Donald Trump’s Liberty University Speech and the Dilemma Facing the Religious Right

(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

The Republican candidate’s speech at Liberty University divides evangelical leaders, revealing a split in the so-called values vote.

There were many unbelievable moments over the course of Donald Trump’s speech on Monday at Liberty University, the evangelical college founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

There was his citation of the Bible: “Two Corinthians 3-17, that’s the whole ball game … Is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.”

There was the part where he ranked his favorite books, calling The Art of the Deal “a deep, deep second to the Bible. The Bible is the best. The Bible blows it away.”

There was his pledge to win the war on Christmas: “If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.”

And there was a delightful new twist on his oft-repeated claim that Americans will be overwhelmed with winning: “If I’m president, you’ll say, ‘Please, Mr. President, we’re winning too much. I can’t stand it. Can’t we have a loss?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, we’re going to keep winning.’”

But the most breathtaking part of Trump’s appearance may have come before he spoke. It was his introduction by Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s president and son of its founder, who praised the thrice-married, socially liberal tycoon at great length.

Falwell lauded Trump’s generosity and worldly success; he called him “a breath of fresh air.” He compared Trump to his father and to Martin Luther King Jr., who also “spoke the truth, no matter how unpopular.” Trump, he said, “cannot be bought—he is not a puppet on a string like many other candidates.” Though Falwell’s comments were, he said, not an endorsement, he repeatedly imagined a Trump presidency as a boon to America. “In my opinion,” he said, “Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught in the great commandment.”

Many evangelical leaders, however, do not share Falwell’s affection. As Trump was speaking, Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist leader, issued a stream of disapproving tweets: “Trading in the gospel of Jesus Christ for political power is not liberty but slavery,” Moore wrote. He added: “This would be hilarious if it weren’t so counter to the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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SOURCE: The Atlantic
Molly Ball

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