LYNCHBURG, Va. — The president of Liberty University, which is stated to be the world’s largest Christian educational institution, is defending the school’s decision to invite Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak during its Martin Luther King Day convocation.
“We chose that day so that Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to recognize and honor Dr. King on MLK day,” President Jerry Falwell, Jr. told reporters, noting that King had once stated that a person should not be judged by “the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
“Liberty stands for that principle and I believe that Mr. Trump does as well,” Falwell said.
As previously reported, on Jan. 4, Liberty announced Trump’s upcoming appearance, and later provided guidelines for attendance as the university expects record crowds at the Jan. 18 event.
“Since Donald Trump last visited Liberty, our family has stayed in close contact with him and with his top aide, Michael Cohen,” Falwell said in a statement. “We are thrilled that they are taking time out of their extremely busy schedule to return to Liberty.”
But some students have planned a peaceful protest on that day, stating that Trump’s values are antithetical to King’s.
“Mr. Trump uses speech to divide along racial lines, gender lines, ethnic and national lines, and between those with disabilities and the healthy,” demonstration organizer Eli McGowan, a law student a Liberty, wrote on social media. “He encourages violence against the innocent and the peaceful. He acts as someone above forgiveness and reproach. All of these indicate he is not an acceptable option for a speaker on a day meant to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who sacrificed himself in the pursuit of peace, love, and equality.”
Falwell told the Lynchburg News & Advance on Tuesday that dissenting students “can do what they want outside, but they are going to be making fools of themselves.”
However, it is not only current students at Liberty who have expressed disapproval. Alumni Joel Ready of Ready Media also recently opined on social media that since Trump claims to be a Christian but denies it with his behavior, he should not be permitted to speak at the school.
“I’m deeply disappointed to hear that Liberty University has invited Donald Trump to speak at convocation,” he wrote.
Ready pointed to 1 Cor. 5:9-13, which reads in part, “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
“Trump is the grotesque personification of everything that is wrong with American political discourse, and his repeated claims that he is a Christian should disqualify him from speaking at Liberty,” Ready wrote.
He said that he would instead like to see Liberty officials challenge Trump on his lifestyle, such as his three marriages, as well as his views on Planned Parenthood and his casino empire.
“I wish I believed that Liberty would make an effort to engage him on his contradictory stances, his recent financial and political support of Planned Parenthood, his unapologetic serial monogamy, how he built much of his fortune by preying on the addictions of the weak in his casinos or perhaps his godless views that he shared so gleefully the last time he was at Liberty to speak,” Ready stated.
But Liberty’s Student Government Association also posted on social media, although not specifically mentioning Trump, remarking that inviting those with whom the university may disagree helps its Christian witness.
“As a student body, we should be open to hear any influential person in their field of work. Regardless of whether we agree with their views and opinions, it is our responsibility to show Christian hospitality and respect,” the status read. “Showing someone who we disagree with hospitality and respect doesn’t forsake our values as followers of Jesus but helps our witness. Allowing our minds to be challenged as a result of others viewpoints should cause us to look to Scripture in search for truth.”
Ready stated that he has nothing against varying viewpoints and did not oppose the unbelievers who have spoken thus far, but opined that those who claim to be Christians should be held to a higher standard.
As previously reported, Trump raised concerns among some last July after having difficulty responding to a question at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit as to whether he has ever sought forgiveness for his sins.
“That’s a tough question,” he replied. “I am a religious person. People are so shocked when they find this out—I’m Protestant. … I go to church. I love God and I love my church.”
“But have you ever asked God for forgiveness?” interviewer Frank Luntz repeated, evoking laughter from the audience.
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” Trump stated. “I think if I do something wrong, I think I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
The Republican presidential candidate further outlined to CNN’s Anderson Cooper days later that he doesn’t always see a need for forgiveness.
“If I make a mistake, yeah, I think [repentance is] great. But I try not to make mistakes,” Trump said. “Why do I have to repent, why do I have to ask for forgiveness, if you are not making mistakes? I work hard. I’m an honorable person. I have thousands of people who work for me. I have employed tens of thousands of people over the years.”
Some have also remarked that Trump has used more profanity than any other candidate they have seen run for the office of president.
“Over the course of his time on Twitter, including in some cases after he announced his presidential candidacy, Trump has tweeted or retweeted profanity on his account more than 100 times,” reports the Washington Post.
“[Trump’s swear] words render him unfit to be a presidential candidate, let alone president,” wrote radio host Dennis Prager in a National Review article entitled “Donald Trump’s F-Bombs” in 2011. “Any fool can curse in public. … Leading Republicans need to announce that there is no place in the Republican party for profane public speech. You cannot stand for small government without standing for big people.”
Commentator Michael Brown additionally noted concerns with Trump’s repeated practice of cutting others down to make himself look good, as well as “the issue of pride, the sin that is often at the root of a host of other sins (Is. 14:11-15), the sin which God resists (James 4:6), the sin which leads to destruction (Prov. 16:18).”