Jerry Falwell, Jr. (Getty/John Moore)

Jerry Falwell Jr. wraps up a bad week for evangelicals

Botching religious history, Jerry Falwell Jr. forgets his own family's political and historical history


Matthew Sheffield
January 26, 2018 5:12PM (UTC)

It hasn't been a good week for evangelical leaders in getting their message out.

Days after one religious leader was willing to look past President Donald Trump's alleged sin of adultery, another did his religion a massive disservice.

In a Thursday tweet, the Liberty University president told followers that Jesus "never told Caesar how to run Rome."

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"He never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor," he continued. "That’s our job."

Falwell's tweet — sent from the leader of evangelical school Liberty University — was met with replies pointing out that his message didn't exactly follow theological logic.

Falwell does have a point. Throughout the Bible, Jesus, Paul, and other early Christians repeatedly emphasized that their efforts were about saving souls rather than obtaining political power. Jesus' proclamation that "my kingdom is not of this world" is perhaps the best-known elucidation of this perspective.

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Though he did not explicitly reference it, almost certainly the catalyst for Falwell's tweet was a comment by Tony Perkins, a fellow Christian fundamentalist who heads up the virulently anti-LGBT Family Research Council. In an interview with Politico, Perkins argued that he and his colleagues have given Trump "a mulligan" on his past moral indiscretions.

While both Perkins and Falwell are being justifiably mocked for their sudden lack of concern about politicians and "family values," in a way, what they're doing is actually a good thing: they're admitting that the Religious Right was really about politics all along. Everyone else knew that. Let's not pretend that either man is making these new pronouncements in good faith but we should at least be glad they're exerting at least a tiny amount of honesty. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte wrote:

[Perkins'] comments went viral, of course, because the word "mulligan" is so evocative and because it seemed that Perkins was admitting what those on the religious right have long denied: They don't care about sexual morality, per se. That was just the cover story for the real concern of Christian conservatives, which was always to assert the dominance of straight white men over everyone else, to push LGBT people back into the closet and, perhaps most of all, to force women into subservient roles. As long as Trump's adultery and even his assaults adhered to an ideology where men were in charge and women were submissive, he would be loved by the Christian right. . .

It's hard to imagine that anyone is stupid enough to believe religious conservatives who claim to see a repentant and chaste Donald Trump. My guess is they're just hoping that layers of Secret Service protection and his White House schedule will prevent Trump from slipping away to bang more porn stars. That seems like an ill-advised bet, however, considering the amount of leisure Trump has created for himself with his "executive time," his golf outings, and his regular sojourns to Mar-a-Lago.

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Falwell's father rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s, preaching an anti-civil rights gospel. He and many others set up private "Christian academies" as a means of avoiding racial integration. But once his battle to keep blacks segregated was lost, he reversed course in the 1970s, changed political parties and started telling fellow fundamentalists that they had a duty to control the government.

 

It's only fitting that in Trump, one of the least religious people in the country, would be the paragon of virtue for some religious leaders.

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Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Jerry Falwell Jr. Jerry Fallwell Jr Religious Right Tony Perkins

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