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Trump still struggles with religious voters

Donald Trump got an earful of woe when he went to church in Iowa last Sunday, and he has one more Sunday left to win over skeptical religious voters in Iowa.

“Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants” ought to be welcomed in Jesus's name, preached the pastor.

One of the Scripture readers, of Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, had a few choice words to say about the “body of Christ” – Christianspeak for the whole Church.

“No matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of,” the parishioner warned.

“Can you imagine eye telling hand: 'Get lost, I don't need you?' Or head telling foot: 'You're fired! Your job has been phased out?' ” the reader asked, a not-so-veiled shot at Trump's signature line from The Apprentice.

The celebrity billionaire presidential hopeful fielded questions about the service from reporters afterward, reiterating his opposition to mass Mexican immigration and settling Syrian refugees here.

As for the “self importance” jab, Trump assured the Washington Post, “I have more humility than people think.”

According to the religious press criticism site Get Religion, the fact that Trump didn't see the ambush coming should tell us something about his awkward approach to faith issues generally.

A twice-divorced, thrice married, formerly liberal candidate who was seeking to woo Iowa's more socially conservative evangelical Republican voters might think to visit a megachurch, a Southern Baptist congregation, or even one of the conservative congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America, press critic Terry Mattingly speculated.

Trump instead visited the First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine, a “solidly progressive church in the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) that represents almost everything that evangelical voters in Iowa consider dangerous,” including gay marriage and absolutely unfettered abortion rights, said Get Religion.

Evangelical Christians are currently sharply divided on Trump, with pastors in a particularly tough spot.

LifeWay Research did a fresh-off-the-presses survey of 1,000 senior pastors who hold down Protestant pulpits. On the Republican side, pollsters found “undecided” leads all the other candidates at 39 percent, followed by Ted Cruz (29 percent), Ben Carson (10 percent) and Marco Rubio (8 percent).

Only 5 percent of Protestant ministers who identified as Republican were willing to say they supported Trump.

Trump has tried to compensate for this with high profile conservative Christian endorsements, including Sarah Palin, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress, the Dallas First Baptist megachurch pastor who stirred up a tempest in the 2012's GOP presidential primaries by calling Mitt Romney's Mormonism a “cult” and suggesting evangelical Christians might support a more born again option in the primaries.

This time around, Jeffress is pulling for Trump. He has been praising Trump's character and achievements in Iowa and assuring believers, “I don't believe a Christian has to sell his soul to the devil to vote for Donald Trump.”

For Joel Miller, a blogger for Ancient Faith Radio, that's just poppycock.

“Can you imagine a sillier justification?” Miller asked AMI Newswire Thursday.

“To say voting for Trump isn't the most negative thing in the world hardly provides positive reason for doing so. This is more about losing your mind than selling your soul.”

Miller also notes that the “official standards” of Jeffress's own Southern Baptist Convention “advise against Trump if not by name than by kind.”

Granted, “Baptists are an independent bunch,” but Miller thinks Jeffress is “giving his followers an excuse to plug their ears to the good counsel from their own church about character, morals and basic human decency.”

American Christians aren't always above pulling for a winner regardless of religious purity, and Trump has done his best to woo them: praising the Bible, stepping up his church attendance to more than twice a year, calling himself “pro-life,” promising to protect them from what he portrays as secular and Muslim hordes.

That does not, however mean that the candidate has had any sort of Road to Damascus epiphany.

“For Trump religion is a badge, not a belief. If you flash it to the right people, they open doors and make deals,” Miller says.

The Trump campaign ignored multiple requests for comment.