I’m not sure that Donald Trump understands redemption. I’m even less sure that he understands how to win Evangelicals. But I’m certain that his mockery of Ben Carson’s redemption story shows a lack of understanding of the Christian faith.
Speaking yesterday at a rally in Iowa, Trump launched what is best described as an extended rant against Carson, attacking the core of his redemption story (that Carson sought God’s grace and forgiveness after attacking a family member with a knife) as both impossible and implausible: Impossible because if Carson had truly had a “pathological temper” he could never have overcome it, and implausible because Trump simply can’t believe Carson attempted to stab someone, only to have the blade blocked by a belt buckle.
In other words, according to Trump, Carson is either still pathologically angry or he’s a liar.
Comparing Carson’s childhood anger problem to being a child molester, Trump declared, “If you’re a child molester — a sick puppy — you’re a child molester, there’s no cure for that.” And just to be sure he wasn’t misunderstood, he repeated the analogy to CNN, saying Carson’s “pathological temper” was “a big problem, because you don’t cure that. . . . That’s like, you know, I could say, they say you don’t cure — as an example, child molester. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure the child molester.”
Trump also demonstrated how a belt worked — stepping from the podium and moving it up and down. Finally, he bellowed, “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of this country to believe this crap?” The video is remarkable. It seems as if Trump is rattled by Carson’s rise — that Carson has gotten inside his head:
I completely understand Trump’s appeal as a non-politician, a person who speaks without a filter. But his passionate hatred for political correctness doesn’t give him a free pass on the substance of his remarks, and here he fails. In mocking Carson’s redemption story, he’s not just mocking a man with an almost 50-year record of compassion and temperance — he’s mocking the redemption of countless Christians who’ve overcome their own demons through God’s grace.
A central reality of the Gospel is that nothing is incurable, no character defect beyond God’s reach. And that is precisely why Carson’s story resonates. His story is the quintessential Christian story, of a person lost in his own sin until he asked God for forgiveness. Most Christians aren’t gullible enough to believe every redemption story — there are con artists out there, after all — but Carson’s record speaks for itself. His story is their story.
#share#Indeed, in many Evangelical churches, one is hard-pressed to find a congregant who doesn’t have their own tale of deliverance. The Evangelical church isn’t built on infant christenings and childhood identities, but on individual conversion experiences. Evangelical culture is a testimonial culture, because there are so many good stories to tell.
And Evangelicals are just as weary of being mocked as they are of political correctness. In attacking Carson’s story, Trump went well beyond CNN, Politico, or any other leftist media outlet. To Trump, Carson is either “pathological” — and incurable — or a liar. And anyone who believes otherwise is “stupid.”
I suppose I’m stupid, then. But I know that redemption is real, that people can and do change, and that it’s hardly incredible or unusual to find people who’ve overcome challenges far worse than occasional fits of rage — or even a “pathological” temper. And between Trump’s impromptu belt experiments and the testimony of Ben Carson and his mother about the alleged stabbing incident, I’ll take the Carson family every time.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.