The day after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump commented on fellow candidate Ben Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventist belief system, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked if he was sending a signal to conservative Christians that Carson was not one them. He also asked if Trump wished to apologize. Trump said he had nothing to apologize for…
As the Washington Post reported October 25, in an appearance on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Donald Trump said, “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.”
And, truthfully, that is exactly what he said. Twice. In fact, in a separate Washington Post report, Trump told a gathering Saturday at a rally in Jacksonville, Florida, “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.”
His words certainly have the qualities of plausible deniability, but if Donald Trump wasn’t attempting to show a contrast in religious affiliation, why bring up the difference at all? Could it be that Trump was pointing out to Christians in a (ham-handedly) subtle manner that many mainstream Protestants and evangelicals consider the sects of the Seventh-Day Adventist church as cult-like — or at most a Christ-following cult — and, therefore, not Christian at all?
George Stephanopoulos suggested as much, saying that bringing up Dr. Ben Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventist religious affiliation meant to “send a dog whistle” to “some conservatives [who] claim the Seventh-day Adventists are not Christian.” Trump simply dismissed the suggestion in true Trump-like truncated fashion, “No, not at all,” he said.
While Donald Trump verbally sparred with George Stephanopoulos, Ben Carson was answering questions about Trump’s religious remarks from Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” The former neurosurgeon would not comment directly on Trump’s words, he pointed out that when he had made comments on Trump’s faith, the billionaire had “gone ballistic.” Carson then said he found it “interesting” that Trump would now be making comments about his (Carson’s) faith.
Of course, it could be that Trump possibly might be feeling pressure from the low-key neurosurgeon, even though he panned those same polls on Friday. Carson now leads in a number of Iowa polls, which some political analysts believe might be significant. Yet, given that Trump still leads in most national polls by double digits (per Real Clear Politics list of polls), losing Iowa — if it should actually come to that — should be nothing but a minor distraction in the Republican primary process.
Still, regardless if some conservatives view Seventh-Day Adventism as a cult, insinuations that Dr. Ben Carson might not be a “real” Christian could prove unproductive. Much was made about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism (and that some Christians looked on that sect as a cult) at the onset of the 2012 presidential nomination run-up, but as the primary season wore on, religion became less and less of an issue among voting Republicans. Although it is too early to tell, the same might prove true with regard to Dr. Ben Carson.