(RNS) Faith & Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed laid out the evangelical case for Donald Trump on Monday (Oct. 10) at Liberty University’s Convocation, North America’s largest weekly gathering of Christian students.
That came after the weekend release of a 2005 recording of the Republican presidential candidate making lewd remarks about women, as well as a contentious second presidential debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I think retreating to the stained-glass ghetto from whence we came and refusing to muddy our boots with the mud and mire of politics is simply not an option for a follower of Christ,” Reed said.
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In a question-and-answer session after Reed’s speech, both he and Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. condemned Trump’s crude remarks while praising his debate performance, which Reed described as “the biggest night of Donald Trump’s career, political or otherwise.”
“Five years from now when we’re sitting here and we see all the Constitution being ripped apart by justices (appointed by Clinton), nobody is going to remember what horrible things Donald Trump said over a decade ago,” Falwell said.
Reed also had called Trump’s remarks “offensive and inappropriate” in his speech before pivoting to Clinton’s deleted emails and private server, referencing Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” If Clinton could not be trusted with little as secretary of state, he reasoned, how could she be trusted with much as president?
He described American Christians as “dual citizens” of both the kingdom of heaven and the United States, “similar in a spiritual sense” to Jews who hold passports for both the countries in which they live and Israel. And he described the responsibilities that come with citizenship in each — including paying taxes, “but only what we owe,” he said, pausing to explain the joke.
In this election, that also includes voting for a candidate with a chance to win the election, Reed said, urging students not to abstain from voting or write in a candidate.
And there are differences between the two major-party candidates on the issues he said “matter most to the Christian community.”
He made clear he believed Christians should side with the Republican Party on those issues. He pointed to abortion as the “defining moral issue of our time,” saying Trump is “running on the most pro-life platform in the history of the Republican Party” while Clinton has called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. He also noted Trump’s pledges to appoint conservative Supreme Court judges and revisit the Iran nuclear deal.
“What will happen to America, should it perish, is what happened to Rome, which is a moral and spiritual and a cultural death from within that starts at the heart and soul of a country,” Reed said.
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Some following Convocation online, such as popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans, found Reed’s comments on morality “unbelievable,” given Trump’s remarks.
“Once again, fundamentalism asks women to absorb abuse, denigration, & objectification,” Evans tweeted. “This is not of Christ. This is of the devil.”