LYNCHBURG, Va. — In what has been called a “hero’s welcome,” the thrice-married, unbridled-tongued professing Christian Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed an enormous crowd at what many consider the world’s largest Christian university on Monday, being lauded by the school’s president as a man who has “borne fruit” and “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught.”
Jerry Falwell Jr. spent ten minutes providing an introduction for the presidential nominee, who asked reporters last year “why do I need to repent if I am not making mistakes,” painting a picture of a man whose life has been marked by good deeds.
“As our friendship has grown, so has my admiration for Mr. Trump,” Falwell stated.
He quoted Scripture in suggesting that Trump’s life comports with Christianity.
“Matthew 7:16 tells us that ‘By your fruits you shall know them.’ Donald Trump’s life has borne fruit,” Falwell said. “Fruit that has provided jobs to multitudes of people, in addition to the many he has helped with his generosity.”
“In my opinion, Mr. Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment,” he declared.
Falwell characterized Trump as a “breath of fresh air” and compared the presidential candidate and billionaire business mogul to his father, the late Jerry Falwell Sr. And while he said that Trump’s appearance was not an endorsement, he opined that “the American public is finally ready to elect a candidate who is not a career politician but rather who has succeeded in real life.”
During his speech, Trump told those gathered that he believes Christianity is under attack, and characterized himself as a Christian as he has done in other appearances.
“If you look what’s going on throughout the world … Christianity, it’s under siege,” Trump stated. “I’m Protestant. I’m very proud of it. Presbyterian to be exact, but I’m very proud of it.”
The Republican presidential candidate also quoted Scripture in vowing to protect religious freedom.
“2 Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” he said. “And here, there is liberty.”
“Is that the one? Is that the one you like?” he asks, sounding awkward. “I think that’s the one you like because I loved it, and it’s so representative of what’s taking place.”
But some state that Liberty University, which has also invited non-Christians such as Mormon adherent Glenn Beck and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak to students, shouldn’t be so quick to declare Trump a born-again Christian.
“God hasn’t given us the ability to read men’s hearts, but He does give us the duty to make judgments based on the fruit that we see,” 2008 Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka told Christian News Network. “And good fruit doesn’t come from a bad tree, and bad fruit doesn’t come from a good tree.”
“You have to examine someone’s actions and their speech and see whether or not that comports with what they self-declare,” he explained. “Even Satan quoted Scripture, so even the devil knows the Bible.”
David Whitney, pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Pasadena, Maryland and speaker with the Institute on the Constitution, agreed. He noted several red flags surrounding Trump’s behavior indicating that the candidate does not bear the fruit of someone who is born again.
“One [concern] is how he treats other people and verbally denigrates them, showing a lack of respect. It seems to purvey his character that he cannot help but to ridicule, mock and denigrate,” Whitney said. “That does not comport with the kind of character that we see that Exodus 18:20 calls us to in terms of who we choose to be our rulers.”
He also noted concerns with Trump’s answer last summer at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit when asked if he has ever sought forgiveness for his sins.
“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.”
“This indicates that he thought his previous positions were not an issue, such as on abortion, that he should ask God for forgiveness,” Whitney said. “What about the affair that happened while he was married to another woman, and eventually divorced that woman and married the woman he was having an affair with? Clearly adultery was taking place, and if he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, it’s a huge problem…”
The pastor disagreed with Falwell’s statement that Trump has led a life of love and helping others, considering his ongoing casino enterprise.
“We know that gambling addictions are fed by his business as well as other businesses, so that’s not a loving thing to draw people further into their addiction and profit from their addiction,” he opined. “So I would not say that he’s following in the footsteps of Jesus with his life [as Falwell suggested]. That’s not to say that he hasn’t done good things in and of themselves, but there’s much to be repented of in his life.”
Jessica Taylor of NPR expressed similar thoughts.
“That’s right—the candidate currently leading among the most faith-filled voters is a twice-divorced casino mogul, who isn’t an active member of any church, once supported abortion rights, has a history of crass language—and who says he’s never asked God’s forgiveness for any of it,” she wrote in an article in November entitled “True Believer? Why Donald Trump Is The Choice Of The Religious Right.”
As previously reported, an estimated three dozen spiritual leaders, including a number of prosperity preachers, met with Trump in New York this past September, with some laying hands on him and praying for God’s wisdom and favor on the candidate.
“Father, we just secure him right now by the blood of Jesus. We thank you that no weapon formed against him will be able to prosper and any tongue that rises against him will be condemned according to the word of God,” Paula White, who leads New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, prayed. “I secure him. I secure his children. I secure his calling and his mantle.”
But both Peroutka and Whitney said that it is not wise for Christians to so blindly jump on the Trump train. They expressed disappointment that Trump was received so enthusiastically at Liberty University.
“I think that’s worrisome because there’s an implied endorsement,” Peroutka said. “Even if it’s not an official endorsement from the university, there’s an implication that somehow Christiandom is somehow putting its stamp of approval on it. That’s regrettable.”
“It makes it appear that the Christian university is jumping on the bandwagon,” Whitney stated. “I think if the university had done it a way of not welcoming him as a hero but rather questioning him as a candidate, that would be a very different approach.”
Why is all of this important? The men note that Christians are commanded by God to select rulers that are “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,” (Exodus 18:21) and that possessing an “anyone but Hillary” attitude is not a biblical mindset.
“I think that approach is fundamentally flawed,” Peroutka said. “The lesser of two evils, of course, is evil. And when you choose the lesser of two evils, you [still] choose evil. And when you choose evil and you get evil, you are responsible because you chose it, didn’t you?”