When I told my sister, a Liberty University alum, that I was writing this post, her objection was that Jerry Falwell Jr. is “the best thing that ever happened to Liberty University.”
Which you would think would give me pause. But it doesn’t. Because what she is referring to is the way he turned the Christian university around as its president. But Falwell’s administrative ability has never been the issue. He may very well be the greatest president the school has ever seen.
It’s the second “job” he’s taken on in recent months that have caused him to disgrace the school.
It’s no secret that Donald Trump, seen here with Jerry Falwell Jr. standing in front of a playboy magazine enshrined on the wall, has a lot of accusers coming out of the woodwork saying that the “billionaire” presidential candidate is a womanizer and sexual predator.
Heavy charges that should be taken as seriously as we’ve always taken the charges against Bill Clinton. Much like we saw with Bill, as well as Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner and even Herman Cain, when enough people keep coming forward with the same stories with similar elements describing behavior that is consistently in line with what other accusers have said, it tends to be taken as credible. And rightly so.
With Trump there is an added feature: he’s bragged about doing the very things he’s accused of doing.
So at a minimum, these charges and accusations should cause any Trump supporter to think for a moment and at least potentially ask themselves the question “Could I still support this guy if the charges are legitimate?”
In an interview on CNN last night, Jerry Falwell Jr. seemed to say yes.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the portion that most people find shocking.
Host Erin Burnett directly asked Falwell whether or not he’d support Trump if he was proven to be a sexual abuser. After hemming and hawing about everyone being redeemable and quoting Dobson’s ridiculous use of John 8:7, Falwell offered this telling take on the situation.
I don’t know who was a worse womanizer, I don’t know who assaulted more women; John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton. But I can tell ya, John F. Kennedy did the right things. He cut taxes he brought prosperity and I would vote for John F. Kennedy again if he were on the ballot today because of his conservative leadership. We’re not electing a pastor. We’re electing a president.
Do you see what he’s saying here? He wouldn’t directly say he’d vote for Trump if he was shown to be an abuser but what he did say is that he would vote for John F. Kennedy despite knowing for sure that he was guilty of womanizing and, based on his response, a sexual assaulter.
This is essentially his admission that yes, Trump could be a sexual predator and Falwell wouldn’t withdraw his support because SCOTUS.
I’ll leave the ridiculousness of believing a sexual predator’s judgment can be trusted on supreme court nominations for another column. The real offense here is that Falwell is using the influence of the foremost Christian university in America to declare that the Christian obligation is to ignore the character of who we are voting for to lead the country.
Don’t believe me?
Earlier in the interview he said this:
It’s not up to me to forgive anybody. I’m not Jesus Christ. It’s only Jesus who can forgive. And he can forgive anybody. All of us. We’re all redeemable.
This is quite the interesting take on forgiveness. I’m not sure what Bible he’s reading but it apparently didn’t include THE LORD’S PRAYER.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
And of course that’s only one of numerous instances in the Bible where we are specifically instructed by Jesus to forgive. Which raises the question: Why would Falwell be avoiding that? Likely because he’s too invested in his endorsement to admit that there is anything to forgive.
But it gets worse.
Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners when he was here on earth and it’s not up to us to forgive it’s up to us to decide who would be the best president of the united states, who would take the right position on the issues to make america great again, to bring us back to financial health, bring us back to a place of position in the world to appoint the right justices to the supreme court. That’s our only job as Christians is to be good citizens to do what Jesus said. Jesus said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. That means be a good citizen. Choose the person… not who would be a great pastor, not who would be a great priest if you’re a catholic, but someone who would be a great president of the United States. It’s that simple.
No, Jerry. That’s not what that means. When the Pharisees came to Jesus in Mark chapter 12 to try and trap Jesus by his words, they said this:
“Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay or shall we not pay?”
To which Jesus replied:
“Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.
The point was not “do whatever your government wants and ignore my teachings in that context.” That would be preposterous but is essentially what Falwell is suggesting is our Christian duty.
Jesus’ point was in His’ reference of the likeness. It is an analogy about the difference between man, who was created in God’s likeness, and the coin, which is created in Caesar’s. It has absolutely zilch to do with civic duty. Falwell’s use of the verse is the kind of use that is typically reserved for those wishing to either give Biblical credibility to the separation of church and state or to excuse the immoralities of those in government.
Falwell is using it for the second reason and that is unacceptable for someone in his position.
But by far, Falwell’s worst moment is this:
Our country is gonna suffer if we get sidetracked on these rabbit trails about is this person a good person, is that person a good person, it’s not about that it’s about what are their positions on the issues.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the man who has taken over his father’s legacy and is running a school intended to impress Christian values onto its students specifically so they can spread out into the population and culture and bring God’s values and teachings with them, is asserting here, with the authority of a pastor (of which he is not), that it is not the responsibility of Christians to ensure that the person they are electing shares anything close to the value system of a Christian. And that is incredibly irresponsible.
To be clear, I’m not even going so far as to say we must always elect a Christian. But surely it is not the calling of the devout to put aside glaring assaults and affronts to morality in favor of winning a political race, one whose outcome could determine how Christians themselves are treated.
Jerry Falwell Jr. has so abandoned the principles of his position in favor of standing by an ill-conceived endorsement that he has found himself in the crosshairs of the students themselves.
To all politico journos who follow me:
This is the first official statement for Liberty United Against Trump. pic.twitter.com/fBJfV41N3o
— Tyler McNally (@Tyler_McNally) October 12, 2016
I agree with these graduates and students whole-heartedly.
And I’m not some outsider unaware of the school and its mission. I grew up around Liberty University. As I said, my sister is an alum, but in addition, my father both taught and was taught at Liberty University on his way to becoming the seminary professor he is today. My mother worked as a secretary at the school. I attended Thomas Road Baptist Church and saw Falwell Sr. preach every Sunday.
I don’t know if he’d be disgusted by his son’s actions or not, but I do think he would at least question the wisdom. His dad had no problem consorting with sinners, but he always did it as a way of offering friendship to speak God to them. Not to endorse their actions and lend credibility to their causes.
Falwell Sr. befriended and witnessed to Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt. But he never endorsed his work or defended the sins for which Flynt was unapologetic and unrepentant.
And that’s an incredibly important distinction. Over and over throughout the interview last night, Falwell Jr. kept referring to Jesus forgiving, Trump changing, and everyone being redeemable. On this point he is right! With one important asterisk: the person must actually have asked for that forgiveness. The person must seek to be redeemed. The person must actually have changed.
And if there’s one thing Trump has shown over and over in this election, it’s that in the last 30 years, through all his various flip-flopping and political posturing, the one thing that has been constant and unchanging to anyone with eyes and ears, is that he believes his character and actions are just fine.
Apparently so does Jerry Falwell Jr.