Politics

Members Of Donald Trump’s Christian Denomination Are Trying To See If They Can Kick Him Out

CREDIT: Charlie Neibergal/AP

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Members of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Christian denomination are calling for national church leaders to reconsider his membership, saying they are “horrified” by his recent call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

On Tuesday, leaders of Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City unanimously approved a resolution condemning Trump’s recent flurry of contentious comments, specifically his proposal to bar all Muslims from immigrating to the country. The church is part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the same denomination of which Trump claims to be a member, and sits in the same regional cluster of churches (a “presbytery”) as Trump’s original home church in Queens.

“As a church, we remain neutral in terms of political candidates and campaigns, but we cannot be neutral with respect to fundamental human rights,” the resolution reads. “Inspired by Jesus Christ, who spoke for and defended the oppressed and marginalized…we cannot and will not stand by silently when religious and civil freedoms and human dignity of our neighbors are publicly questions and thus undermined and put in danger.”

The resolution insists the church will continue to help resettle Syrian refugees, something Trump opposes, before calling for denominational authorities to reexamine the businessman’s church membership.

“We ask appropriate bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (such as Donald Trump’s Congregation, the Presbytery of New York City and the General Assembly Office) to review his standing/membership in our denomination,” it reads.

According to the PC(USA) constitution, a member can be kicked out of the church in a fashion similar to Catholic excommunication. Specifically, they can be brought up on church judicial charges for, among other things, actions that are “contrary to the [Biblical] scriptures.” Trump’s controversial campaign for president has frustrated many Presbyterians, as his bombastic proposals have contradicted many official policies of the generally liberal Mainline Protestant denomination; unlike Trump, the PC(USA) openly supports same-sex marriage, comprehensive immigration reform, and the Obama administration’s recent trade deal with Iran.

But even though Trump repeatedly cites his Presbyterian affiliation on the campaign trail, a formal religious censuring of him is unlikely to occur, because he does not appear to be an “active member” of any PC(USA) congregation — a prerequisite for a church trial. When ThinkProgress contacted the church where Trump was baptized — First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens — officials weren’t able to immediately confirm whether the billionaire was on the rolls, but his distance from the congregation makes formal membership improbable.

“Unless he’s a member of a PC(USA) church, there’s nothing that any body of the church could do in response to this request,” Rev. Andy James, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of New York City, told ThinkProgress. “There’s no review that can take place if he’s not a member.”

But James noted that even if Presbyterians can’t formally kick Trump out of the denomination, churches and faith leaders can vocally decry his rhetoric.

“A church can make this kind of statement, saying that they disagree with Trump when he speaks about specific issues,” he said.

In fact, PC(USA) Stated Clerk Rev. Gradye Parsons, one of the highest officers in the denomination, did just that in October. In a rare move, Parsons published an open letter addressed directly to Trump that criticized his reference to immigrants as “rapists” and his proposal to halt the influx of Syrian refugees from the country.

“Knowing our Lord was once a refugee, faithful Presbyterians have been writing church policy urging the welcome of refugees and demanding higher annual admissions into the United States since the refugee crisis of World War II,” Parsons wrote. “I especially hope [this] will inform you on your policies going forward.”

Although Trump continues to enjoy hearty support from many right-wing evangelicals, faith leaders have repeatedly expressed dismay over his language and policy positions, as well as his struggles to discuss central tenets of the Christian faith.

For instance, when his campaign announced the “endorsement” of more than 100 black ministers in November, more than 100 other black ministers published a letter in Ebony magazine rebuking him in protest. When it was later revealed that the meeting was not, in fact, an series of endorsements, pastors in attendance said Trump didn’t tell the whole truth when he said the ministers “didn’t really ask me to change the tone,” adding, “I think they really want to see victory.”

“That’s not true,” Bishop Victor Couzens told ThinkProgress. “We spent a lot of time just discussing the overall tone of the campaign. I personally said to him, he needs to apologize. He needs to repent.”

Some leaders of the Religious Right are also taking a stand against Trump. In September, Rev. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, wrote an o-ed declaring that Trump is against “everything [evangelicals] believe.” Moore published another letter this week urging fellow Christian conservatives to speak out against the candidate’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country.

“Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric,” Moore wrote.

The chorus of faithful criticism continues to build: On Wednesday, the faith-based advocacy group Faith in Public Life published a petition signed by more than 2,500 faith leaders blasting Trump.

“Muslims serve this nation in offices of public service, in our Armed Forces, in law enforcement, and as community builders. These are our neighbors, our friends, and children of God,” the petition reads. “We cannot remain silent as political leaders seek to divide Americans along religious lines for partisan gain. Your language and proposals serve only to divide our nation and to bring comfort to ISIS and their allies.”

UPDATE DEC 11, 2015 1:28 PM

A few hours after ThinkProgress published this article, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) Gradye Parsons issued a statement explaining that church judicial action could not be taken against Trump because “there is no factual evidence that Mr. Trump currently holds membership in any local congregation.”

Parsons then reiterated his criticism of Trump’s stance on Islam and refugees, and urged Presbyterian congregations to welcome families fleeing violence in Syria.

His entire response is below.

“It is a fact that Donald Trump was baptized in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). However, there is no factual evidence that Mr. Trump currently holds membership in any local congregation. Therefore, the discipline process that would be necessary to remove him from membership is not applicable.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has already addressed Mr. Trump’s statements about Muslims and Syrian refugees in an open letter to him. We continue to advocate for a gracious welcome to families fleeing violence in their homeland. We continue to urge all Presbyterian congregations to work to host families and advocate with their governors to not put roadblocks in the way of these families."

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