Perhaps the best way to explain what went wrong with Donald Trump’s appearance at Liberty University earlier today is to clarify what wasn’t wrong with it (watch above).
There’s nothing wrong per se with a Christian university hosting a presidential candidate for a speech on their campus. In a university setting—even in a Christian one—a speech need not equal an endorsement. If other candidates are given equal access and if it is clear how such a visit might contribute to robust Christian thinking and conviction, there is no necessary offense in this. In fact, it could be a win.
There’s nothing wrong per se with a Christian university hosting a non-Christian for a speech or a lecture on campus. We should encourage a robust exchange of ideas—even with voices we might otherwise disagree with. And there is no necessary violation of principle to have, for example, an atheist participate in a symposium on the plausibility of belief. In fact, in that setting it would be profoundly beneficial to have an actual atheist come and make his case alongside that of Christians and to hear each side hash the issues out in reasoned debate. We can imagine any number of scenarios in which it might be helpful to hear from a non-Christian on a Christian campus. And I can even imagine a setting in which hearing from a non-Christian politician might actually be helpful and in keeping with a school’s mission.
There is, however, something deeply wrong about a Christian university hosting a person who shows little evidence of being a Christian and then treating him as if he were a Christian. That is what happened at Liberty University today, and that is the main thing that was wrong. Trump spoke at Liberty University’s convocation—a meeting that resembles a Christian chapel service. It began with the students singing together songs of praise—the kind that you might sing at your average evangelical church. The pastor leading the service then led the congregation in prayer and reported on local mission activities of Liberty students.
Then the President of the University—Jerry Falwell, Jr.—took the stage to introduce Trump. Even though Falwell clarified that the University wasn’t endorsing Trump for President and that other candidates had also been invited, Falwell went on to give what could only be construed as a personal endorsement of Trump [UPDATE: Falwell has since added his personal endorsement.]. He said that he admired Trump’s candor and willingness to be politically incorrect, even comparing Trump to his own late father Jerry Falwell, Sr. Falwell even said that Trump had born “fruit” through a life of love and charity to others. In every way, Liberty framed Trump’s appearance as if it were a Christian message from a Christian person. The only problem with this is that it was not clearly either one of those things. Here’s why.
Trump has given little to no evidence of actually being a Christian–at least in the way that Liberty has heretofore defined it. That is not to say that Trump doesn’t claim to be a Christian. Indeed, in his speech he claimed to be a protestant and a Presbyterian. Shouldn’t we just take him at his word? For the moment, let us set aside whether we think his policy proposals are consistently Christian. Just consider how Trump has described in his own words his Christian commitment. Trump has said that he has never asked God for forgiveness. Why? Because he says he doesn’t need it. Trump has said that he only goes to church at Christmas and Easter. His many divorces are also well-known. What kind of Christian is it that feels no need for forgiveness from his sins? That only gathers with God’s people twice a year for worship? That is involved in what is at best serial monogamy? It may be a “Christian” that is Christian in name only, not in reality.
None of these items is an unforgivable error, but they do appear to be un-repented of error. If he were applying for membership in the church where I pastor, he would not be allowed to join while having these errors in tow. If he were already a member and persisted in these errors, we would excommunicate him. In short, we would treat him as if he were not a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus. What we would not do is put him on a platform and tell everyone that he has born the “fruit” of authentic Christianity—much less invite him to give a speech in a slot that is typically reserved for Christian preaching. To do such a thing would be to call light darkness and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20). To put him before the people, to endorse his message, and to treat him as a fruit-bearing Christian is to “participate in his evil deeds” (2 John 11).
Also, it doesn’t serve Trump to leave the truth of the gospel in obscurity. What Trump needs is what all of us have needed. We need to know that we are sinners and are in desperate need of reconciliation with a holy God. If there is one thing we need in this life, it’s forgiveness from our offended Maker. The good news is that our Maker loves us and his sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. He has resurrected Jesus from the dead to give us eternal life. Anyone who repents of their sin and believes in this Savior will taste real forgiveness and the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. That message is for any and everyone who will have it, and it is totally free. It may advance a political agenda to leave these things in obscurity, but it doesn’t advance the kingdom of God.
Donald Trump doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to run for president or to speak at Liberty University. But Liberty University—as a Christian institution of higher learning—has a responsibility not to confuse people about what Christianity is. And today they fell short of that in a big way.
“Trump tells voters he’s a ‘great Christian'” (October 28, 2016)
Apparently Liberty University is trying to be “politically correct” in their way of hosting an advocate of “political incorrectness.” How ironic!
This reminds me of Rick Warren inviting Obama to stand in the pulpit at Saddleback during the first election or his efforts to find common ground with Muslims, Catholics, Robert Schuller, atheists, etal. It is sad to see the lack of wisdom in our culture but even more so in the pulpits and institutions.
I remember so well the courageous and difficult fight for The Faith your dad lead. We are in need of a bold leader to again contend for the faith. David,
I appreciate your insightful comments and willingness to shine the light of sound biblical truth into the manifold darkness that is so prevalent today.
Jan. 18, 2016 – 6:03 – Jerry Falwell, Jr. reacts to the candidate’s speech about Christianity on ‘Hannity’
This is an endorsement if ever there was an endorsement and a sad day for Evangelicals in America.
Seeing this, it makes me think that John Piper had more of a point in his criticism of Jerry Falwell, Jr. than a lot of pro-Second Amendment folk let on.
Wow, what a clear, loving explanation of what is at stake in accepting at face value Donald Trump’s profession as a Christian. Yes, yes, yes! Thanks so much. I hope this is read far and wide!
I agree…however if Trump gets the nomination …we must vote for him. In 2012 Christians wouldn’t vote for Romney because he was a Mormon, but look what we got. Trump isn’t great, but he is a LOT better than socialist Bernie and Hillary! Vote people. At least he is good on immigration, the second amendment, abortion, etc. We can’t afford to lose this election to the Dems again!
You’re scorched-earth approach is what millenials can’t stand. Using the lesser of two evils approach. That’s the same thing they told us about Romney in 2012. “He’s not a Christian, but at least he holds our social ideals/policies”.
That’s a garbage scenario to promote and truly means that the republican establishment has failed to offer anything of substance to run on, other than “anyone but Hillary”.
Ian: I agree evangelical support for Trump is odd. If he becomes the candidate, however, isn’t there a sense that the choice is always “between two evils” since every one of us is a sinnner? Some are saved, yes, some are not. Nothing in Scripture, however, compels our rulers to be Christians, so we must make some choice. If you don’t vote out of conscience, fine. But then understand you really have little to complain about when Hillary takes office in 2017.
That’s the problem Gus. American needs better than Trump or Hillary and conservatives deserve a candidate and a nominee much better than Trump. However, I fear that there are far too many evangelicals that will vote for Trump in the primary.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t/won’t vote out of conscience, but what is being offered up to conservatives as “standard” isn’t ok with me.
If Trump and Hillary get the nomination, I’ll have to vote for Trump as I do not want her in office. I would likely vote for a third party, but I do not want that woman in the White House at an all-cost nearly level. And that’s too bad.
But God knows what we need and He will provide.
I think when we speak of voting for the lesser of evils we are saying nobody on the ballot would be our preference or really meets the criterion we have for office holders, but one is less evil than the other. Of course nobody is the perfect man or the perfect candidate.
Didn’t think there was anything too offensive in my first comment to be removed….
Barbara: I generally support voting for the lesser of the evils if I do not really support a candidate in the general… but in this case, I am not certain that Trump is a lesser evil. Donald Trump is by no means pro-life; in fact, he has a considerable record of being very pro-abortion and supporting partial birth abortion. He has said he would like to appoint his sister to the Supreme Court and she has supported partial-birth abortion from the bench. The sister is now retired and it is anybody’s guess if she would actually accept such an appointment but that is really beside the point. Trump is not a conservative in any sense of the word. Having read up on his past and watched a lengthy documentary made several years ago that he blocked from TV I honestly wonder if he plans to default on U.S. debt as a means of getting our fiscal house in order as he defaulted on his business debt four different times. We surely need to fear his going to war over petty personal offenses. What was most amazing in the documentary is how Trump has used the media for decades to build an image that was not at all real. He is a master in that to be sure… but it is mind boggling to me that it can happen.
This seems to be an election cycle like no other and it is too early to tell what may happen. Will Hillary be indicted? Will Trump win the GOP nomination and will one of the other candidates run third party? Would that be a good thing? Do we need a viable third party? It would be an opportune time for Rand Paul to run third party and although he is low on my list of desirables, I would vote for him before Trump.
I am beginning to believe that we have many people in the GOP simply because of their position on abortion and they do not really understand the other issues beyond what impacts their own personal pocketbook and life. We have so many good GOP candidates, several who are clearly believers even, why would evangelicals support Donald Trump is beyond my comprehension. I waver between thinking that surely God has completely abandoned us as a nation and thinking He is giving us one more chance and we are squandering that chance.
Thanks so much for this writing. I can’t see how any God-fearing, Bible-believing woman could not see his false profession. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. This man has treated women abysmally as some possession on his arm and has been verbally abusive to Megyn Kelly over perfectly valid questions. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 is what is going on here. We can’t turn a blind eye to his treatment of those who are women and his record of flagrant sexual immorality.
Was this an appropiate speech for a convocation? Perhaps, but the 14+minute endorsement of Donald Trump is not at this time & place.
I agree! Liberty has had several of the GOP candidates speak and in that light hosting Trump is not necessarily a problem… but the endorsement is all together another thing and it was an endorsement even though Falwell prefaced his remarks by saying it was not.
I believe it was Russell Moore who advised evangelical Christians to ‘count the cost’ of following Donald Trump.
Denny, what will you do if Trump becomes the republican candidate? Will you abstain from voting?