Christian leader Jerry Falwell urges Trump support: 'He’s a moral person'

The evangelical Liberty University president, who helped give Trump the Christian vote in 2016, aims to influence voters again

Donald Trump is a “good moral person” and an example to the nation, according to one of the most prominent evangelical Christians in the US.

Jerry Falwell, who is credited along with other evangelical leaders with delivering a huge Christian vote for Trump in 2016, said he had “no doubts, no hesitations” about supporting the president. “He is like Ronald Reagan on steroids.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Falwell also described the Democrats as fascists and “Brownshirts”, and said the US would be engaged in civil war if this was the 18th century rather than the 21st century.

Falwell is the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a Christian establishment with more than 100,000 students on campus and enrolled in online courses. His close association with and vocal support for Trump has embedded Liberty’s reputation and influence as one of the most conservative educational institutions in the country. Falwell has invited Trump to speak at Liberty three times in the past six years, and was the first evangelical leader to endorse his presidential candidacy.

Last week, Falwell encouraged Liberty students to travel to Washington to support supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his appearance before the Senate judiciary committee. Some 300 students who took part were excused from attending classes for the day, normally a strict requirement at the university.

Falwell said he had known Trump personally since 2012, and talked to him “all the time”. He added: “I usually tweet something similar to what he tweets a day or two before him. We think alike.”

Asked if the president was a good moral example, Falwell said: “Absolutely. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a good, moral person, a strong leader, a tough leader – and that’s what this country needs.”

Whether Trump was a good Christian was a matter between him and God. “Evangelicals believe every human being is a sinner. We’re all imperfect, we’re all flawed, and we’re redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”

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His support for Trump stemmed from a belief that “after Ronald Reagan – and even with Reagan a little bit – the Republicans betrayed evangelicals. When they were in office, they didn’t take actions that were consistent with their campaign rhetoric.”

Falwell identified four key issues for conservative evangelical Christians: “Support for the state of Israel; strong national defense; traditional family values; and pro-life”. America’s prosperity was also essential to the Christian obligation to help the poor.

Polls show a drop in the proportion of white evangelicals from a peak in the 1990s of around 27% of the population to between 17% and 13% now.

Falwell, who is reported to earn almost $1m a year, has overseen Liberty University’s growth from “the brink of disaster” to “the most prosperous university in the US”. The institution has $1.7bn in endowments, and its gross assets topped $3bn in August.

However, there has been a small drop in enrollment according to figures released this week. Falwell declined to be drawn on whether his support for Trump had an impact.

“You don’t have to be a conservative to come here. You don’t have to be a Christian to come here. But people come here knowing what Liberty’s about, and the vast majority that do come here are conservative and are Christian.”

Nearly all universities in the US were “predominantly and vocally liberal. Liberty is no different except we’re on the other side”.

Falwell Jr said the Democratic party and its supporters were “no longer liberals – they’ve become fascists, they’re Brownshirts. You believe like them or you’re out.

“Poor Kanye West,” he said, referring to criticism of the star for wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap. “He dared to have his own opinions and look what they did to him.”

He added: “The most intolerant people in the country are those that preach tolerance.”

Politics had never been more polarised, “not since the civil war. I don’t know where that takes you. I can’t imagine a war breaking out in a civilised society in the 21st century. But if this was the 18th century, I think it would end up in a war. It’s scary.”

Falwell suggested that next month’s midterm elections could produce a surprise. “Historically, whoever’s in power does poorly in the next midterms. But we’re in times that have never been replicated. Anything could happen. We could see a break in the historical trend.”

The mood of the country was still strongly behind Trump, he said. “The sentiment is there, it’s going to come down to turnout.”

Falwell’s father, the televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr, founded the Moral Majority in 1979, which mobilised Christians as a political force. It was instrumental in turning white Christian evangelicals away from traditional Democratic support to backing Republicans.


Harriet Sherwood in Lynchburg, Virginia

The GuardianTramp

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