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“Unwrapping Falwell’s Trump Endorsement”: Trump “Reminds Me So Much Of My Father”

On the surface, the political dynamic is baffling. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of a legendary right-wing TV preacher and the head of one of the nation’s largest evangelical universities, threw his official political support behind Donald Trump – a secular, thrice-married casino owner who’s never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.

And yet, here we are. Falwell has not only offered a spirited (no pun intended) endorsement to the Republican frontrunner, he’s even gone so far as to say Trump “reminds me so much of my father.”

There’s a fair amount to a story like this one, but let’s start with a blast from the recent past.

In November 2007, another thrice-married New York Republican was running for president, who also had a secular track record of supporting abortion rights and gay rights. And yet, a high-profile televangelist – Christian Coalition president and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson – nevertheless threw his support to that GOP candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

Social conservative activists and leading religious right groups howled, for reasons that are probably obvious. Giuliani was the antithesis of everything evangelicals were looking for in a Republican presidential candidate, and yet, Robertson ignored his allies and threw in his lot with the secular, Catholic adulterer.

Why? Because Robertson’s priorities weren’t (and aren’t) at all similar to those of many other evangelical leaders: the “700 Club” host saw a Republican leading in the polls; he wanted a seat at the table with a man he perceived as a future president; and so Robertson followed the prevailing political winds.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know this was a poor bet – Giuliani failed spectacularly as a candidate, earning exactly zero delegates – but it was a reminder that Robertson is a partisan first and a culture-war ideologue second, while other prominent social conservatives reverse the two.

And Robertson isn’t the only social conservative who thinks this way.

In the current GOP race, prominent political evangelical leaders effectively limited their top choices to five Republican presidential hopefuls: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson. Trump was an afterthought.

Cruz emerged as the religious right movement’s standard bearer, but like Robertson eight years ago, that didn’t stop Jerry Falwell Jr. from going his own way.

Of course, there’s also the larger question of why Falwell’s fellow evangelicals would even consider Trump in the first place. We can’t say with certainty whether the Liberty University president has partisan or electoral motivations, but that’s a separate question from what other social conservatives are thinking as they, too, rally behind Trump.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent published a good piece on this last week.

Instead, Trump’s success among evangelical voters may be rooted in the fact that, more than any other GOP candidate, Trump is able to speak to their sense of being under siege. Trump somehow conveys that he understands on a gut level that both Christianity and the country at large are under siege, and what’s more, he is not constrained by politically correct niceties from saying so and proposing drastic measures to reverse this slide into chaos and godlessness.

I recently talked to Robert Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, who has been studying evangelical opinion for many years. His research has led him to believe that Trump is very good at speaking to evangelicals’ sense of a lost, mythical golden age in America that predates the political and cultural turmoil of the 1960s.

In other words, we’re talking about a group of voters – largely white, older, social conservatives – who hear Trump vowing to “make America great again,” and believe him, without much regard for his ignorance about religion, his messy personal life, or his previous policy positions.

If a secular, thrice-married casino owner who uses phrases like “Two Corinthians” is eager to champion a vision of a bygone era, these evangelicals appear to care more about the message than the messenger.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Jerry Falwell Jr | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Trump’s Conversation With God”: I’m A Great, Great Christian. Got A Bible And Everything!

An absolutely true news item: In an interview with CNN, Donald Trump said, “I have a very great relationship with God.”

God responds: What relationship? I haven’t heard from you in, like, 40 years.

Trump: Look, I’ve been busy becoming fabulously successful. Making business deals, banking billions of dollars, hosting my top-rated reality show, buying and selling beauty pageants, marrying and divorcing amazingly gorgeous women.

My life’s fantastic, almost as good as Yours!

God: And now you’re running for president of the United States.

Trump: That’s right, and I’m totally killing it in the polls! Everybody loves me, especially the evangelicals.

God: You have got to be kidding.

Trump: Don’t act so shocked. Who else could these people vote for? Huckabee’s a total zero, Cruz is a nasty Canadian, Jeb is a low-energy loser, and Rubio’s a punk.

They’re pathetic, and I say that with all due respect.

God: And this is how you think a devout Christian talks?

Trump: Hey, I’m a great, great Christian. Got a Bible and everything!

God: Yeah, I heard. The one your mother supposedly gave you.

Trump: I carry it everywhere. Actually, somebody on my staff carries it for me. But it’s an unbelievably great, great Bible. I spend all my spare time on the jet reading it.

God: I saw the YouTube clip from Liberty University. ‘Two Corinthians’? Really?

Trump: Two Corinthians, Second Corinthians, what’s the big deal? Those kids knew what I meant.

God: They were laughing, Donald.

Trump: Sure, because they love me. Everybody loves me. Have you seen the crowds at my rallies? Unbelievable! Ten thousand people showed up in Pensacola!

God: Ten thousand white people. I was there.

Trump: Look, we ran out of tickets for the others. It happens.

That doesn’t mean African-Americans don’t love me. Hispanics love me, too. Even Muslims love me, and by that I mean the good Muslims, which I assume some of them are.

God: I’m just curious. Are you remotely familiar with the concept of tolerance? Compassion? Humility?

Trump: That’s the problem.

We’re too nice. Why do you think America is such a disaster? We’ve gotta stop being so nice. The rest of the world thinks we’re weak.

Your son Jesus, with all due respect — he was way too nice.

God: Excuse me?

Trump: In one of those gospel blogs, I forget which, they quote Jesus saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Seriously? Because, frankly, my neighbors in Palm Beach are a pain in the a–. And, even if they weren’t, I couldn’t love anybody as much as I love myself.

God: That was Matthew, FYI.

Trump: McConaughey? Where? He’s amazing. Did you see “The Dallas Buyer’s Club?”

God: No, I’m talking about the disciple Matthew. That’s the gospel you were citing. He was one of the original evangelicals.

Trump: I knew that. Everybody knows that. Matthew was a great, great disciple. He would have been absolutely fantastic on The Apprentice.

God: Know what? We’re done here.

Trump: What I was saying before? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge, huge fan of Jesus. An incredible guy, and a helluva carpenter.

If he ever comes back, I’d hire him in a heartbeat. Tell him I said so.

God: I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.

Trump: But, frankly, all that stuff he preached about turning the other cheek, not hating your enemies — it didn’t work out so great for him, did it?

That’s my point. Being nice doesn’t cut it. Being nice gets you crucified.

God: Do me a favor, Donald — quit dropping my name in your speeches and interviews. Just knock it off.

Trump: I will, I will. Right after the South Carolina primary.

God: No, stop it right now.

Trump: But what about Iowa? And New Hampshire? Please, Lord — can I call you Lord? — I really need that Christian vote.

God: I still can’t believe they’re buying this lame act.

Trump: Oh, they’re totally eating it up. Amazing, right?

God: The Bible’s not supposed to be a political prop. Put it away.

Trump: Oh, come on. You know how long it took my staff to even find that thing? How many of my warehouses they had to search?

I’ll make you a deal. If You let me keep using the Bible in my campaign appearances, just for a few more weeks, I promise not to quote from it.

No more Corinthians. No more McConaugheys.

God (sighing): See you in church, Donald. You can Google the directions.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 25, 2016

January 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, God, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ethical Philistine”: Why Trump Leads Among Evangelical Voters — Even Though He’s A Religious Illiterate

In the fun-house-mirror dynamics of the 2016 presidential contest, one of the more regularly hilarious images is of Donald J. Trump trying to pander to conservative Evangelical Christians.

Back in July at the summer’s preeminent Christian-right event in Iowa, under questioning from Frank Luntz, Trump famously seemed puzzled that anyone would think he needed to ask God’s forgiveness, and deferred instead to the cleansing power of “my little cracker” and “my little wine,” a.k.a., Communion or, as Catholics and some mainline Protestants would call it, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He rambled through other arguably offensive religious observations (his theological beau ideal, Norman Vincent Peale, is most decidedly not in fashion with any variety of American Christian at present), most of which were submerged in the furor over his disrespecting of John McCain’s war service.

As part of the mainstream media’s confusion over the characteristics of the Trump electorate, there were a few alarms sent up about the Donald’s “base” being Evangelicals, until first Ben Carson and then Ted Cruz came along to challenge his support levels in this demographic. But according to a New York Times/CBS national survey released early last week, Trump remains the leader among Evangelicals, with 42 percent as compared to Ted Cruz’s 25 percent.

Yet he continues to make buffoonish mistakes. Making the obligatory rounds at a Liberty University convocation over the weekend, Trump tried to quote Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, more colloquially referred to as “Second Corinthians.” He called it “Two Corinthians,” showing how little time he’s sat in a pew listening to a Scripture reading. And instead of going to the trouble of negotiating the complicated logic of the Christian right’s position on “religious liberty,” which often seems like compulsory religion to many secular and religious folk alike, Trump cut right to the crudest possible “War on Christmas” chase:

“If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.”

I’m sure the company of saints will cheer.

Still, Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. gave Trump a fulsome introduction. And when word leaked out that the tycoon is unveiling an important endorsement in Iowa today, Falwell’s name was the first to surface in speculation before it was displaced by another Christian-right favorite, Sarah Palin.

So how can conservative Evangelicals rationalize their fondness for a man who isn’t even up to the task of pandering to them?

The key to this phenomenon is to understand that the touchstone of the Christian right has always been the semi-divinization of cultural conservatism, and the identification of the Kingdom of God with the patriarchal and puritanical (and sometimes racist) America of the 19th century. So any politician vocally fighting against cultural change, like Donald J. Trump, is objectively a Christian soldier even if he is a religious illiterate and an ethical philistine. This is precisely how conservative Christians have in the past let themselves be recruited into the camps of other highly secular demagogues, from the proto-fascists of the 1930s to the church-y and Bible-quoting segregationists of the civil-rights era.

To their credit, most conservative Evangelical leaders seem to dislike Trump for reasons ranging from his personal ethics to his hateful attitudes toward immigrants; Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore has issued repeated jeremiads warning the faithful against this false prophet. It may well be that Trump’s Evangelical following is mostly not that observant. But so long as religious leaders and their political allies treat cultural change as demonic, and people different from them as Satan’s spawn, then they cannot plead complete innocence when their flocks follow the loudest voice of protest and ask for little other than lip service to faith itself.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 19, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Evangelicals | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Devil’s Bargain”: Jeb Bush Embraces The Narrative Of Christian Victimhood

While the rest of the Republican presidential candidates were at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this weekend, Jeb Bush traveled to Virginia to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. While a speech like that will of course be full of praise for God, Bush’s speech went farther than one might have expected, both in its blunt sectarianism and its embrace of a narrative of victimhood that has grown increasingly popular on the religious right.

This may be what the base of the Republican Party wants to hear. But it also shows how appealing to that base could create problems for whichever Republican becomes the presidential nominee next year.

While lots of people remember Jeb Bush’s brother as an evangelical Christian, he actually isn’t — George W. Bush is a Methodist, a non-evangelical denomination (Jeb himself is a convert to Catholicism). And throughout his presidency, despite some occasional (and probably unintentional) slips like referring to the war on terror as a “crusade,” Bush was carefully inclusive when he talked about religion. It would have been surprising to hear him extol the superiority of Christianity as his brother Jeb did on Saturday. “Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” Bush said. And then there was this:

“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

That’s a far cry from what Mitt Romney said eight years ago when he gave his big speech on religion — at least in that case, Romney argued for the essential place of religion broadly, and not just his own. I should note that near the end of the speech, Bush did acknowledge that non-Christians can be good people, too. But if you aren’t a Christian, the idea that without Christianity life on earth would inevitably be a nightmare of oppression and meaninglessness is something you might find absurd, or even offensive.

And you might think Bush would step a little more carefully given the trends in religious affiliation in America. While Christians are of course the majority, that majority that is declining steadily. The groups that are increasing their proportion of the U.S. population include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and most importantly, the “unaffiliated,” people who don’t consider themselves part of any organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the unaffiliated were 16 percent of the population in 2010 and will be 26 percent by 2050; over the same period Christians will decline from 78 percent to 66 percent.

That’s a long-term trend; for the moment, Bush seems to think that the way to the hearts of the conservative Christians who make up such a large part of the Republican primary electorate (particularly in Iowa, where over half of GOP caucus-goers are evangelicals) is to embrace a narrative of victimhood that has become so prevalent on the right:

“Fashionable opinion – which these days can be a religion all by itself – has got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience. That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution.

“It can be a touchy subject, and I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith. Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, ‘No. Never. Of course not.’ If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he refuses even to impose them on himself.

“The mistake is to confuse points of theology with moral principles that are knowable to reason as well as by faith. And this confusion is all part of a false narrative that casts religious Americans as intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone. The stories vary, year after year, but the storyline is getting familiar: The progressive political agenda is ready for its next great leap forward, and religious people or churches are getting in the way. Our friends on the Left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas. And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with. So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons. Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution. Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.”

Extra points to Bush for referring to progressives planning a “great leap forward” — so subtle. But this idea of Christianity as an embattled and encircled faith within the United States when it’s still held by three-quarters of the population has become essential to the right’s current identity politics. As Bill O’Reilly says: “If you’re a Christian or a white man in the U.S.A., it’s open season on you.” Indeed, when will white men finally get a fair shake?

The victimhood narrative has found its most recent expression in the plight of the nation’s legions of fundamentalist bakers who don’t want to sell cakes to gay weddings, and through the Hobby Lobby case, where a poor innocent corporation was supposedly forced by the heavy hand of government to defile its health insurance plan with contraception coverage.

But it’s been building for years, not only as gay rights have advanced but also as a result of the steady diversification of American society. If you grew up with your religious beliefs being the default setting for society at large — when it’s your prayers being said in public schools, when only people who share your religion are elected president, when your holidays are everyone’s holidays — then a growing inclusiveness can feel like an attack on you. It seems like you’ve lost something, even if you can’t admit that it was something only you and people like you were privileged to possess.

I don’t doubt that there are Christians who are sincerely affronted when they walk into a department store in December and see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” even if I might find their taking offense unjustified. It’s the people who find in “Happy Holidays” the evidence of their oppression that Bush is reaching out to, saying that he’s every bit with them as are the likes of Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum.

And just as on immigration and many other issues, saying to the Republican primary electorate that the candidate is one of you and thinks like you do sends precisely the opposite message to lots of the voters whom he’ll need when the general election comes. It’s a devil’s bargain, but one that Jeb Bush and many of his competitors, with their eyes on the nomination, seem only too eager to make.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 11, 2015

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Jeb Bush, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb And The Falwells: A Match Made In Heaven”: The Histories Of Liberty University And The Bush Dynasty Are Closely Intertwined

Jeb Bush left Protestantism in his 40’s to convert to Roman Catholicism, and he’s widely perceived as the most moderate potential 2016 presidential contender.

So, at first blush, it may seem a little odd that Liberty University—the largest Christian (mostly evangelical) university in the country—gave him the honor of delivering its commencement address.

Liberty is nothing if not conservative. And conservatives hate the establishment. Right?

Wrong.

In fact, the Bush family and the Falwell family are a match made in heaven. And their bond is likely to be a boon to Jeb’s White House dreams.

Jerry Falwell, the single most influential conservative Christian power broker of the 20th century, founded Liberty in 1971 to foster evangelicals’ political and cultural clout.

Since then, the school has had some dramatic ups and downs, with the downs reaching their lowest in 1990 when the school faced $110 million in debt.

But Falwell died and God provided: Thanks in part to the pastor’s hefty life insurance policy, the school paid its dues, got in the black, and catapulted to a higher place than ever in the conservative firmament.

And even when it was short on money, it never lost its political cachet.

The histories of the university and the Bush dynasty are closely intertwined.

In 1980, former congressman and U.N. ambassador George H. W. Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination with a less-than-red-meat record, and he was pro-choice as Reagan’s vice president. His beliefs could have permanently soured his reputation with evangelicals.

That’s where Falwell comes in: The reverend endorsed Bush in the 1988 Republican presidential primary, even though Pat Robertson—an evangelical televangelist whose ideological resume had much more overlap with Falwell’s—was also a contender.

This has often been chalked up to rivalry between the two preachers. But it was more than that.

“Establishment recognizes establishment,” said one prominent evangelical leader who was close with the late Falwell.

As he explained, Southern evangelicals have been part of their region’s cultural establishment for decades, and in a way that their Northern counterparts couldn’t have dreamed.

When it comes to said cultural establishments, Northern evangelicals have been on the outside looking in, while those from the South have been on the inside looking out. So Southern evangelicals are much more comfortable with the possession and the exercise of cultural and political power than Northern evangelicals are. And nobody possessed and exercised political power quite like the Bushes, including Bush 41, a literal senator’s son.

So Falwell had an immediate commonality with the Bushes that helped solidify their relationship. They may have differed in policy, theology, rhetoric and a host of other details. But in one key area, they had everything in common: In their respective spheres, they were boss.

“These two families have each played an iconic role in modern, American politics, and their influence has intersected on not a few occasions,” said Johnnie Moore, a former senior vice president of Liberty University.

“When it did intersect, it was a force to be reckoned with. There will be two political dynasties represented on that stage at Liberty University this weekend whose influence is not only undeniable, it’s incalculable.”

In 1990, Bush found himself at Liberty, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the reverend and delivering the commencement address to a crowd of evangelical voters who had helped secure his predecessor’s legacy.

And Bush 43 wasn’t the only so-called establishment-type to win Falwell’s imprimatur.

A few years after Sen. John McCain put him on his list of “agents of intolerance,” the pastor invited him to deliver the university’s 2006 commencement address.

The two broke bread, a reconciliation that boosted McCain’s 2008 presidential efforts.

And Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., invited Mitt Romney to give the school’s 2012 commencement address. His decision to give that platform to a Mormon enraged many conservative Christians. But Jerry Jr. and Mitt Romney had commonality where it counted: They were both the heirs of dynasts.

If George H. W. Bush had a good relationship with the evangelicals in Falwell’s orbit, George W. Bush had a magnificent one.

“In 41, they’d take our calls,” said the aforementioned evangelical leader. “In 43, they’d call us.”

And now it’s Jeb’s turn.

And Liberty’s protestants will likely make him feel right at home.

And even though he’s pledged allegiance to Rome, they still see him as one of their own: the kid brother of their favorite president ever and the unabashed social conservative icon who tried to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

And, per excerpts of his speech provided to reporters in advance, Jeb will speak their language.

“Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice,” he plans to say, “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

“Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace,” he’ll add, “and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

Consider a country without Falwell’s influence, and you might be considering a country without the Bushes.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 8, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Jerry Falwell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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