LYNCHBURG, Va. — The president of what heralds itself as the world’s largest Christian university, who declared during the 2016 presidential election that he was “convinced” that Donald Trump is a Christian, conferred an honorary doctorate upon the nation’s leader on Saturday during his visit as commencement speaker.
Standing in front of a backdrop bearing the motto “Training Champions for Christ,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. presented a Doctorate of Laws degree to Trump, joined by Chief Academic Officer Dr. Ronald Hawkins.
“In recognition of President Trump’s commitment to his country and to the citizens who have been forgotten by their own government, and for his unwavering determination to make America great again, and in acknowledgement of his bold leadership of our nation, with the powers vested in me by the board of trustees of Liberty University, the Doctorate of Laws degree is hereby conferred upon Donald J. Trump,” he declared.
Falwell also praised the president during his introduction, telling the thousands gathered that he believes no other president in his lifetime “has done so much that has benefited the Christian community in such a short time span.”
“President Trump’s actions in the last four months speak for themselves,” he declared during his introduction. “He reaffirmed this nation’s support for the state of Israel. He appointed a conservative, strict constructionist, pro-life justice to the Supreme Court. He appointed more men and women of faith to his cabinet than any president in recent memory.”
“He bombed those in the middle east who were persecuting and killing Christians. And earlier, he chose Mike Pence as his running mate,” he continued. “Just last week, he signed an executive order in the rose garden fulfilling a promise to return political free speech rights to churches, religious leaders and universities like this one.”
As previously reported, Falwell first endorsed Trump for president in January 2016 and repeatedly asserted throughout Trump’s presidential campaign that the then-candidate bears the fruit of one being born again because of his characteristic good deeds.
“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 2016. “I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ.”
Falwell made similar comments to Fox talk show host Sean Hannity.
“He may not be a theological expert and he might say two Corinthians instead of second Corinthians, but when you look at the fruits of his life and all the people he’s provided jobs, I think that’s the true test of somebody’s Christianity not whether or not they use the right theological terms,” he contended.
Falwell contended that those who expressed concerns about Trump’s behavior were violating the “judge not” clause in Matthew 7:1.
“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,” he said in an interview with the Liberty University newspaper in March 2016.
Falwell made similar remarks in June when a number of alumni expressed concern about a photograph he shared of himself posing with Trump in his Manhattan office, as followers noted a framed Playboy magazine hanging on the wall.
“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!” he Tweeted.
In October, when some students denounced Trump as being antithetical to Christianity after sexually-charged remarks surfaced from 2005, Falwell asserted that, in their immaturity of youth, they were wrongfully “ignoring” the teachings of Jesus on judging.
“We are not proclaiming our opposition to Donald Trump out of bitterness, but out of a desire to regain the integrity of our school,” one student had written in a circulated statement that generated over 1,000 signatures of support. “We don’t want to champion Donald Trump; we want only to be champions for Christ.”
On Saturday, Trump spoke of faith often as he urged the Liberty University class of 2017 to leave their imprint on the world and to go against the grain.
“Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right,” he said. “It’s called the road less traveled. I know that each of you will be a warrior for the truth … I know that each of you will do what is right, not what is the easy way, and that you will be true to yourself, and your country and your beliefs.”
Trump said that America is a “nation of true believers,” and pointed to the faith of its early settlers and founders.
“When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our Creator four times—because in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” he outlined, generating applause.
“That is why our elected officials put their hands on the Bible and say ‘So help me God’ as they take the oath of office. It is why our currency proudly declares ‘In God We Trust,’ and it’s why we proudly proclaim that we are one nation under God every time we say the Pledge of Allegiance,” Trump stated.
He also praised the university during his remarks, and promised to protect religious liberty.
“Whether you’re called to be a missionary overseas, to shepherd a church or to be a leader in your community, you are a living witness of the gospel message of faith, hope and love,” Trump said. “America is better when people put their faith into action. 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 America to pray to God and to follow His teachings,” he said.
The visit was Trump’s third to Liberty University. Other honorary doctorate recipients included James Robison of Life Outreach International, novelist Karen Kingsbury and Liberty University campus pastor David Nasser.