Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the late evangelical that founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, got a lot of criticism yesterday as a result of a photo he tweeted standing with Donald Trump giving a thumbs up.
— J L Falwell (@JerryJrFalwell) June 21, 2016
It’s bad enough that Mr. Falwell (not a reverend as many people believe) is endorsing, giving evangelical cover to and posing with someone who seems to worship only at a temple devoted to himself. To add insult to injury, specifically injury against Falwell’s late father, you may notice that on the shrine to Trump’s ego behind them, there is a playboy magazine on the wall with Trump on the cover.
I took him to task as much as possible on Twitter last night and some of his responses were downright Biblically illiterate, but what was most interesting was people defending the Playboy as “no big deal.”
Certainly, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that Falwell’s existence as part of team Trump is precisely to ease the concerns of evangelicals who might be concerned about The Donald’s commitment to his alleged Christianity and the ideals and priorities of the church community.
As I mentioned to him last night, though he seemed completely unaware, Falwell’s father actually led marches against the magazine being sold in 7-11s where children could reach them way back in the 80s. As a child, my parents took me to one of those protests. But even putting aside what may have been an awkward family dinner if Falwell Sr. was still alive, what was the substance of the interview?
Much of it was Trump’s normal bloviating about how he’s self-made (he’s not) and thinks every ally around the world hates us, the most interesting part was what he said about Jesus.
PB: How large a role does pure ego play in your deal making and enjoyment of publicity?
DT: Every successful person has a very large ego.
PB: Every successful person? Mother Teresa? Jesus Christ?
DT: Far greater egos than you will ever understand.
Just about everything that a Christian learns about Jesus teaches the opposite of what Mr. Trump is claiming intimate knowledge of. Jesus taught servant leadership, selflessness, loving others as you love yourself, putting the good of others ahead of your own, pretty much everything other than egotism.
If Jesus were a mere mortal who was delusional about His divinity, Mr. Trump’s comment makes more sense (while still flying in the face of His teachings about selflessness). But Trump, a guy who used his Bible as a prop at a rally and claimed he’s read it more than anyone, is using his panel of spiritual advisors to try and convince the public that he’s a devoted Christian.
Of course, the interview was all the way back in 1990, perhaps his views have matured? Probably not. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did with CNN this January where he doubled down on his belief that he doesn’t need to ask Christ’s forgiveness.
“I am not sure I have,” Trump said when asked if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness. “I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “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.”
Is a president required to be a Christian? Of course not. But Trump’s continual claims about his own Christianity, and his continual rise in popularity among evangelicals, points to the same repeating pattern he’s shown this entire election: Trump says whatever he has to say and is whoever he needs to be in order to win.
But what’s unique about Trump is that he continues to reveal his true feelings even as he gives lip service to the opposite.
In this case, while I can’t know what is in his heart, by his fruit I will know him. And the only fruit that Trump has shown me is his devotion to who Trump believes is the most important and influential person in his universe: himself.