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Trump promises to protect Christians at Liberty commencement speech

President Trump waves before delivering keynote address at Liberty University's commencement in Lynchburg, Va., on May 13, 2017. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

(RNS) Donald Trump thanked conservative Christians for their votes, and promised to protect their values in his first commencement address as president, at evangelical stronghold Liberty University.

“In America we don’t worship government, we worship God,” he said to raucous applause at the graduation at the nation’s largest Christian university Saturday (May 13), in Lynchburg, Va.

Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has long supported Trump, a Presbyterian who has married three times, built casinos, and was caught on tape bragging about groping women.

But 81 percent of white evangelical voters cast their ballots for Trump in November, buoyed by his campaign promises to safeguard their religious liberties in a country where they often feel that their rights to express their faith — at work and in the public square — have come under attack.

“I want to thank you,” Trump said to the 50,000 in attendance. “You voted. Boy oh boy, you voted, you voted.”

Trump, who received an honorary law degree at Liberty’s commencement, said he was making good on his promises, pointing to the signing of an executive order earlier this month that directed the IRS to limit enforcement of the ban on pastors endorsing politicians from the pulpit.


READ: Trump’s religious liberty order slammed as ‘pretty much nothing’


“You are living witness of the gospel message of faith, hope and love,” Trump said. “I am so proud as your president to have helped you along over the past short period of time. I said I was going to do it and Jerry, I did it,” Trump said referring to Falwell and the Johnson Amendment order.

“America is better when people put their faith into action,” Trump continued. “As long as I am your president no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart. We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings.”

Trump added that “America is beginning a new chapter,” an assertion endorsed by Falwell as he introduced Trump.

“Since his election I’ve noticed a new hope and a new optimism sweeping this country,” Falwell said. He said he appreciated Trump’s support for the state of Israel, appointment of  “a pro-life justice” to the Supreme Court, and bombing of militants in the Middle East.

“I do not believe that any president in our lifetimes has done so much that has benefited the Christian community in such a short timespan than Donald Trump,” Falwell said.

Trump’s speech in friendly territory followed tumultuous days in which the Republican president came in for forceful criticism for his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating charges of Russia’s meddling in the presidential campaign.

On May 21 Vice President Mike Pence will address the graduates of the University of Notre Dame, the high-profile Catholic university that bucked its tradition this year by not inviting the recently elected president to give its commencement speech.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

48 Comments

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  • I thought Trump gave a pretty good speech. He hit all the key points. However, I still prefer to hear the speech in the original German.

  • Falwell appreciated Trump bombing militants in the Middle East? And that silly Pope going around urging peace.

  • This is very good news. We Christians are under assault from all the people who do not share are values. The athiests are the worse, they are out to get us. I never leave my basement because it is so dangerous out there.

    I am so glad that a good and strong and competent man like The Donald will protect us. If he says he’ll get it done then I know he will. He deserves the second scoop of ice cream that the democRATS condemn him for.

    I am thankful for our President and that we once again have a Christian of deep faith and humbletude in the White House. God save The Donald!

  • Trump won because of white Catholic voters (60% v. 46% of the general electorate) in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He was always expected to carry the South.

  • Since, as Lauren Markoe observed, “Trump’s speech (was given) in friendly territory”, nothing that he said offended these people at the Liberty University commencement, right? Sure, as always, they’d just humor him, or look the other way, or make some stupid and lame excuses for how so un-acceptably un-Evangelical, un-biblical, un-Christlike, the following two comments were. Just don’t blurt out, “SAY WHAT, SINNER?!”, for God’s sake – or, you know, for the fake news liberal media out there to hear – in honest reaction to what Trump said here in his speech, which smacks of the Catholic dogma of THE COMMUNION OF THE UNDEAD, and perverts Christ Jesus’ prophecy of THE INEVITABLE GREAT PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH in the endtimes:

    (1) “Don’t forget that tomorrow is Mother’s Day, right? I had a great mother, she’s looking down now … And Jerry (Falwell Jr.), I know your dad (Jerry Falwell) is looking down on you right now and he is proud, he is very proud, so congratulations on a great job, Jerry.”

    (2) “Liberty University is a place where they really have true champions and you have a simple creed that you live by: To be, really, champions for Christ. … As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart.”

    (Source: US President Donald J. Trump, Commencement Keynote Address at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia, May 13, 2017, transcript from TIME)

  • In this country, at every level of government, we have forbidden discrimination on the basis of religious belief, yours or mine, in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

    The people that 2Rump is pandering to believe that there ought to be an exception to that for hyper conservative Christians. They can have the special right to discriminate all they wish. But what they really mean is that they want to be able to discriminate against one group of people, and one group of people only.

    They want to whine about religious persecution at the same time as the do this. NEwsflash: it is not oppression or persecution if another group of people can have the same rights that you have always enjoyed.

    Either these laws apply to all people, all religions, or they are useless, and should be abolished. But of course, if they were, we would be hearing the whining at ten times the volume the second such discrimination were directed at them.

    Trying to find an exception to them merely underlines why we have hem in the first place.

  • Good posting and good points.

    The stupidest part is, no one wants to stop them from practicing their faith or preaching what’s in their hearts. That’s merely the camouflage for is really desired: dominion over the lives of others.

    But what’s in their hearts frequently seems very dark to me,

  • I don’t think it can be repeated often enough. People being treated equally under the law as the people who wish to oppress others is not the same thing as persecution of others because they can no longer oppress others,

  • You check this out, brother Ben in Oakland. Open Doors USA, I believe it was. The director said when in White House Trump’s presidency won’t last if he won’t make concession for persecuted Christians in Middle East, Africa, North Korea. As if there was a pre-election agreement between Trump and conservative Christians, using this persecuted-church angle as, like you said, “the camouflage”. Sorry, I couldn’t get anyone to verify this from The Gospel Coalition when there I made the same query about this deal. Just to remain as a suspicion on my part, I guess. And I thought conservative Christians were way compromising and hypocritical during the Reagan and W Bush eras (e.g. Pat Robertson and the Central America junta connection via Regan, then Robertson and Falwell and the blame-the-Muslims propaganda via W Bush), but now this is becoming fall from grace of biblical epic proportion. What happened to Israel for the same fallout was God totally had to desolate them and let Gentile empires take over them. A pattern these guys nowadays are paying no heed to. I feel something really horrible is going to happen to conservative Christianity in the States. This God that doesn’t exist so say many people is going to do something horrible to His compromising and hypocritical children. If “what’s in their hearts frequently seems very dark to (you)”, Ben in Oakland, imagine what it seems to their Father. If you have kids like these guys, what would you do as their father?

  • I would hope I would be a much better father to my children than to teach them that mendacity and the abandonment of principle could ever be a good thing.

    You have your metaphor of ancient Israel, and I certainly understand it. I also don’t disagree with it. But I would put it much simple political and moral terms. I’ll even use it a little. The evangelicals who voted for 2Rump simply decided to swap their birthright for a mess of pottage– power, money, and dominion.

    Leonard Pitts wrote an interesting column today about it. This was not about the working class demanding that someone listen to them, and believing that ]Rump would be their savior. This is about people who are simply angry that their positions of power and dominion have been slipping away from them. Imagine that a dirty homosexual, the lowest of the low, could possibly be conceived of as the legal, moral, social, equal of a bible believing Christian, or that women could make their own choices about their bodies, or that a Negro could be in the White House, or that RELIGION, let a lone conservative Christianity, no longer dominates an increasingly diverse society?

  • Additionally, Evangelicals want persecution. It fulfills Jesus’s prophecy and strengthens their belief that they are on the right path.

  • And that is among the silliest, most counter productive things of all. How about building a world where all can live in peace, rather than a world built upon persecution as a good thing?

  • Speaking for all conservative Evangelicals, the same Jerry as 2Rump’s hero in this article revered him in a recent interview as “their DREAM president”. And right there and then I was thinking, Wait, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, our DREAM president is supposed to be God the Father who, with His own beloved Son, Jesus, at His right hand and on His throne next to His, reigns over His kingdom on earth and in heaven, and for eternity in the new heaven and earth, all because of His ransoming Fatherly love for us sinners through the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of His Son, Christ Jesus.

    My point is they and I must’ve been having 2 diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive DREAMS all our born-again Christian lives! (Have mercy, O God! On me first, please.)

  • And that was because the USCCB played the abortion card the weekend before the election. Now they and habitted religious pose as props in Trump’s Rose Garden Show.

  • In 2016, Queen Hillary had 1000 chances to offer the following meaningful Trump promise:

    “As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart. We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings.”

    Oh yes, she could have said it, especially since the black churches blindly endorsed Hillary anyway. She could have offered a low-cost, low-carb executive order that was ACLU-proof, just like Trump did.

    But she didn’t. She was so committed to obeying Obama’s dirty fascism, even abandoning some of her long-established ethical & public-policy positions, just to curry his soiled favor. She threw the Christians under the bus, to help gain fascist Obama’s supposedly all-powerful endorsement.

    But she won’t make that mistake anymore — THAT’s for sure!!!

  • We’re already on the right path dude, no joke no jive no junk.

    So why exactly are we “wanting” persecution? Does anybody want persecution?

  • The USCCB video, “The Right to Religious Freedom,” showed a clip of Hillary Clinton while a voice-over intoned that “the government is stopping us from practicing our faith.” Cardinal Dolan and other prelates called for Clinton to disassociate herself from “anti-Catholic” e-mails made by her campaign chairman in 2011 but released during the campaign and said the remarks were “extraordinarily patronizing and insulting to Catholics.” (the emails were not).
    Every poll that included the respondent’s religion conducted during the campaign showed Catholics choosing Trump at percentages higher than the general electorate.

  • Pope Francis positioned himself as Putin’s ally early in his pontificate. Although the massacre of civilians had been ongoing since the day he was elected, only after Obama proposed a limited air strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons against civilians did the pontiff hold a September 2013 peace rally for Syria. Putin credited Pope Francis “for stopping the military action” and “with being decisive in halting the momentum with the G8 towards supporting the initiative.”
    “Papal diplomacy in Syria has helped Russia and Assad” according to
    /Father Raymond J. de Souza, Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and a Senior Fellow at Cardus, Canada’s leading Christian think tank. The pope “advanced a resolution that favored the interests of both Assad and Putin.” “Putin certainly regarded [Obama’s failure in Syria] as a major victory. He immediately began to flex Moscow’s muscles in Ukraine, directing his ally there to abandon a proposed agreement with the European Union in favor of an alliance with Russia and Belarus.
    Between the pope’s first and second meeting with Putin, “some 1.2 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced according to the United Nations humanitarian office [while] Pope Francis is working to build diplomatic relations with Russia … especially to advance some of the Vatican’s other diplomatic interests.”
    A meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill was scheduled for Feb. 12, 2016. The meeting “could not happen without a green light from Putin … and he may be one the beneficiaries. Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making [the] private meeting politically charged, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria. Putin clearly sees the value of his relationship with the ROC and the ROC’s relationship with the pope.”
    The Economist: “Did the pope just kiss Putin’s ring?”
    …. Russia wants its people to believe that Western republics are not as hostile as their leaders. Pope Francis just helped. [The meeting] is a diplomatic victory for Putin [and]helped to underscore Russia’s renewed standing as a global power.
    …. Francis made clear in his interview before the meeting that on certain issues he agrees with Mr. Putin and disagrees with America and its allies.
    …. The joint declaration issued after the meeting hewed close to the Kremlin’s positions on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.
    …. The joint declaration deplores “hostility” in Ukraine, but omits any mention of Russia’s role, casting it as an internal struggle.

  • Yup, because one of the things they never taught us in CCD was critical thinking. The bishops are in large measure responsible for Trump and the havoc his administration wreaks. American Catholics have really become evangelicals with sacraments. They have more in common with Jerry Falwell than Pope Francis. That’s why the Pope’s clarty confuses so many in the USCCB.

  • In a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, Trump decried the “attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor” before signing his executive order on “religious freedom.” He invited the sisters present to stand beside him, and shook the hands of two of them.
    Pope Francis had met with the Little Sisters of the Poor while in the U.S. in support of their lawsuit. The year before, the pope granted a private audience to Hobby Lobby’s Green family, asking them “how their Supreme Court fight against President Obama’s contraception mandate was progressing.”
    Trump appointed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. During his time at the U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch joined with other judges in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, taking a “strong stance” for “religious freedom.” Also as judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit, he concurred in the Hobby Lobby case in favor of the Green family.
    Pope Francis also had some agreement with Trump on border policy. “Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk – from terrorism or such things – have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.”
    On May 13, the pope was asked about his upcoming meeting with Trump on May 24. Pope Francis responded: “I never make a judgment of a person without listening to them….Always there are doors that are not closed. Look for the doors that are at least a little bit open, enter and talk about common things and go on.”

  • Who is “we”? Are you saying Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc. are all equal in the eyes of god? Or are some of them wrong, not True christians? Being persecuted is a sign.

  • According to the Bible, all those people you mentioned, plus all atheists and gay activists, ARE in fact of equal value in the sight of God. All of them carry the image of God, and all of them are of infinite value, for Christ actually took on their sins and all the penalty for them. He paid an infinite punishment on the Cross.

    That’s really a breath-taking thought: Even now, Jim The Atheist is as equally loved by God as the Rev. Billy Graham. Not one penny of difference. God has given you free gifts & blessings, provisions & protections, just like Graham.

    But yeah, if the God of the Bible really does exist, then Jim’s atheism is not only wrong, but dangerously wrong, because an eternal destiny is at stake. If John 3:16 is true, then not only do all roads not lead to God, but all roads OTHER THAN John 3:16 (such as self-effort good-works religion) are necessarily heading towards a very bad end. John 3:16 is followed by John 3:17-18, and you’ve read them.

    “Persecution” doesn’t have anything to do with this aspect. This aspect is strictly between the individual and God.

  • No, in America, we don’t worship God, we worship Money. Also, I’m not worried about Christians–they’ve got guns.

  • ““In America we don’t worship government, we worship God,” he said to raucous applause at the graduation at the nation’s largest Christian university Saturday (March 13), in Lynchburg, Va.”

    As an independent voter, I’m no big fan of the Fallwells, Sr. or Jr. I would really rather that all the churches and religious universities steer clear of partisan politics altogether. But President Trump spoke a truth that we dare not forget. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian moral principles, and the citizens of this country DO NOT worship government! Those who choose to worship anything, worship God!

    The leaders of the former Soviet Union DEMANDED that citizens worship and serve their Marxist government. Look where that failed government AND religion is today!

  • No floydlee, the Christ-punishment-to-take-away-sins thing at the core of your religion is simply nonsense. An omnipotent being could have gotten the sin removal job done without the whole silly son-Jesus-up-on-sticks rigmarole. Further, “punishment” and sacrifice for an all-powerful god is meaningless. The foundational building blocks of the Christian stories are utterly invalid.

    Further, your god is not overall “loving” as claimed and is really quite a bigoted jerk according to your bible tall tales, with his “chosen people” and his mass slaughters of whole groups for the actions of a few, and his threats of eternal torture for the “sins” of a short mortal life.

    Get over your foolish ancient delusions already.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Oh, I agree. Lines like “humbletude” and “God save the Donald” suggest sarcasm to me. Still, Poe’s Law and all…

  • Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian moral principles, and the citizens of this country DO NOT worship government!

    Well, except the Republicans in congress, who for all intents and purposes worship Trump.

  • I am with Martin Luther on this one: Better a wise unbeliever than a stupid Christian.

  • Would that be the same FBI director Comey that you Democrats tried to throw under the bus?

  • Umm, Jesus is NOT presenting persecution as some sort of desirable goal to shoot for.

    He IS offering a comforting promise, a major promise, for if and when persecution should happen fall on his followers, but that’s absolutely NOT the same as seeing persecution itself as desirable or wanted in any way.

  • Don’t tell that to me. Tell it to your fellow poor, persecuted, Christian victims,

  • As a former teacher who no doubt found it occasionally necessary to discipline unruly students with detention and perhaps even paddling, whom do you think behaved better? The students at Liberty University who politely listened to Jewish socialist Bernie Sanders’ talk or the ones at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, NYU, and elsewhere who rioted, set fires, destroyed property, and interrupted talks because the speaker was “conservative” or served in the Israeli Defense Forces?

  • Awwww, you poor little Obama-ites don’t like it when someone in the Presidency favors Christianity instead of Islam, homosexualism, transgenderism and abortion.
    What is a hoot is that Hillary Clinton actually claimed to be a Christian! What a liar!

  • Ben apparently doesn’t have the foggiest idea what forms the true basis for civil rights. What are they Ben?
    What does it mean to be “human”? Can a person dehumanize themselves through irrational and uncivil and unnatural behavior?

    What is the principle of equality based on? Have any idea? Doesn’t a murderer lose some equality with law-abiding citizens and lose their freedom in certain areas of life? Now, you troll, extrapolate from there.

  • If that’s how you charm people, you will never get a date.

    When I used to work with criminals— and I worked with a lot of them— one thing I insisted upon to my fellow agents was that our clientele were entitled to politeness and respect, no matter what kind of criminals they were.

    As do you.

  • And the State took away their freedom to do and go where they wish! DUH! And, in some cases, the state takes their LIFE! What’s wrong with you?

    Btw, I have been married almost 43 years and have three kids in their 30s and a number of grandchildren. My wife and I also have science degrees and are RATIONAL thinkers. Laws of logic are clearly evident in the Bible (which other works that I have read and studied, like the Qur’an, Bhagavad Gita, the three Mormon books, etc. clearly lack).

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