It’s interesting that so many religious evangelicals are backing Trump, such as the son of Jerry Falwell, Jerry Jr., and the son of Billy Graham, Franklin (both of whom, like Trump, inherited lucrative empires from their fathers). What with his multiple wives, each one younger and hotter than the last, and his hedonistic gambling casinos one would think that True Believers in “family values” would be appalled at jumping into bed with the likes of a sinner like Trump, but there they are. As to his own beliefs, Trump has said he grew up as a Presbyterian, and a few weeks ago, when he was attacking Ben Carson for the strange beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, he said you can’t get any more mainstream than Presbyterians.
Now it so happens that I too was baptized as a Presbyterian, a denomination founded in the 1550’s in Scotland, the land from which both Trump and I derive much of our heritage. The dour Scots took the ideas of the Protestant Reformation much more seriously than most other peoples. The denomination was started by the fiery preacher, John Knox, who hung around with John Calvin in Geneva discussing theology before returning and converting most of Scotland to their way of thinking. Those original Presbyterians firmly believed in the doctrine of “predestination,” which to me helps explain why Trump doesn’t know his John from his Genesis. For example, Trump, in a speech at Falwell’s Liberty University, was touting his Biblical knowledge when he rhetorically asked the crowd: “I hear this is a major theme here, ‘Two Corinthians,’ right? Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ball game.” The crowd, which knows the famous phrase as “Second Corinthians,” laughed at Trump’s Biblical ignorance but still gave him a big ovation.
So just what is a Presbyterian? Well, the Presbyterians, along with the Puritans, were among the very first to enlist in the “war on Christmas” five-hundred years before Fox News coined the term. Those stern Calvinists condemned the extravagances of both Christmas and Easter celebrations for being idolatrous, paganish, and popish. Scotland did not officially acknowledge that Christmas was even a holiday until 1950.
The way I interpret the theology, Presbyterians don’t have to actually GO to church, though if you do go religiously you are probably one of the “Elect.” There are no guarantees of course, but if you make it to old age and are faithfully attending every Sunday it’s a strong sign that YOU will get to hang out with Him in Heaven. A second strong sign that you’re one of the Elect is financial success, because having plenty of money is proof that God has chosen you.
Unlike the Catholics, Episcopalians and many other denominations, the Presbyterian polity is governed by the elders of the church, the “presbytery,” rather than a priesthood. The church takes is name from the prefix “presby,” which comes from the Greek and means “old” or “aging.” I only learned the origin of the word when I was forty-three and developed a condition I’d never heard of before called “presbyopia,” or “old eyes.” I had to get my first pair of reading glasses and the eyes have gone steadily downhill ever since.
When I was eleven or so in Communicants Class our minister, Reverend Mayo, explained predestination something like this: God is Omnipotent, which means He is “all-powerful,” as well as being Omniscient, which means He is “all-knowing.” Therefore, being all-knowing, God knows everything that ever happened and everything that ever will happen. No exceptions. What this meant to me was that you can’t earn your way into heaven by doing good deeds and living a moral life. Nope. You are either one of the Elect from the get-go, chosen by God since before the beginning of time to join Him inside the Pearly Gates, or you didn’t make the cut and are destined to spend eternity roasting in the fiery cauldron of Hell. God already knows everything (that’s what being Omniscient is all about), because if He didn’t already know where you’ll end up, He couldn’t be God, right? It made perfect sense to me.
As Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might have explained it to Scotty, another Scot and therefore probably a Presbyterian: “It is all quite logical, Mr. Scott.” Come to think of it, Dr. McCoy is also of Scots descent, and in Scottish dialect “kirk” means “church.” Hmmm… So Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott are all Scottish and probably Presbyterians, or at least descended from Presbyterians. It makes sense as the Scots have been famous throughout history for being adventurers and brave fighters and would be ideally suited to exploring the final frontier. And their constant good fortune is a strong sign that they are among the Elect.
What I think predestination means for ordinary Presbyterians is that while it’s all well and good to show piety and know all the songs in the hymnal by heart, it isn’t really necessary because it won’t make any difference in where you spend Eternity. To my eleven-year old brain, it seemed that if your fate is predestined no matter what then why waste half a day in Sunday school every week when you could be playing baseball or swimming?
Of course the Presbyterians of today have watered down the strict Calvinistic ways to keep up with the times and now accept Santa and Christmas trees and sing “Silent Night” like most Christian denominations, but the notion of predestination is still hanging around the theological rafters.
So if the theology of the old-school, Calvinistic Presbyterians is right, you are predestined for Heaven or Hell no matter how you live your life. I figure Trump probably learned about predestination in Communicants Class at about the same age I did and decided that he may as well just cut out of Sunday School as often as he could and play golf, which would explain his lack of Biblical knowledge. As for whether he’s predestined make it through the Pearly Gates, heaven only knows.
PS–Check this out for a thorough discussion of the history and theology of predestination by a Presbyterian minister: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/predestination/
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