So you are a billionaire Republican candidate from New York City and your goal is to demonstrate your conservative, man-of-the-people bona fides in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. You know that evangelical Christians are a crucial constituency in this contest, so on Sunday morning you visit a:
(a) Nondenominational megachurch, the kind with a praise band, an altar call at the end of the service, a history of sending people to the "March For Life" and backing centuries of church doctrine on marriage and family.
(b) Southern Baptist congregation that is putting down roots up in the rural, small-town soil of the north.
(c) Conservative Presbyterian Church in America flock, since you have been reminding doubters that you are very, very proud to be a Presbyterian.
(d) Solidly progressive church in the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that represents almost everything that evangelical voters in Iowa consider dangerous.
The answer for reality-television superstar Donald Trump was (d).
However, perhaps there is another answer. Perhaps it doesn't matter where you go to church since elite reporters won't know the difference (or spend a few seconds online to learn)?
Consider the top of the Washington Post story that ran under this headline: "Trump goes to church in Iowa and hears a sermon about welcoming immigrants."
MUSCATINE, Iowa -- Donald Trump attended a church service here on Sunday that served as both a gesture of fellowship to evangelical voters and another sign of the Republican front-runner’s attention to retail politics ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
The stop comes as Trump is competing directly with his chief rival in the Iowa caucus race, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for the support of religious conservatives, a deeply influential voting bloc.
Trump, a Presbyterian, visited the First Presbyterian Church, where he sat in the fifth row and clasped his hands in prayer as he listened to the pastor, the Rev. Dr. Pam Saturnia, urge those in attendance to “unite our hearts and minds as we worship God.”
So the obvious question is: What brand of Presbyterians are we talking about here? Since the story stresses that Trump is courting evangelicals, surely this was an evangelical church -- since that would support the story's lede?
Actually, with a few clicks of a mouse it's easy to learn that this congregation is part of the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which backs same-sex marriage and sees no need to limit abortion rights, including the killing of babies born alive after botched procedures.
Is it safe to say that this is not an "evangelical" Presbyterian flock?
Still, reporters appeared to be surprised when this happened:
Saturnia also referred to the immigration debate, which for months has propelled Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination.
“Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants,” Saturnia said, should be welcomed rather than shunned by Americans. “Instead of feeling rage at Jesus that we have to share him, we are called to do just that,” she said in her sermon. “Share Jesus with the ones who need him.”
Of course, Trump might have heard that same point of view in a congregation linked to the SBC, PCA , the Assemblies of God or many other evangelical or Pentecostal churches. Many reporters, you see, don't seem to know what is doctrinally "conservative" these days in religious circles and what is not.
Still, the Post reporter wanted to provide all the key details of church life among evangelical folks in Iowa. Take this, for example:
As the elderly organist played songs of praise, Trump stood and nodded along. When attendees responded together to hymnals, Trump joined them, tracing his finger along a paper pamphlet. He sat next to Debra Whitaker, 59, a Trump supporter and the mother of the late Dustin Whitaker, an Iowa National Guard member and Purple Heart winner who was killed in a 2012 motorcycle accident after serving in Iraq.
The Bible reading of 1 Corinthians 12 appeared to pique the real-estate mogul’s interest and his head turned toward the lectern as a woman from the congregation spoke about humility.
Actually, someone at the Post took the time to look up a few facts about this congregation, learning that:
The church, a red-bricked historic building in the downtown area, counts about 220 members, according to its website. It was established in 1839.
So someone made it to the church website. Did they fail to notice the irony that this church is linked to a liberal denomination in the Presbyterian tradition? So the age of the bricks is more important than what the church believes?
Well, at least the Post named the church. Check this in The New York Times (the newspaper of record in a city packed with both evangelical and liberal Presbyterian congregations):
On Friday night, the candidate who almost always flies home in his private Boeing 757 to Trump Tower in New York or to his palatial Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., instead slept in a Holiday Inn Express in Sioux Center, Iowa. (“Good mattress,” he said afterward. “Clean.”)
And on Sunday, no doubt mindful that Mr. Cruz is counting on conservative Christians to carry him to victory in this state’s caucuses, Mr. Trump showed up for church here in eastern Iowa, with photographers trailing, sat quietly through the 60-minute service, left two crisp $50 bills in the collection plate and shook hands all around. ...
Hey, the man went to church on Sunday morning. That's strange enough!
A church is a church is a church is a church. Who cares about the fine details. Right?