Trump to court evangelicals in talk at Liberty University

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a copy of the Bible he said his mother gave him as a youth during a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on December 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-LIBERTY, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a copy of the Bible he said his mother gave him as a youth during a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on December 29, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-LIBERTY, originally transmitted on Jan. 5, 2016.

(RNS) Donald Trump is expected to speak later this month at evangelical bastion Liberty University, an appearance that could provide the Republican presidential front-runner another chance to bolster his already strong showing with conservative Christians.

The Jan. 18 talk to students and faculty at the Lynchburg, Va., campus will take place just two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the GOP presidential primary season and one in which evangelicals will play a key role.

Trump and Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., have been in “close contact” during the campaign, according to the News & Advance newspaper, which first reported Trump’s appearance. Falwell’s father, the late Jerry Falwell Sr., founded the Moral Majority a generation ago and helped launch the religious right movement.

Falwell, a Baptist, has listed Trump as one of his top three favorite candidates, along with Ben Carson and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I think Trump reminds me so much of my father,” Jerry Falwell said during a television appearance in December. “He says exactly what he thinks no matter what anybody cares.”

In addition, Jerry and Becki Falwell’s son, Wesley, was married last October at the Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Va., where Trump’s son Eric is president of the vineyard, Becki Falwell told the paper.

The talk at the university convocation will be Trump’s second appearance at what has been called “the Protestant Notre Dame.”

Trump, who identifies as a Presbyterian, spoke at a convocation in September 2012 along with former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

This time, however, Trump is a candidate and is leading the Republican field with an unconventional, populist campaign fueled by blustery rhetoric that taps a deep well of voter anger. Trump’s success has stunned pundits and the GOP establishment, as well as many conservative Christian leaders who would prefer a more conventional candidate, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

But rank-and-file white evangelicals, a key Republican voting bloc, have continued to support Trump, along with Cruz.  A CNN poll last month found the New York real estate mogul earning 45 percent support from white evangelicals.

Some prominent evangelicals are favoring Trump, too, or at least giving him a sympathetic ear despite Trump’s three marriages and track record of what many consider boorish behavior and ugly talk about immigrants, Muslims and women.

Falwell was especially pleased when Trump called him last month to say he was proud of Falwell for asking Liberty students to carry guns on campus in order to combat Islamic terrorists and to show opposition to President Obama’s appeal for greater gun control.

Falwell also agreed to Trump’s demand to appear solo at Liberty this month rather than as part of a debate with the entire Republican field.

(Falwell has invited candidates with whom he has little in common to speak at the university’s convocation; in September, Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” was well-received when he addressed the student body.)

Besides Falwell, Franklin Graham, son of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, has voiced admiration for Trump, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, hosted Trump for a friendly interview last month in which Trump spoke about how important his faith was to his life and his candidacy.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

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  • CGG

    Mr. Trump needs to read a Bible as do most so called “Christians” since so
    many still get drunk,gamble,gossip,be mean/don’t bridle their tongue,covet,
    are still jealous, have premarital sex and/or sleep around which are all sins!

  • JDG

    That Liberty University has selected Martin Luther King Day for Mr. Trump to address the student body illustrates either a profound blindspot and an embarrassing gaffe on the part of administrators, or Liberty wishes to stick its finger in the eye of all of its African American students–and black evangelicals everywhere–by inviting this race-bating provocateur to campus on a day that most other college campuses (including most evangelical campuses) are concentrating on racial reconciliation and justice.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Not to mention that Liberty University was established as a “segregation academy” by arch-segregationist Jerry Falwell. Falwell merely shifted his emphasis hatred of African-Americans to hatred of sexually active women and LGBTs when the former was no longer acceptable. I am aware that Liberty has minority students and never did like Bob Jones University prohibit interracial dating. There is a lot of mutual respect among hucksters.

  • Jack

    God needs to give the pro-Trump evangelicals a good kick in the behind.

    Yes, he’s stood up to political correctness, but his boorish antics and his crossing the line into bigotry should raise eyebrows.

    Moreover, he has said he has nothing he needs to repent to God about.

    So 45% of evangelicals are willing to elect a man who by his own words rejects the heart of what makes an evangelical evangelical?

    Really?

    Maybe some of these evangelicals should check their own hearts and ask themselves whether they believe what they say they believe.

    It’s not that there are no evangelicals in the race…..Cruz and Carson come to mind.

    I suggest that evangelicals spend less time listening to talk radio and more time reading Scripture and serious writers from the past like Bonhoeffer and Lewis.

  • GG

    Jack- Amen/well said! People today seem to froget that Jesus said many
    will say to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven! Matthew 7:13-23 and in
    1 Corinthians 5 plus 1 Corinthians 6:9-12 also in Luke 13…1 Peter 4:1-7
    are perfect for people who don’t want to Repent/ see a sin as God does.

  • Jack

    This misses the larger point, which is how parts of the Religious Right have put politics ahead of faith.

    At best, the late Jerry Falwell stepped right on the line separating the two.

    But his son, Jonathan, already stepped over the line on guns, not with his particular stance on them, which is hardly non-Christian unless we equate Christianity with pacifism, but with his bombastic, arrogant, macho taunting of radical Muslims.

    I see nothing wrong with a Christian university president affirming gun rights on campus, but I see plenty wrong with said president articulating this in a flippant way that ignores the gravity of the whole issue, which involves issues of life and death.

    A Christian university president needs to sound like a Christian, not a talk radio host, even when he is articulating a position in line with such a host.

    This un-Christian bombast fits well with the embrace of Trump.

  • Jack

    GG, thanks….We don’t agree on everything, as I’m not JW, but we definitely agree on the universal need for repentance. Trump has openly defied this repeatedly, as evidenced by his own words. That means he is in open rebellion against God, no matter how God is defined.

    How the heck any evangelical can even consider supporting such a man is beyond me. These spiritual midgets need to wake the heck up and fast.

  • GG

    Jack- You are welcome and I’m not Fran or a Jehovah witness so we are
    on the same page with the Bible and Repentance. Well said my friend!

  • Larry

    The religious right’s faith/political position has always been one of demanding privilege and extolling bigotry. It makes them so easy to manipulate towards corporatist/oligarchic interests.

    Trump is simply doing what virtually every “red state” conservative politician has done before. Play up ridiculous go nowhere prejudices and make empty promises while his anti-middle class economic agenda gets though. Bigotry is a great way to get the working class and poor to vote for a guy who wants to to treat them as chattel property. All Trump did was change the direction of the hate.

    As for Jonathan Falwell, his position on armed students is both infantile and dangerous. “More guns” is not a solution to gun violence. The infinitesimal instances of “defensive gun use” are overwhelmed by the numbers of accidental death and injury by improper gun use/domestic violence and escalations of violence. Guns don’t belong on ANY college campus (military academies excepted of…

  • Larry

    Trump is simply doing what virtually every “red state” conservative politician has done before. Play up ridiculous go nowhere prejudices and make empty promises while his anti-middle class economic agenda gets though. Bigotry is a great way to get the working class and poor to vote for a guy who wants to to treat them as chattel property. All Trump did was change the direction of the hatred.

  • Jack

    Oh, okay, thanks for clarifying, GG. We are indeed fully on the same page.

  • Jack

    Larry, you sound like an old Trotskyite from Brooklyn with your class-warfare, economic determinism rhetoric.

    The simpler explanation is that while people have legitimate concerns that Trump is seemingly addressing, Trump goes beyond those concerns into bigotry, thus disqualifying himself as being the solution. But Trump’s ultimate character flaw is not even bigotry, but a relentless narcissism that is inseparable from all he is and all he does.

    You don’t like Trump because you disagree with him politically. I don’t like Trump for something far deeper and more disturbing. Unless this is all an act, there is something fundamentally and desperately wrong with him.

  • Jack

    In other words, my disagreements with Trump on policy are serious enough, but what makes it worse is the kind of person he seems to be. That’s what is most troubling about him….the character problems.

  • Jack

    I almost expect you to start singing, “all you prisoners of starvation….”

    Catchy tune, yes, but Marxism just doesn’t work.

  • Larry

    And you sound like someone who prefers ad hominem and ridiculous labeling to making a reasonable comment.

    Its long been acknowledged by the GOP fiscal conservative “kingmakers” what use they have for social conservatives.

    Cruz appeals to the same bigotries as Trump, but is far more canny about what he says to the media. Cruz is biding his time for when Trump finally flames out.

    I actually like Trump as a candidate. I will never vote for him. But he is making GOP conservative subtext and dogwhistles and blasting them out for all to hear them. Unlike Cruz, I know that any pretension of appealing to social conservatives is just lip service by him. He is neither beholden to them, nor cares one bit for their causes outside of their votes.

    Trump has experience in reality TV and scripted sports. He knows how to play a part for the cameras. Even one that is not particularly flattering. Even money on it being an act.

  • Larry

    When I discuss Marxism, you will have an appropriate comment. 🙂

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Trump is all talk and no action. That’s why he doesn’t bother me as much as Carson and Cruz and Rubio do because all three of them are Christofascists. Trump probably has a nice Bible that’s never been opened.

    I remember when Liberty University and the Moral Majority were new, someone told me private investigators had exhaustively looked into the private life of the late Jerry Falwell, apparently looking for, as Huey Long said, something like Long’s dictum that the two things that would ruin a man in Southern politics were being caught in bed with either a live man or a dead woman. They found no skeletons in the closet, and my informer and I agreed, that was what made the elder Falwell so frightening. .

  • Jack

    With all due respect, George, if you were thinking with your head rather than a different part of your anatomy, you’d be plenty worried about Trump.

    I wonder why both the far left and the far right are so obsessed about sexual issues.

    Do you really think that no other issues matter?

  • Jack

    Guns are instruments of death, so they are not to be worshipped or glorified. But given their existence, it is imperative that since bad people will get their hands on them no matter what, good people have them too. The most obvious examples are the US military, federal law enforcement, and local and state police.

    Unfortunately, some of the same people who are tough on guns are easy on bad people, especially criminals, and tough on the aforementioned good guys. Laws and practices that coddle criminals did not begin with little green men from Mars, but with some of the same people who are the loudest carnival barkers for gun control. They don’t want the average citizen armed, but they tend to loathe the military and law enforcement and seek to tie their hands as well.

    So much for sane public policy on curbing societal violence.

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