Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr further burnished his credentials as one of President Donald Trump’s most zealous and unquestioning supporters in an interview published on New Year’s Day in the Washington Post.
When asked by the Post’s Joe Heim whether there was anything Trump could do that would “endanger” his support from Falwell or other evangelical leaders, Falwell gave a one-word answer: “No.” He followed up by saying that he can’t imagine Trump doing anything that’s not good for the country. And he went even further, suggesting that it “may be immoral” for evangelical leaders not to support Trump. (This is not a new attitude for Falwell. During a low point in Trump’s campaign, after a recording was released of Trump bragging that his celebrity status let him get away with groping women without their consent, Falwell invited political operative Ralph Reed to Liberty University to tell students that Christians had a duty to vote for Trump.)
In spin worthy of Kellyanne Conway, Falwell said that the message sent by the 2018 midterm results, in which Democrats took the House and made significant gains around the country, was a message that “the American people are happy with the direction the country is headed in.”
Falwell responded to a question about the Religious Right’s embrace of a politician with glaring character flaws by saying you shouldn’t choose a president based on their “personal behavior” or “how good they are” but based on their policies. Religious Right leaders spent decades telling American voters that they needed to elect morally upright Christians to public office; but many evangelical leaders and voters have made a giant tire-squealing 180-degree turn in the age of Trump.
Facing charges of hypocrisy, some have tried to deny that any such shift has happened. For example, earlier this year, Reed claimed that his attacks on Bill Clinton in the 1990s were based on policy, not character. But in fact, Reed had told the New York Times in 1998, “Character matters.” Added Reed back then, “We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.”
In his Post interview, Falwell also said it was a “distortion” of Jesus’ teaching to say that helping the poor was something that nations, rather than individuals should do. In this regard, Falwell aligns with evangelical activists who draw from Christian Reconstructionist thinking the idea that God has given responsibilities like education and feeding the hungry to families and churches and not the government – a portrayal of Jesus and the Bible that many Christians do not recognize.
As part of comments rejecting the idea that “the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving, and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world,” Falwell made perhaps the most startling comment of the interview: “You almost have to believe that this is a theocracy to think that way, to think that public policy should be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.”
This is startling, of course, because the Religious Right as a political movement, founded and led for a good while by Falwell’s father, was premised entirely on bringing American law and policy into alignment with their interpretations of scripture. Long-term efforts to enshrine fundamentalist beliefs about sexuality, reproduction, gender roles, and family structures—not to mention tax policy and environmental regulation—into U.S. policy are being pursued more aggressively than ever, now that the movement is backed by the power of the White House and assisted by the right-wing judges that Trump is installing in lifetime positions at a record place.