Mr. Trump, you had a meeting today and invited almost 1,000 Christians to it. From the reports so far, the people you asked to come were overwhelmingly white, old, evangelical, conservative men. There were lots of other evangelicals that you didn’t invite — even some old, white, evangelical men like me — who have raised questions that you have yet to answer. In my opinion, you should have invited more black, brown, young evangelical women and men, from a broader spectrum of political perspectives; I imagine you would have been asked some better questions.
Just weeks before the Iowa caucus, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump is aiming his proudly “politically incorrect” anger and his pledge to be “great!” directly at evangelical Christians. “I’m going to protect Christians,” who are losing their power in American society, he said Jan. 18, addressing 100,000 Liberty University students — packed in the Lynchburg, Va., campus sports arena or viewing online.
“If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
A Christian leader, at one of the most influential evangelical colleges, told a basketball arena full of 18–22 year olds to get guns and carry them around in their back pockets in order to take on any radical Muslims that might make their way down to Lynchburg, Va.
The huge Lynchburg, Virginia, campus was started by the late Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, one of the main engines behind the launch of the religious right, and it is currently headed by Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell, Jr.
It’s also become a key venue for Republican candidates looking to shore up their bona fides with key evangelical Christian voters.
So why did Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, accept Falwell’s invitation to address upwards of 12,000 students and faculty on Sept. 14?
Jeb Bush will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University on May 9, becoming the second GOP presidential contender to speak at the Christian school this year.
“Throughout his years of public service, Governor Bush has been a champion of excellence in education and so many other issues of vital importance to our university community,” President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement about the college’s 42nd commencement exercises.
Bush, a former Florida governor, has all but declared he will seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was the first Republican to formally enter the field, and kicked off his campaign with a speech at Liberty’s convocation on March 23.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, widely considered a rising star in the Republican Party and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, will be the commencement speaker at Liberty University on May 10.
In an interview, Falwell was hesitant to give his personal opinion of Jindal since the two men have never met. Instead, he deferred to Liberty’s law school dean, Mat Staver.
“He’s a committed Christian,” Falwell said. “Mat Staver said he heard him speak and he sounded like a Baptist preacher.”
A crimson-colored “LU,” emblazoned in 11-foot letters on a forested mountainside against a backdrop of white limestone, tells students and their families they have arrived at Liberty University. The cacophony of construction across the 7,000-acre campus it overlooks suggests that the once-struggling Christian college has not only arrived but also plans to stick around.
Dormitories built in the 1970s have been torn down to make room for high-rise residence halls. Soon to be completed is a $50 million library in which robots will retrieve books. The campus master plan calls for more seating in the football stadium, a sign of Liberty’s aspirations to one day participate in Division 1 bowl games.
As a person who (loosely) identifies with the evangelical tradition, allow me to make a clear, unambiguous, declaration: GOD IS PRO-PEACE!
You may be thinking, “Just how exactly does a guy who claims to believe in the inspiration of Scripture arrive at the conclusion that God is pro-peace? Has this guy even read the Bible? Maybe he’s one of those amnesia-type Christians, the ones who read through the Bible every year as part of their daily devotions, and every time they get to the slavery and genocide passages, their mind goes ______________.
Maybe it wasn't those exact words, but whatever you were thinking, believe me, I get it!
When I applied for a job at CNN in the 90s, and told the interviewer that I had interned with an evangelical magazine called Christianity Today, his response was, "If it's Christian, it isn't journalism."
Over the years that expanded to, "If it's evangelical, it's Republican. Or Jerry Falwell. Pat Robertson. The Tea Party. Wrapped in a Patriotic Flag. White People. Derivative, cheesy music. Big Money. Big Hair." Fill in the rest of the blanks.
Are those labels a distortion of what it means to be an evangelical? Of course they are. Yet they are how evangelicals are perceived, rightly or wrongly (I personally think it's a mixture of both), in our society.
Most of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.
After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.
"Do you think God sent Hurricane Irene?" a young man asked me with a curious look in his eyes that was as innocent as it was pensive.
My mind flashed back to a headline I remembered reading yesterday about Glenn Beck pronouncing the hurricane as "a blessing" from God.
As I heard the kid's question, my heart sunk, as I thought of all the rhetoric that has made God out to be a monster, or at least a punitive judge on a throne ready to zap folks with lightening bolts or hurricanes