- Trump supporting pastor says Sanders has to "meet Jesus"
- Sanders has said being Jewish is "an essential part of who I am as a human being"
(CNN)A pastor backing Donald Trump said at a rally in North Carolina Monday that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders "doesn't believe in God" and needs to be "saved."
"Listen, Bernie gotta get saved, he gotta meet Jesus," the South Carolina televangelist Mark Burns told audience members at Lenoir-Rhyne University as they waited on a Q&A session with Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "I don't know, he's got to have a coming to Jesus meeting."
Sanders, who is Jewish, does not speak frequently about his religion on the campaign trail. But when asked last week during a CNN debate in Flint, Michigan, if he had intentionally downplayed it, the Brooklyn-born senator said he had not.
"No, I'm very proud of being Jewish," Sanders said. "And being Jewish is so much of what I am ... And that's an essential part of who I am as a human being."
Burns told CNN later Monday his criticism was not focused on the senator's Judaism, but his manner of discussing it.
"(Sanders) is most definitely not a religious-minded individual," he said. "Not at all."
"Obviously, if he was ever elected president he would be the first non-Christian, and that's not an issue that he is not a Christian, so to speak, so this is not anything bad about the Jewish people," Burns added.
He said his point was Sanders should "talk more about the importance of faith. Talk about the importance of religious liberties. Obviously, he's Jewish, he could talk about his Jewish heritage."
Burns is the co-founder and CEO of the NOW Television Network and one of Trump's most prominent African-American supporters. In December, he defended the GOP front-runner's proposal to ban the immigration of Muslims into the U.S.
The Sanders and Trump campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.