STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's ask about the faith of Donald Trump. Who knows what's truly in another person's soul? But we'll learn what we can from Michael Cromartie, who is with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that examines the role of religion in politics and culture. He's in our studios. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Thank you, Steve. Great to be here.
INSKEEP: What do you know about Donald Trump's personal faith?
CROMARTIE: Well, we don't know a whole lot, as you know. We heard a little bit about it as he began to run for president - went down to speak at Liberty University, where he referred to the second letter of Paul's letter to the - 2 Corinthians as two Corinthians, which was mocked by many people who know the New Testament.
INSKEEP: And it just - that's not the way that people...
CROMARTIE: It's never been pronounced that way.
INSKEEP: ...normally talk. Yeah, OK.
CROMARTIE: But, you know, he was in a church called the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, which was famous for having a pastor named Norman Vincent Peale.
CROMARTIE: Now, Peale was the author of a best-selling book called "The Power Of Positive Thinking." And if Donald Trump grew up in that church - and we don't know how often he went there. His parents went there. If he grew up in that church, and he imbued what Peale taught, it's really about having positive thoughts. Don't have negative thoughts. Be self-confident. Be - don't be self-critical.
It emphasizes the self and not the faith. There's more an emphasis on the self-image, as opposed to God. It emphasizes the repetition of confident phrases. We can see something of the formation of Trump from looking into the life and work of Norman Vincent Peale.
INSKEEP: When you say the repetition of confident phrases, there's the man's rhetorical style in a nutshell, I suppose.
CROMARTIE: Absolutely. And the lack of an ability to be self-critical or to handle criticism - when you're focused constantly on yourself and on having a positive self-image, if you hear negative comments from others - we see what's happened with candidate Trump. He's very sensitive to criticism. And so Peale's whole emphasis was on thinking - that the way you think will govern the way you live.
INSKEEP: That you can - basically, that you can determine reality by thinking the right way. Is that it?
CROMARTIE: Exactly. And so any problems you have in life - it's because of negative thinking.
INSKEEP: He's surrounded himself to some extent with preachers of prosperity gospel. Would you explain what that is for people who don't know?
CROMARTIE: Yeah, the prosperity gospel - normally called the health and wealth gospel - emphasizes that God will bless you. If you worship God, if you become a believer, God will bestow upon you all kinds of blessing. What the prosperity gospel leaves out is the fact that - it leaves out reality, which is there's a lot of pain and suffering in life. And the Christian faith addresses those questions.
But prosperity gospel people are drawn to wealthy people. And so they would normally be - they would obviously be drawn to Donald Trump, and he to them. The prosperity gospel does not emphasize sin, it does not emphasize forgiveness or repentance. It emphasizes how God will bless you.
INSKEEP: So tell me what's going on here. If I read Peter Wehner, who's a senior fellow at your organization - he wrote months ago, I could never vote for this guy. He's got the wrong temperament to be president.
I was talking with delegates at the Republican Convention, including a woman who said, you know, I'm for Trump. But I've struggled with this because I'm a Christian. And I just can't quite abide some of the things that he says and does. And yet, Trump has had - up to now, anyway - very strong support among evangelical voters. What's going on there?
CROMARTIE: Yeah, so the evangelical voters that are for Trump are not really so much for Trump. But they're anti-Hillary Clinton. So there's not a lot of enthusiasm for candidate Trump. There's just this choice of what they call lesser of two evils. And so there's a big debate in the conservative Christian community about candidate Trump, where people are saying they could never vote for Hillary Clinton, and they could never vote for Donald Trump. But...
INSKEEP: Is that debate changing as Trump has behaved as he has the last several days?
CROMARTIE: It's getting harder and harder to defend him. And I will make a prediction here that we're going to see some evangelical leaders who have endorsed Trump withdraw their endorsement.
INSKEEP: Unendorse - OK. All right, well, thank you very much, really appreciate it.
CROMARTIE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.