suddenly and with no prompting, recited the following Whitmanesque blank verse (no, kidding. This is the literal verbatim Trump quote):

I love Iowa.

And, look, I don’t have to say it, I’m Presbyterian.

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.

I mean: Seventh Day Adventist? I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.

So, a couple of things. First of all, sir, in your opinion, why is it that people find it so unbelievable that you are a Presbyterian? And then, a brief follow up, if it’s so unbelievable, why do you start out by saying that you don’t have to say it? I mean, if it’s that obvious, why do you say it three times? Why do you say it three times? Why do you say it three times?

And how exactly does another denomination, Seventh Day Adventism, suddenly come into your homily? Is it because you don’t know, you just don’t know about Seventh Day Adventism?

Now maybe you mean to imply that Seventh Day Adventism, unlike other religious denominations, teaches some things that sound pretty weird unless you happen to believe in them.

An apology?

Being negative by nature, some journalists took this statement by Trump about not knowing anything about Seventh Day Adventism as possibly offensive to Carson or to Seventh Day Adventism or to those who think someone else’s religion is their own damn business.

Carson himself suggested an apology would be appropriate. Over on ABC, George Stephanopoulos had Trump on his program Sunday morning and sought to facilitate a reconciliation. It went like this:

Stephanopoulos: “With those comments about Ben Carson’s religion, Seventh Day Adventist, ‘I don’t know about that,’ what were you trying to say?”

Trump: “Well, I don’t. I know nothing about it really. I’m a Presbyterian and I had mentioned that, and I did say I don’t know about it. And, in fact, those are my exact words. So I just really don’t know about the Seventh Day Adventists. I just — you know, and that’s what I said.”

Stephanopoulos: “But why raise it all? You know, some conservatives claim the Seventh Day Adventists are not Christian. Were you trying to send a dog whistle to them because Ben Carson is beating you among Evangelicals in Iowa?”

Trump: “No, not at all. In fact, I think nationwide, I’m beating Ben with the Evangelicals. But, no, not at all. I just don’t know about that particular religion.”

Stephanopoulos: “Back to my question, why raise it?”

Trump: “Because I just said, I don’t know about it. I said nothing about it. I would never say bad. I’d never say bad about any religion. And, as you know, in fact, I think you just had a quote on, I said exactly ‘I don’t know about it.’ So, you know, that’s not an insult…”

Stephanopoulos: “Ben Carson has asked for an apology. Will you give it to him?”

Trump: “Well, I didn’t say anything bad about it. I just don’t know about it. I would certainly give an apology if I said something bad about it. But I didn’t. All I said was I don’t know about it.”

One more question

He couldn’t make it clearer than that, could he? The one follow-up that I wish Stephanopoulos had asked Trump, would be this: Mr. Trump, with all due respect, and I emphasize “due respect,” are you preparing a complete list of things you don’t know anything about or are you planning to just bring them up as they occur to you, and when can voters hope to have the full list of those things?

Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/26/2015 - 09:26 am.

    A few months ago

    …people who suggested the Republican presidential nominating field was a “clown car” were, at least occasionally, seen as being overly critical and disparaging. What the continued winnowing of the field, coupled with the ongoing poll success (as distinguished from genuine success) of Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson suggests to me is that those who characterized the GOP nominating field that way were both prescient and overly modest. “Clown car” seems almost like praise for distinction at this point.

    For a former moderate Republican, it’s all disappointing in the extreme. Between the hubris of one and the Nazi fixation of the other, how can anyone be taken seriously who thinks Donald Trump – a “know-nothing” in every sense of the word – or Ben Carson – equally ignorant of virtually everything outside his own narrow field of expertise – is actually capable of leading a nation of 300+ million people in a complicated world where not everyone likes the United States? It’s not that they’re political amateurs – both parties have plenty of those, and everyone starts as an amateur, so there’s no real shame in that label – it’s that they’re overgrown CHILDREN.

    Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson have so far displayed the maturity and intellect of my 4-year-old grandson. He’s a really cute kid, and I love him dearly, but I don’t want him running the country.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/26/2015 - 12:25 pm.

      Good descriptors

      The “clown car” (or “barn burners”) alternative I’ve liked best so far is the “dumpster burners” description Eric pointed out a week or two ago.

      Related to Ben Carson, one of the best non-Trumpisms I’ve read is, “Living proof that you don’t need a brain to operate on one.”

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/26/2015 - 09:33 am.

    The question I would have asked..

    Is, “So, Donald, what makes a Presbyterian a Presbyterian as opposed, for example, to a Lutheran. I would guess that like many or most mainstream protestants he would have no clue. It would be another sect he knows nothing about. He’s a Presbyterian because his father was and he has never thought about it any more deeply than that. The questioner knew he would BS his way around Carson’s faith but it would have been too impolite to get him to stumble through his own faith or lack thereof.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/26/2015 - 10:09 am.


    In one of the vocational schools I attended, I roomed with a guy from Queens New York. He was basically aware of only two religions, Judaism and Catholicism. He was Jewish, but he liked to date Italian girls because they were just like Jewish girls only without the historical burden. In New York, you are either a Jew or a Catholic, or maybe you might be some sort of vague sort of Episcopalian who summers in Connecticut. No one is Presbyterian.

    My friend used to rail against Archie Bunker who was described in the show as a Protestant. To my friend, who didn’t believe that there were Protestants who actually lived in Queens, Archie was obviously Irish Catholic.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/26/2015 - 10:24 am.

    Republican Candidates Have Been Embracing “God”

    while disparaging the faith of other candidates,…

    (who can forget Barrack Obama’s pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for instance,…

    who said exactly what Conservative Christian leaders have said repeatedly,…

    that “God” isn’t too happy with America these days,…

    but whose unpardonable sin was that he proclaimed God to be unhappy with America,…

    for economic and political reasons clearly spelled out in the Bible,…

    but reasons our “conservative” friends desperately want to pretend are not to be found there,…

    THEIR “God” only caring about people being sexually naughty in any non-“straight” way),…

    we should not be surprised to hear Donald Trump scratching his head about “Seventh Day Adventists.”

    Now if Ben Carson were to have revealed that he’s a Southern Baptist, or Baptist General Conference member, or any member of any number of OTHER forms of faith most common in the “conservative” South,…

    Trump would never have mentioned it at all.

    He’s far too smart to alienate THAT many “conservatives.”

    There just aren’t enough Seventh Day Adventists to make much difference to him.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/26/2015 - 03:21 pm.

      Right on. Their God is an awesome God who could never be unhappy with America!

      A few atheists, agnostics, and others of little faith, yes, but not America.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/26/2015 - 10:25 am.


    That’s Donald Trump’s religion.
    He believes that HE is God.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/26/2015 - 11:35 am.


    Capitalism is in crisis, and we see the evidence all around us. For example, a socialist is now a serious and respected candidate for president. This would have been impossible ten years ago. We are now seeing the rise of other forces that appear when capitalism weakens. In the depression era it was Father Coghlan. Today, it’s Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson.

    This is typical and understandable. As the institutions of our society like capitalism become weak and discredited, other ideas and forces will take their place.

  7. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/26/2015 - 11:48 am.

    The saddest thing of all

    is that, in 2015, a person that has said the things Trump has said hasn’t been kicked to the curb long ago. The fact that he can say these things and still be supported by a sizable part of this country is the scariest thing of all.

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/26/2015 - 12:02 pm.

    Why is anyone paying attention to Trump’s empty phrases about Carson’s religion? Or to the “journalist” who keeps beating the question to death, as here?

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/26/2015 - 02:16 pm.

      Just can’t help it

      While I agree that your basic question about people paying attention is a good one, in August, one of my favorite journalists provided what is probably the most basic answer:

      “It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump. And to give the whole thing a perverse gravitas, make the presidency really at stake.

      “It’s Western civilization’s very own car wreck. Even if you don’t want to watch it, you will. It’s that awesome of a spectacle.”

      P.S. Just to add a little immediate, “It actually could happen,” flavor to that, here in western hemisphere reality, “Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian who has never held office, swept to power in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday after milking public anger over a corruption scandal that deepened distrust of the country’s political establishment.”

  9. Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/26/2015 - 12:11 pm.

    Missed Opportunity

    Through his campaign Trump has been semi-famous for his quick one-liners (asked about a prominent conservative writer’s criticism of him he said, “That guy couldn’t buy a pair of pants,” for example) that have driven his opponents (and most of the Republican party) crazy because they’ve had no clue how to respond or what to do about it except sit there, by the side of the “high road,” and wait for people to realize what a jerk he is while his poll numbers kept climbing.

    But, more to the Presbyterian point, one of the few things I remember about the movie, “A River Runs Through It,” was the scene in which one of the minister’s sons was coming home on the (early 20th century) train and Dad was there at the (Montana) station to meet him. The son said something about how he’d met some pretty nice Episcopalians (or Lutherans, or Methodists, or Presbyterians — can’t remember which but it doesn’t matter because all you need to do is insert the name of whatever denomination fits the moment), on his trip, and Dad, after rubbing his chin and thinking about if for a couple seconds, says the line I’m surprised Trump didn’t use instead of, “I don’t know”:

    “Presbyterians… Oh yeah… The Baptists that can read.”

  10. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/26/2015 - 03:36 pm.

    Obnoxious? Or despicable?

    It’s Donald Trump, so those are our only two options.

    My first thought was that his comment was wildly inappropriate (protestations of innocence to the contrary, he was strongly insinuating that Dr. Carson’s religion was something suspect). On the other hand, Dr. Carson has not been shy about injecting religion into the campaign. If he would question a candidate’s fitness for service because of their religion, he cannot object when it comes back to him.

    Mr. Trump should also be expected to be questioned on just what he was getting at. A presidential candidate–a serious one, at any rate–should expect his statements to be analyzed carefully. If you don’t like it, find something else cool to occupy your time.

    And Mr. Trump does not think he’s God. In his eyes, he’s far more important.

  11. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 10/26/2015 - 07:34 pm.

    Any comment that provokes ire…

    On this bunch of yahoos is living evidence of “if you play with fire you might get burned.” Wonder how they will spin it when one of their followers commits a hate crime and kills on of the blamed minorities? That is coming with the level of anger they generate.

  12. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/27/2015 - 09:22 am.

    Not Defending Trump

    I’ll not defend Trump’s comments, be they despicable or outrageous. But highlighting his faith may well cause some evangelicals to question their support of Carson.

    Carson is on record as supporting all teachings of his church; he’s no cafeteria Adventist. One of the key teachings of Adventism is that those who observe the Sabbath on Sunday are going straight to hell, and that Sunday Sabbath observing Christians and the government will persecute those who observe the Sabbath on Saturday. (I don’t know where that leaves Jews.)

    The evangelicals in Iowa may wish to ask Mr. Carson if he thinks they are going straight to the fiery pit.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/27/2015 - 01:17 pm.

      Very good point

      This is a very good point (not Trump’s point, though). If a political candidate takes his religion at its word, and the word has serious ramifications for others, then we should take it into consideration. For the most part, I believe religion should have little bearing on whether a candidate should be electable. But for others, it’s important. One of the concerns with some of the hard core Christians that tend to loudly support the right is that they want to impose their religious beliefs on others. That’s not just unconstitutional, it’s downright scary. Then there are those who believe that the Second Coming is…well…coming soon. How can such a belief be compatible with any long term vision that might guide our country into a prosperous future? You know, in case the Second Coming is late.

      Of course, one doesn’t have to point to religion to find beliefs that are clearly incompatible with good governing. There are a whole lot of people who want to be part of a government that they proclaim to be bad. Self fulfilling prophecy there.

  13. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 10/27/2015 - 10:44 am.

    Can’t we ever give religion a critical eye?

    Do we just give every religion a pass because someone calls it a religion? Is Presbyterianism equivalent to Seventh Day Adventism and Mormonism and Scientology? Can’t we ever say that a particular religion is nutty? Can’t we consider a politician’s participation in a cult, for example, when we evaluate whether or not we want to vote for him or her? Are all religions created equal?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/27/2015 - 07:30 pm.

      One definiiton of a cult

      is something that other people believe in.
      And there is the small matter of the First Amendment.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/28/2015 - 12:27 pm.

      Stink Eye

      As an atheist, I have to confess that I find all religions more than a little nutty. I can understand that religion played an important role in ancient times by conveying rules of society to people across a far-flung empire. The king couldn’t be there to personally make sure everyone behaved, so it was handy to have a religion tell people what to do or not do or else they would be cast down to the depths of hell.

      These days though we have science and facts to tell us how the universe works, so we don’t need a religion to tell us what foods to eat or which we can or cannot mix. There are still people who call themselves witches, but are they really casting spells on people to turn them into newts? We could all benefit by giving religions a critical eye and asking if a given tenant holds water.

  14. Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/27/2015 - 07:03 pm.

    “Beliefs” is the key (and dubious) word

    “The US Supreme Court ruled on June 30 [2014] that the owners of closely-held, profit-making corporations cannot be forced under the Affordable Care Act to provide their employees with certain kinds of contraceptives that offend their religious beliefs.

    “It has sparked a heated debate about the scope of religious liberty in the United States and whether bosses are now empowered to impose their religious beliefs on their employees. It has also raised concerns that female workers will now be denied access to contraceptives.

    “What was the basis of the owners’ religious objections?

    “Both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood [also part of the law suit] are controlled by family members with shared religious beliefs. Those beliefs hold that life begins at conception and that any birth control method that may result in the destruction of a fertilized egg is a form of abortion and killing that is forbidden by their faith.

    “Some religious owners of corporations oppose all birth control. Are those employers now entitled to eliminate birth control in every form from their company health care plans?

    “Maybe. The day after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the court vacated a decision by an appeals court that had ruled against a Michigan company that objected to providing any contraceptives under its employee health plan.

    “What was the basis for the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision?

    “The majority justices declared that Americans have a right to hold religious beliefs and to not be forced by the government to act in ways that violate those beliefs.”

    While everyone is free to believe whatever they choose, when it comes to a “belief” that impacts millions of people’s lives that may get welded into a nation’s laws by its Supreme Court, a person would THINK that court would demand to know, and closely examine, the BASIS of that belief.

    In the case of “religious beliefs,” a person would further assume those beliefs would need to be rooted, or based on, that religion’s most basic text, or body of “theological laws.” In the case of Christianity, that text is the Bible, and a prime example of Christian “theological laws” its practitioners would base their beliefs on is the Ten Commandants.

    But, in the Hobby Lobby case, “those beliefs” are not supported, tied to, or based on ANYthing in the Bible. There are a lot of web sites that look at the question, but (almost) all of them seem to agree on this:

    “Question: What does the Bible say about birth control? Should Christians use birth control?

    “Answer: Modern birth control methods were unknown in Bible times, and the Bible is, therefore, silent on the matter.”

    I said “almost.” The only (major Christian/religious) web site I came across that claimed otherwise was catholic-dot-com which had this to say:

    “In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.”

    Notice that while there is a reference to “the Church’s constant teaching,” there is no reference to anything in the Bible that supports that teaching. And the one example they do point to (later) is a fairly long stretch I won’t include here, though you can read about it here:

    In other words, the majority of the world’s Christian community says, “The bible doesn’t say anything about contraception,” which says there is nothing in Christianity’s basic text or “theological law” that could be the BASIS for anyone’s contraceptive-related “religious beliefs,” with the (questionable) exception of devout Roman Catholics.

    Yet the majority of the Supreme Court based its Hobby Lobby decision on the premise that its owner’s (literally baseless) “religious beliefs” about contraception are valid, and that the government could not act in ways that violate them which let Hobby Lobby off the ($475 million) hook and “opened the door” for any privately owned business in America to get out of having to pay for any part of contraceptives for women.

    Which justices voted for Hobby Lobby’s position? John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

    Which justices are members of the Roman Catholic church? John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.

    Rachel Kahler: “One of the concerns with some of the hard core Christians that tend to loudly support the right is that they want to impose their religious beliefs on others. That’s not just unconstitutional, it’s downright scary.”

    Happy Halloween, everybody!

  15. Submitted by Gordon Stewart on 10/27/2015 - 09:24 pm.

    Trump’s Presbyterian claims

    Last I knew Donald Trump was a member of the Marble Collegiate Church (Reformed Church of America) in Manhattan, NY. He was not a Presbyterian. But, hey, things change. In a 2012 interview he said he attended the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica in Queens, NY, a church about which I am familiar. As a Presbyterian pastor, I followed the Rev. Ray Schwartzbach as Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church (the college chapel) and Pastor to The College of Wooster.

    Ray was an inner city pastor who’d served in Detroit. The church in Jamaica was a congregation with 35 different languages – a church for immigrants. Ray was a powerful social gospel preacher and activist in the tradition of Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement.

    When Mr. Trump said three times the other day in Iowa that he was a Presbyterian and seemed to put down the Seventh Day Adventist faith of his chief opponent in the Iowa Republican primary race, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he is, in fact, a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His interview in 2012 claimed he attends First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica on Christmas and Easter and other special days. Given his position on immigration, there is a serious disconnect with the mission, outreach, and hospitality of the church he claims as his own.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/30/2015 - 06:19 am.


    I am pretty sure that Trump is enough of a New Yorker to believe that most Protestant churches are interchangeable, and when he goes, he probably goes to the one most convenient to his residence.

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