CLEVELAND (Christian Examiner) – Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and a campaign surrogate for Republican nominee Donald Trump, said during an interview at the Republican National Convention that he is unsure as to whether Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is "a closet liberal or a conservative."
In the interview with National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep, Falwell said Moore was representative of the divide between "rank and file" evangelicals and their denominational leaders.
"There's always been a divide going back 30-40 years. There's always been that divide. Always will be," he said.
"I don't know what Russell Moore's politics really are, if he's a closet liberal or a conservative. I don't think it really matters what I say, what evangelical leaders on the Left say, evangelicals and conservatives are voting as Americans. They're voting to save our nation, to control immigration, to stop terrorism and bring jobs back to the country."
Falwell said he believes none of that can be accomplished by continuing to elect people who make promises on issues important to Christians (and conservatives) and then do not keep them once elected.
"They said, 'No more,'" Falwell said. "We want somebody who maybe makes mistakes and talks off the cuff and may not get it right all the time, but at least he's not bamboozling us."
Moore and Trump were engaged in a war of words earlier this year. In May, Moore referred to Trump's campaign on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday as "reality television moral sewage."
"One of the key aspects of conservatism is to say 'character matters' in public office and in the citizenry, and that virtue has role to play in our culture and in our politics. And now we have a Republican Party that seems not only to surrender in the culture wars but to join the other side," Moore said on the news program.
In a tweet from the New York billionaire's Twitter account at 3:05 a.m. May 9, Trump fired back at the denominational leader for his insistence that evangelicals pull back from supporting the Donald's campaign. The tweet was fired broadside "@drmoore."
"Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!" Trump said. The comment was retweeted thousands of times.
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The SBC leader, who openly criticized Trump's speech at Falwell's Liberty University, calling him a "golden calf" – a reference to Old Testament idolatry – said conservative support of Trump is a betrayal of decades of conservative, principled opposition to social changes pushed by liberals.
Asked by NPR's Inskeep if social issues were still a concern, Falwell said he believed they had fallen to the bottom of the priority list because the country is in such turmoil – in "dire straits," as he put it.
"Many pastors tell me, 'What difference does it make on social issues if we lose our country? We have to save our country first," Falwell said.
Inskeep then asked Falwell if believed being so closely aligned with Trump would damage the standing of his university. Falwell said he had always been clear that the endorsement of Trump was his endorsement, and not that of the school. He also said it was a "rare thing" for him to become active, but he had done so because he believes the election to be so critical.
"A lot of Ivy League schools have presidents who are very politically active. I don't think it has an impact on whether a student chooses a school or a donor gives to a school," Falwell said.
"I believe we have a responsibility even if we lead a non-profit organization as private citizens to be good citizens. The university is doing well, but I don't think it is because of anything I've said or done."
Inskeep then asked Falwell a series of questions about Trump's character, such as whether or not the candidate's personal life was relevant to conservative Christian voters. Falwell responded by invoking Jesus who said, "We're all sinners."
"When they ask that question I always talk about the story of the woman at the well. She'd had five husbands and the one she was living with was not her husband. And they wanted to stone her but Jesus said he among you who is without sin cast the first stone. I just see how Donald Trump treats other people and I'm impressed by that," Falwell said.
NOTE: Falwell's response was a conflation of two different biblical accounts. One, the woman at the well, is found in John 4:4-26. The other, where a woman is brought to Jesus having been caught in adultery, is in in John 8:1-11.
Falwell defended Trump's claims that he is a Christian and said Trump doesn't, because of his background as a New York businessman, talk live evangelical Christians do.
"His way of describing his faith may not line up with others. He expresses his faith in a way different than many evangelical Christians do," Falwell said.
He added that he believed Trump was a truthful, honest businessman who had treated his employees very well. He also said he had never seen any arrogance in Trump, though he acknowledged he is very outspoken.
"What's the old saying? 'If it's true, it ain't bragging.'"