(RNS) In the New Testament, Jesus asks Peter, his dearest disciple and the rock upon which he founded his church: “Who do you say that I am?”
On Wednesday (June 8), Donald Trump was essentially asked the same question: “Who do you say Jesus is?”
Trump’s answer, which came after his questioner, conservative commentator and evangelical Christian Cal Thomas, asked a second time, was this:
“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.”
The remark comes ahead of Trump’s speech to 500 evangelical leaders in New York later this month. As a voting bloc, evangelicals are considered crucial to the Republican Party, but many have been critical of Trump, with some saying his policies, such as his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and his U.S.-Mexico border wall, are un-Christian.
Trump supporters and critics took to social media to pick over the remark, published in a transcript on Thomas’ website, ciphering it for clues to the candidate’s religiosity, which some have doubted and others have heralded.
Trump stumbled a bit in his first attempt at an answer:
“I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness,” he began. “As you know, I am Presbyterian and Protestant.”
He then said it was “deplorable” Syrian Muslims could come to the U.S. before concluding, “I’m going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care.”
Peter’s response to the same question in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 16:15-16): “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”