Just weeks before the Iowa caucus, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump is aiming his proudly “politically incorrect” anger and his pledge to be “great!” directly at evangelical Christians. However, his appearance drew critics from some evangelicals.
“Trading in the gospel of Jesus Christ for political power is not liberty but slavery,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who joined the criticism in sending out a series of critical tweets.
Trump addressing 100,000 Liberty University students — packed in the Lynchburg, Va., campus sports arena or viewing online that he was going to protect Christians who are losing their power in American society.
Trump is the fourth contender to speak at Liberty during this presidential election cycle, following in the footsteps of Republican contenders Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders.
He was invited to address a session of the mandatory “convocation” held three times a week on the campus founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell to promote a “Christian world view” in the power centers of society. The school is now led by Jerry Falwell Jr.
Past convocations, which can be viewed online, have featured politicians, business executives, star athletes entertainers, and opinion leaders such as Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.
Trump stumbled in quoting a bible reference to the audience when he said, “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame. Where the spirit of the Lord, right? Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. … It is so true.”
In March, Cruz, bumped a scheduled appearance by the governor of Virginia, to announce his candidacy to a standing ovation of cheering, flag-waving students. Although candidates have spoken here since the 1980s, Cruz was the first to announce his candidacy here.
Falwell made clear in introducing Cruz, the Southern Baptist son of a preacher, that the college, which prides itself on sending conservative Christians into politics, medicine and law, “does not does not support or oppose candidates for public office.”
But Falwell’s lengthy speech praising Donald Trump as a charitable, loving, friendly business titan, paled in comparison to his introduction of Cruz. Falwell compared Trump to his own father as the kind of entrepreneur the nation needs, “not a puppet on a string.”
Trump stuck close to the familiar bases in his speech on the economy, ISIS, terrorism and the Second Amendment.
He also pointed out how evangelicals have been betrayed in the past by politicians who made promises to gain their votes and turned their backs once elected.
But Mark Weaver, a business consultant in Fort Collins, Co., a registered independent and a “moderate evangelical,” sees too many Christian believers “manipulated” by politicians and “talking head media.”
He watched Trump’s speech Monday on his computer and he could see how all the fearful talk, particularly about refugees and immigration, could appeal to people concerned about security.
“A lot of those ‘healthy young men’ Trump spoke about may be Christians fleeing persecution,” said Weaver. I want to try to allow my world view to be shaped more by the Bible than by political talking heads.” And in his Bible, Weaver said he finds the call over and over to care for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed and the alien.
“A heart for God can mess up your politics,” said Weaver. “I don’t think Trump’s views represent God or all evangelical Christians.”
According to Washington Post, other leading Democrats — President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton — have all “politely declined” invitations to Liberty.
— by Cathy Lynn Grossman | RNS
CNJ staff added to this report