Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

'I will protect Christians,' Donald Trump tells Liberty University students

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Jan. 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) 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.

"I'm going to protect Christians," who are losing their power in American society, he said Monday (Jan. 18), addressing 100,000 Liberty University students -- packed in the Lynchburg, Va., campus sports arena or viewing online.

Trump, who was reared Presbyterian but has a freewheeling way of speaking of faith, cited Liberty as a place that has lived up to the biblical passage from 2 Corinthians 3:17,  "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

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 and 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 worldview” 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.

RELATED STORY: What do 2016 election contenders believe? Check the RNS ‘5 faith facts’ series

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) receives a football jersey from Jerry Falwell Jr. (L), president of Liberty University after addressing students in Lynchburg, Virginia September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jay Paul - RTS12EG

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders receives a football jersey from Jerry Falwell Jr., left, president of Liberty University, after addressing students in Lynchburg, Va., on Sept. 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jay Paul

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

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 at Liberty since the 1980s, Cruz was the first to announce his candidacy at the school.

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.”

Falwell praised Cruz, but those comments paled in comparison to his description of Trump on Monday as a charitable, loving, friendly business titan. Falwell likened Trump to his own father as the kind of entrepreneur the nation needs, "not a puppet on a string."

While not quite endorsing him, Falwell said Trump and his father were men who spoke their minds, often in fearlessly politically incorrect ways. The Liberty founder once posted a billboard that touted, “Liberty University, politically incorrect since 1971."

Trump, Falwell said, is "one of the greatest visionaries of our time."

RELATED STORY: Brits call Donald Trump ‘divisive, stupid and wrong.’ But will he be banned?

Trump, who has spoken before at Liberty's 12,000-seat arena, but not to such a big crowd, covered the familiar bases:

  • He would win so much, people would almost get weary of "Win! Win! Win!"
  • No more loser generals, he said referring to Army generals he sees insisting ISIS is hard to beat: “I want a general (who will) knock the hell out of them fast.”
  • Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Obama administration officials are beholden to big money special interests. They are so "incompetent," it's not even a strong enough word, he said with an added barb for Clinton. “I want to see a woman president soon but not her, she's a disaster.”
  • On the campus where students are encouraged to carry concealed weapons, Trump proclaimed his unshakeable support for the 2nd Amendment. “Had bullets been doing the other way," in Paris or San Bernardino, "the death toll would have been much lower." 
  • China, 2,000 years ago, built the great wall." And Trump said he plans to build an equally "serious wall,” along the Mexico border. It's "simple" and reminded people that he is sure Mexico will pay for it.

Evangelical leader Russell Moore tweeted an acerbic observation:

Trump 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."

RELATED STORY: ‘Stand with the poor,’ Sanders tells students at Liberty University

According to The Washington Post, other leading Democrats -- President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- have all “politely declined” invitations to Liberty.

(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national correspondent for Religion News Service)


  1. I am at a loss… What is Trump protecting American Christians from? please let me know.

  2. “Trump… cited Liberty as a place..“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

    Such Religious pandering is exactly how Atheist Dictators of the 20th Century rose to power. Our religion-soaked culture is always ready for a Messiah as they have been well trained by Pastors, Nuns and Priests to seek ‘and find’ God around every corner.

    What a tragedy for America.

    The collusion of religion with politics has been the end of many great civilizations – and yet – few seem to care about the warning signs:

    “In every country and in every age, the preacher has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    Religion is a nuisance we must learn to abandon.

  3. I’d like to hear him talking about the sanctity of marriage…I mean, of all his marriages

  4. Trump’s speech was political pandering of the highest order.

    Alas, Trump forgot to review his copy of “Biblical quotes for Dummies” before preparing his speech.

  5. So tRump is going to “protect Christians.” Wonderful. Whom is he going to protect them from? And what about the rest of us?

    And who is going to protect the rest of us from the dominionist and theocratic Christians?

  6. It’s either going to be Trump or Hillary in 2016, folks.

    Cruz is the best candidate, but Cruz cannot beat Hillary; she has too much money and media at this point.

    So either you vote for Trump, or else you’re voting for Hillary — and Hillary is the **punishment** for America’s many mistakes.

  7. He is “protecting” them from whatever they are afraid of. Almost all Americans fear something, and most willingly sacrifice their freedoms incrementally for what they perceive to be more security.

  8. Should we abandon all authoritative institutions which mislead us including but not limited to science and government. Face it nobody, no field of endeavor is any better or worse than another. It all comes down to what you choose to believe. There is so much we don’t know and fields like science, religion, philosophy, and psychology are all trying to explain things we don’t know or can’t understand. All of these fields of study have been twisted and perverted throughout their history to suit man’s agenda. All of them in their purist form have been, are, or can be beneficial to society, but in the end there are many things we will never understand.
    The best future would be to acknowledge they don’t contradict each other and work together in seeking truth and understanding

  9. The sanctity of marriage has long since been abandon by religions. Such sanctity is maintained in their theology only as an aspirational goal. The Southern Baptists, often deemed the most conservative of religions, has the highest divorce rate of any demographic. Marriage has long since been reduced to a contractual arrangement, the terms and conditions of which are unknown until you file for divorce.

  10. Since we are a Christian nation, isn’t he by implication going to protect us all.

  11. Actually Rubio is the only candidate who has consistently polled higher than Hillary in hypothetical national polls. Trumps appeal is he can drop half a billion or so of his own money if he chooses. However, Rockefeller thought his money could get him elected. and he lost. Trumps other advantage is he the only candidate who fully understands how much Americans love game shows and reality TV and he is running his campaign accordingly. Those two things, money and his reality TV persona, could give him the win.

  12. @cken,

    I fail to see the virtue in your surrender to ignorance.

    We know about earthquakes because we rejected the claim that a “God did it” and we looked and discovered the Theory of Plate Tectonics.

    We know about germs because we rejected the claim that “God did it” and pursued the Germ Theory of Disease.

    We know about evolution because we rejected the claim that “God did it” and pursued the Theory of Evolution.

    I prefer knowledge to ignorance. Science and testing is how we prove to ourselves we are not fooling ourselves – and, as Richard Feynman said, “we are the easiest ones to fool”

    “Ignorance is not just what you don’t know, it is what you won’t know” – Aron Ra

  13. I have a question that I hope someone can help me with.

    The use of the term “Christian” seems to be used very narrowly in the United States. It seems to refer to those people that are part of some “American style of Christianity”. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and other main stream Protestants, seem not to be included.

    As an example… I have seen questions such as: Which are the ten best Christian universities in the United States. The answer comes back with a list of evangelical universities. Not one Catholic university is mentioned. Not Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc.

    Why are these catholic universities not listed as Christian?

  14. @Patrick,

    “The use of the term “Christian” seems to be used very narrowly in the United States.”

    It is a case of the loudest getting their way.
    The people who are most eager to freely apply the term ‘Christian’ as a descriptive adjective are Evangelicals – and they exclude other denominations when doing so.

    Evangelical Christianity is louder than the others – EC is the American huckster for Jesus – it unabashedly dominates all religious conversation in America with thousands of TV and radio channels
    while insisting it is under constant persecution.

  15. Why do you think we are a “Christian nation”? Some are, some aren’t.

  16. I am agog. I am aghast. Why are we Christians allowing Trump to play us so easily? He is a fraud to say he is a Christian, and that his favorite book is the Bible. Come on, please, let us be honest. We are so quick to demonize and judge the Democrats and Liberals. But when the leading Republican Presidential Candidate cannot even properly attribute basic scripture, we give him a pass?

    Jerry Falwell Jr. has totally sold out his God-given Grace for Trump-given politics.

    Shame on us for keeping quiet.

  17. With Trump’s promise to protect Christians like myself comes the temptation Christians from other nations have fallen to: that of trading justice for some for our own protection. And in making that trade, we declare by our votes and political support that our message of faith is no different than the other messages in the world.

  18. Once again, we see a clear demonstration of the fallacy that “the American people know best.” There are way too many who somehow think that (1) Christians are persecuted here (no, I’m not persecuted), (2) we have to fear the “angry” black man in our midst and the brown horde coming into the country unchecked (no, they’re not in either case), and (3) the loudest, angriest, most patently false claims of the holier-than-thou businessman can “return our nation to greatness” (Reagan didn’t, Bush 2 didn’t and Trump can’t).

    I weep for our nation.

  19. Protect Christians from whom, Mr Trump? by doing what, Mr. Trump?

  20. Atheist dictators usually do their best to wipe out religions, isn’t that what you want?
    Is that the same Thomas Jefferson that was the first president to formulate a plan to kick out Native Americans from their lands? Some ‘liberty’.

  21. “I’m going to protect Christians.”

    What he means is that he’s going to protect the imagined divine right of self-appointed TrueChristians to maintain the sanctity of traditional Christian bigotry and cruelty through unfettered discrimination, bullying, and persecution against others.

  22. @RMW,

    “Atheist dictators usually do their best to wipe out religions..isn’t that what you want?”

    Of course not! That is slanderous nonsense. The Atheist dictators had no SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE so they merely replaced one religion with a different one – as North Korea does today.

    Our Atheist US Constitution is clear and it strikes the perfect balance:

    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.” – US CONSTITUTION

    I’m a USA Patriot.
    I support our Atheist Constitition.
    Don’t you?

  23. I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Russell Moore, the king of the wimp wing of evangelicalism, but on Trump, he is absolutely correct. Evangelicals who support Trump should be ashamed of themselves. While I share the frustrations about political correctness and feckless politicians and all the rest, Trump is exactly the opposite of anything or anyone remotely Christian. A boastful, arrogant, narcissistic, sneering buffoon, Christian or not, should get nowhere near the presidency.

    It is dismaying the extent to which Christians are willing to throw their spirituality and their morality out the window for Trump. Trump is the precise Biblical picture of a bad leader.

  24. He’s not going to protect anybody. Once he’s in office, God forbid, he will go whichever way the wind blows.

  25. What is particularly odious about Trump is the anti-Reagan notion that life is a zero-sum game, that the way we rise up is by putting others down. Yes, when it comes to our enemies like ISIS, that view fits, as we need to crush them in a way that the world remembers for the next hundred years. But the norm in life is win/win, where people work together and grow together. Obama and Hillary have stuck the Democrats with a win/lose stance by pitting race against race, class against class, gender against gender. And now Trump is sticking the Republicans with the same thing on virtually every issue.

    If Trump is the nominee, the election will be the most negative in our lifetime, with neither side offering a positive vision on anything for the country.

  26. Christians supporting Trump today is like Christians supporting Mussolini yesterday. It’s a deal with the devil. It’s a deal with someone whose beliefs and ethics and behavior, and ultimately, I believe, his real as opposed to feigned politics, could not be more opposed to the letter and spirit of the Gospel.

    Make no mistake: If Trump is elected, he will be an enemy of any and all constitutional rights that threaten his power on anything. That includes the First Amendment and the freedoms of religion and expression, the Second Amendment on guns, and the ones on search and seizure and all the rest. Don’t listen to his promises; watch how he behaves.

    If you are Christian and for Trump, you need to blow the dust off the cover of your Bible and start reading. And if you are already reading, you ought to take seriously what you are reading. This is no joke. You are voting for a person who will be the most powerful leader in the world.

  27. How right you are, Pops. You said it better than anyone.

  28. No, Atheist Max. That’s not it. The simple answer is two-fold (1) Protestants still outnumber Catholics and (2) evangelicalism is now the dominant religious expression of Protestantism, having replaced the mainline decades ago.

    So that’s why “Christian” in America has in recent decades become synonymous with “evangelical.” Even among non-Protestants in America, a huge number identify themselves in terms of theology and religious experience with evangelicalism.

    It is what it is.

  29. To be clear, I believe the word, “Christian,” should be applied to include people who are non-evangelical as well as evangelical, but I understand why this is becoming less and less common with time.

  30. Reagan was far from perfect, but he was the best of the three, because he knew how to treat people who disagreed with him and his brand of conservatism was not reactionary but forward-looking. It was an American conservatism of freedom and opportunity, not an Old European conservatism of blood and soil. It wasn’t about hate or about pitting people against each other….he left that for the socialists and other far lefties.

    Now we have Trump who is imitating the left’s and the European right’s worst traits of division and hatred.

    And unlike Reagan, he will not defeat our foes, but will succumb to them once they flatter him with praise.

  31. Just picture someone with Trump’s petty and vengeful and narcissistic character with the entire executive branch of government in his hands. If you’re a high-profile foe of Trump in any way, you’ll need a good tax lawyer, because you’ll probably be audited. He will spend all four years of his first term using every lever of power he has to ruin you forever.

    There will be no greater threat to liberty than he will likely be. Whatever has been said about Obama, he will do him ten times better. Whatever bad precedents Obama has set, Trump will utilize every single one of them.

    Those who can’t see this are kidding themselves.

  32. How did Mussolini attack Christians?

    You mean the same constitution that supports gay marriage according to the secular court?

  33. So, pretty much like any typical republican presidency, like w. bush’s, right?

    The difference is Trump will be better on muslims, attacking leftist culture, immigration, etc.

  34. Mussolini pretended to be for Christians, but once he took and consolidated power, he was a tyrant who extinguished liberty, the basic rights common to the whole of humanity.

  35. No, the only thing Trump will be “better at” than any predecessor is taking away the liberties that are common to all. Anyone who opposes him for any reason will face the fury not of an impotent child throwing a Twitter tantrum but a man who runs the executive branch of the United States government.

  36. No ‘separation of church and state’?
    The 1936 Soviet Union Constitution (Article 124) explicitly mentions this:
    “In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
    And this was the same regime that had multiple anti-religious campaigns in its lifetime:

    If ‘separation of church and state’ is code for attacking the religious then I’m not interested. Just like ‘liberty’ seems to be a code for kicking out Native Americans.

    I am not an American in any case. I live on the other side of the globe.

  37. He did not tolerate homosexual perversions. Most of Christian history was under Monarchism.

  38. But that happens anyway, which is the point, whether, Bush or a democrat, etc. At least it’s better if you get a guy on your side doing it who’s honest about it.

  39. @RMW,

    There was no separation of church and state in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party was the only Religious dogma allowed – therefor all Churches were against the state.

    Constitutional separation of church and state has never happened outside of the USA.

    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion, nor prohibit the free exercise therof”

    Had Stalin been forced to comply with this Constitutional law he would not have been able to massacre Christians and destroy churches (all of which he did).

  40. @Jack,

    “I understand why this is becoming less and less common with time.”

    Yeah. Because there is no sign of a real God to clear it up.
    And religion is accordingly dying off.

  41. @Pops:

    Your choices for president are two non-believers:

    DEMOCRAT – Bernie: A self-described ‘non-religious’ person.

    REPUBLICAN – Trump: A self-described Christian who claims the Bible is his most important and favorite book – yet, he says publicly he cannot quote a SINGLE BIBLE VERSE! Not even one!

    In other words, no matter how you slice it, an Atheist is about to be elected president.

  42. You’re comparing a drizzle with 10 MPH winds to a tsunami. You’re comparing run-of-the-mill typical politicians to a maniac who spends years and decades going after domestic enemies with everything he’s got.

  43. Alex says, “He [Mussolini] did not tolerate homosexual perversions.”

    What does that even mean? That he busted down people’s doors and dragged gay people off to jail?

    If true, you’re only making my point. Government’s job is to protect life and liberty, not be a morality police. In terms of protecting life, that includes the right to outlaw the taking of life. It obviously does not include telling people how they should live their lives.

  44. Labman, Trump doesn’t even have to be accurate or even sound sincere on Bible knowledge and faith when it comes to evangelicals at Liberty.

    These people obviously don’t take their evangelical faith very seriously.

    Christians outside of their orb should take note. If/when real honest-to-God, Book of Acts-type persecution of Christians comes, don’t expect the Liberty University types to stand up. These hypocrites will be goose-stepping behind the dictator, so long as he throws them a few bones.

  45. Message to Trump:

    Religious freedom, like all other human rights, is a liberty that comes from God and not you.

    We don’t need you as our “protector.”

    All we need is for you to keep your hands off our constitutional liberties, including freedom of religion, press, assembly, the second amendment on guns, and subsequent amendments on a host of other matters that are equally important.

    So take your authoritarianism, your faux-conservatism, your bigotry, your xenophobia, your ignorance, and your bully-boy tactics and stick them where the sun doesn’t shine.

  46. Oh, and take Palin and her endlessly dysfunctional family back to Trump Tower with you.

  47. Doc, a number of people can beat Hillary. Even though I can’t stand Trump, I believe he is capable of it as well. Hillary is deeply vulnerable; she is not invincible.

    Right now, Cruz is beating Hillary, but I believe Rubio can, too, as can Christie and maybe Kasich, Carson, or even Bush.

    Hillary is a big winner on paper, but once she gets in front of people, she has a habit of deflating. Unlike her husband, she does not have a personality that most people naturally like.

    Put another way, Bill Clinton has a great personality but poor character, whereas Hillary is problematic on both personality and character.

    As for Trump, he is a roaring dictatorship waiting to happen.

  48. It sure as heck won’t be Trump if that happens.

    Of course, the word, “dominionist” has been broadly interpreted to mean any and all religious expression outside of one’s home or house of worship.

    I define it in a less grandiose and more literal way.

  49. @Max
    Who do you think you’re fooling when the 1936 Soviet Constitution used those terms:
    “In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”

  50. @RMW,


    Who do you think you are fooling?
    No other country on earth has separation of church and state declared thus:

    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof”

    The Soviet Union had no separation in fact nor in law. No other country on earth guarantees within its constitution the right of a person to lawfully practice (or ignore) a chosen religion.
    Communism was the religion of the state and there was no separation of the state from the individual’s rights to practice – that is why priests could be rounded up and shot.

    Saying the word “Separation” is meaningless if you simultaneously insist on a universal religious position enforced by the state!

  51. Again from Article 124 of the 1936 Soviet Union Constitution:
    ““In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”
    It spells out what you claim doesn’t exist.

  52. I’m a Baptist and this is just sickening.

    Falwell Senior did the same thing with Reagan. Reagan wasn’t a Christian, Jimmy Carter was- but Falwell was a bit irked that his school was stripped of its tax immune status because he didn’t want black people in his school so he raised funds for Reagan’s campaign and accused Jimmy Carter of being a fake Christian (which is obviously not true, he just wasn’t a good president).

    This is all about flash and cash. Trump isn’t pro-life, pro-Christian, pro-people- he’s pro-Trump only. This is all about ego. The second he gets sworn in- he’ll have people putting his name up in big gold letters on the dome and gilding the rest of the White House so he can call it Trump Palace.

  53. “A lot of those ‘healthy young men’ Trump spoke about may be Christians fleeing persecution,” said Weaver. True, they may be. And how do we know they are if they are not properly vetted before entering? Because he believes that Islam is a ominous threat, he supports proper screening of Muslims before allowing them entry into the country. It’s a smart approach, given the significant level of Islamic hatred for Americans. Any immigrant should be properly vetted, as I would expect to be if it were me emigrating to another country.

    “I don’t think Trump’s views represent God or all evangelical Christians.” There are over 300 different religions and denominations in the USA. I’m not sure that as president, Trump can pick and choose which he supports. He must support religious freedom across the board, and I believe he does, and will. I do not see him, or any U.S. President supporting Sharia law.

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