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Trump's late mentor a reminder of the power of Christian faith at its very best

By Alf McCreary

Published 26/11/2016

The Rev Dr Norman Peale
The Rev Dr Norman Peale

While President-elect Donald J Trump continues to surprise and shock us, some people have been trying to fathom what has made him the extraordinary man he is.

In a recent edition of The Times, a columnist claimed that one of the major influences on Trump was that of the Rev Dr Norman Vincent Peale, the one-time minister of Marble Collegiate Church in New York.

In 1952 Dr Peale wrote the best-selling book titled The Power of Positive Thinking, which influenced millions of people around the world, and which is still popular today.

He officiated at the wedding of Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana in 1977, and this has led to speculation that Dr Peale's emphasis on positive thinking motivated the President-elect.

Donald Trump once said that having heard Dr Peale speak, "I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons". He said that Dr Peale "would install a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself".

However, there was much more to Peale than "positive thinking". This is a crucial point which The Times columnist ignored. Dr Peale's exhortations about positive thinking were in the context of a deep faith.

In another of his books, entitled 'The Tough-Minded Optimist' he summed up his teaching thus:

"...the Kingdom of God is a powerful recreative force deep down in your personality waiting to be summoned forth. When you do summon it and put it to work in your life, you will live with so much power that nothing can really upset you again, at least not to the point of defeating you".

Dr Peale, however, was not without blemishes, and he opposed the presdential election of John F Kennedy on religious grounds. This was a gross misjudgment, which brought the wrath of many critics on his head, and which chastened him greatly.

However, by the time of his death on Christmas Eve in 1993 at the age of 95, Peale had regained his reputation to such an extent that President Bill Clinton said: "He lifted the spirits of millions and millions of people who were nourished or sustained by the example his teaching has given."

Some five years earlier I had made a point of meeting Dr Peale in his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York. I arrived late, which curtailed our meeting greatly, but he told me more in half and hour than most people could manage in an hour.

He was charming, generous and down to earth. He had just returned to New York from a motivational speaking engagement in Montreal, and he was preparing for a tour of Asia - at the age of 90.

I asked him how he still managed to fit this all in, and he replied "I think health, I think work, I think I can, and with God's help I can."

As I was leaving he said "The next time you're in New York, come and see me!" I thought ungraciously "He's a bit of an optimist, inviting me back, when he's already 90."

True to form, however, he lived another five faith-filled and productive years.

His work is perhaps now known best to the older generations, but Norman Vincent Peale was the father of a whole industry of self-help books.

He may have impressed Donald Trump with the power of positive thinking, but sadly his religious aspect is questionable.

It is not surprising, but none the less sickening, to witness how Trump is backtracking on some promises he made in his bruising campaign.

It is also sickening to watch how other politicians who dismissed him savagely are keen to cosy up to him in the hope of getting a job. All of this has brought politics into utter disrepute.

I wonder what Dr Peale would make of it all today. Despite his own grave political mistake about Kennedy, his books are still worth reading, and to me he remains a treasured advocate for the power of Christian faith at its very best.

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