NEW YORK — Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, who has repeatedly sought to convince the public that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a Christian, is now calling those who have expressed concern over his pose with the candidate adjacent to a framed Playboy magazine cover “hypocrites” who need to stop “judging.”
The March 1990 Playboy cover is displayed in Trump’s Manhattan office along with other magazine covers featuring the billionaire business mogul, and shows Trump standing next to model Brandi Brandt, who is partially wrapped in what appears to be a towel.
On Tuesday, while attending an event with nearly 1,000 evangelical leaders, Falwell had a picture taken with Trump along with his wife Becki. He posted the photograph on his Twitter page, writing, “Honored to introduce @realDonaldTrump at religious leader summit in NYC today! He did incredible job!”
But followers soon noticed the framed Playboy cover over Becki’s shoulder and quickly expressed concern. Falwell’s Liberty University heralds itself as the world’s largest Christian university and carries the motto “Training Champions for Christ.”
“Would you post that framed Playboy cover at Liberty?” one follower named Kim K. wrote.
“This is shameful, Mr. Falwell. I say this as an evangelical Christian pastor,” wrote another named D.J. Jenkins. “I’m praying you repent.”
“Playboy? Seriously? The world already looks at Christian hypocrisy; this won’t help,” a third named Nathan Platt stated.
However, Falwell soon defended the photograph, saying that it was instead those expressing concern that were “hypocrites,” and that he was “honored” to be criticized by hypocrites just like Jesus.
“Honored for same hypocrites who accused Jesus of being a friend of publicans and sinners to be targeting me over a decades old mag cover! TY,” he Tweeted.
Writer Ben Howe of Red State also chimed in, noting that Falwell’s father used to lead marches against Playboy and that he would never have supported a presidential candidate like Trump.
“I attended Thomas Road under your father. Disappointed to see what you’ve done using his stature,” he stated.
But during the discussion as Howe and another reader remarked about the “sleaziest thing in the room,” Falwell jumped in, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”
“Hold up. Didn’t you call us all hypocrites like an hour ago?” a follower with the handle Natural Lawyer quickly noted, pointing out that Falwell had judged those who disagreed with the Playboy cover.
“Taking Scripture out of context doesn’t work. Jesus warns us to test fruits & see if they are good,” added Carody Rae Bell. “You’ve shown your fruit, sir.”
“Feel happy to judge with judgment by which I am judging: you should not pose next to a Playboy mag,” follower John Mark N Reynolds also remarked.
As previously reported, Falwell has repeatedly sought to assure the American people of the mud-slinging, foul-mouthed candidate’s Christianity, pointing to the candidate’s good deeds as being the “fruit” that Jesus spoke of that characterizes a man who is born again.
“I’ve seen his generosity to strangers, to his employees, his warm relationship with his children,” he said on CNN’s “Legal View With Ashleigh Banfield” in February. “I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve had conversations with him just within the past few weeks about his faith, and I have no doubts he is a man of faith and he’s a Christian,” Falwell also stated on Fox’s “Hannity.”
He has also cited the “judge not” Scripture before in defense of Trump.
“Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged. Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners,” Falwell contended in an interview with the Liberty University newspaper in March.
“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer,” he said. “You have to choose the leader that would make the best king or president and not necessarily someone who would be a good pastor. We’re not voting for pastor-in-chief.”
But in writing for the National Review, attorney David French found Falwell’s comparison to be faulty, noting that God punished David for his sin, and the nation suffered as a result.
“To mention King David in the same breath as Donald Trump is to insult our theological intelligence,” he stated. “Yes, David did terrible things—among them, committing adultery and sending his mistress’s husband to die in war—but God imposed terrible punishment—a punishment that cost David his son and ultimately plunged his nation into civil war.”
“And while God forgave David—as He forgives us today—He did not spare David from the cost of disobedience,” French continued. “Ultimately, David’s story is a story of both the awful consequences of sin and God’s mercy in response to true repentance.”