LYNCHBURG, Va. (Christian Examiner) – Some of the media's biggest guns have fired a barrage of editorials at Jerry Falwell Jr.'s latest endorsement of New York billionaire Donald Trump.
Writers at National Review, Time and The Federalist each were responding to Falwell's comments in the March 8 issue of The Champion, the online student newspaper for Liberty University, where the university president made the surprising comparison between Trump and a biblical king – David.
In the article, Falwell said he has been friends with the New York billionaire since he first spoke at Liberty University in 2012, and although the university itself doesn't endorse candidates (it issued a statement saying as much January 26), Falwell has. He has taken heat for the endorsement from other Christians and even a university board member.
Falwell has previously claimed Trump reminds him of his father – the founder of the university and the one-time leader of the Moral Majority voting bloc. Now, the comparisons have reached a new, higher level.
To mention King David in the same breath as Donald Trump is to insult our theological intelligence. Yes, David did terrible things — among them, committing adultery and sending his mistress's husband to die in war — but God imposed terrible punishment — a punishment that cost David his son and ultimately plunged his nation into civil war.
Falwell claimed in the article that criticism of his endorsement is unwarranted, primarily because he is not basing his endorsement on religious character, but on what he believes are the qualities needed for the nation's highest office. He believes Trump has those, in spite of his moral failings, coarse language, belittling of women and Muslims, and his violence-prone political rallies.
"God called King David a man after God's own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer," Falwell said.
"You have to choose the leader that would make the best king or president and not necessarily someone who would be a good pastor. We're not voting for pastor-in-chief. It means sometimes we have to choose a person who has the qualities to lead and who can protect our country and bring us back to economic vitality, and it might not be the person we call when we need somebody to give us spiritual counsel."
Falwell also said the Washington establishment fears Trump because he represents the move to take away their power.
"The establishment is having a seizure," Falwell said. "They're going ballistic because they are scared to death that they're going to lose power. ... They're scared to death of Trump because he's the kind of guy that will walk into Washington, kick over the tables, kick over the chairs, throw the bums out, start over, and do things that a career politician would never do."
Falwell also said he likes the fact that Trump has never held office before. He claimed the founders of the nation envisioned that kind of leadership – the kind that made laws and then went home to their own businesses and lived under the laws they created. Trump, he said, would not be beholden to special interests and is a true outsider.
That claim, however, is disputable. Trump has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates of both stripes in Washington. Censured New York Congressman Charlie Rangel received the most, but Trump also contributed to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee for president, while she was still a senator from New York. The candidate has faced withering criticism from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for giving money to Democrats – many of whom supported same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Still, Trump has "prominent Christian defenders, men and women who twist reason and logic to the breaking point in the quest to defend the indefensible," David French wrote at National Review. He chided Falwell for his comparison of Trump to King David:
"To mention King David in the same breath as Donald Trump is to insult our theological intelligence. Yes, David did terrible things — among them, committing adultery and sending his mistress's husband to die in war — but God imposed terrible punishment — a punishment that cost David his son and ultimately plunged his nation into civil war."
David, he said, sinned awfully and was forgiven for it, but only after he repented. Trump, French wrote, has not indicated he feels a need to repent.
"Trump will bring us sin without repentance and consequence without the mercy. Trump isn't remorseful about his affairs (among his many other sins), he brags about them. In his book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump said, 'If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.' In Think Big and Kick A** (It's not exactly the Psalms, but let's not split hairs), he said "Beautiful, famous, successful, married — I've had them all, secretly, the world's biggest names."
Mollie Hemingway, writing at The Federalist, claims Falwell's comments about Trump has both "good and bad" in it. It is "good," she wrote, that Falwell makes a distinction between pastor and president, which she claims may not have been the legacy of Falwell Sr. (without naming him). She wrote, however, that David was a miserable failure morally when he seduced Bathsheba and ultimately had her husband killed.
Hemingway also delves into Trump's boasting about his adulterous relationships, but spends the most time on his refusal to acknowledge a need for repentance. That is most troubling to her and should be to every Christian who believes repentance is a key step in receiving grace from God, she wrote.
"Now, if things continue as they're going, the next president will not be morally virtuous. And if he were elected president, Trump would not be the first unrepentant adulterer to hold that office.
But far worse than bad presidents is bad theology that ignores the importance of repentance for the Christian, and that means both sorrow over our sin and faith in the promise of forgiveness. Repentance simply means to turn away from sin," Hemingway continued. "For the Christian, it means to turn away from sin to see Jesus crucified for us."
The comparison between King David and Trump also drew the attention of David Wolpe, the senior rabbi of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Wolpe wrote at Time that the comparison is "utterly ridiculous."
"This is an almost perfect example of using scripture to endorse the precise opposite of what the scripture teaches," Wolpe wrote, as he claims the story of David's leadership qualities were not what made him a "man after God's own heart."
It was his godly sorrow that made him so, Wolpe wrote.
"In other words, if you want to make a case for a man being after God's own heart, find a man who admit his misdeeds, can cry at his sins, and strive to be better with people and with God," Wolpe wrote.
"Falwell had other choices from the Bible. He might have cited King Rehoboam (I Kings, ch. 12), who when faced with people feeling disenfranchised, took counsel with the elders who had served his father Solomon. They suggested he speak softly and kindly, but he chose a harsh rhetoric, promising a policy of retribution. He too was a king of Israel. King Rehoboam incited a division in the nation that was never healed," Wolpe wrote.
Like Wolpe, French claims evangelical Christians are making a mistake and it is time they correct it. It is time, he wrote, for Christians to realize that "Trump's Evangelical cheerleaders aren't leading the flock – they're following the mob."
"And as they follow the mob, they engage in ever-more bizarre theological and intellectual gymnastics to justify the unjustifiable. They're sacrificing their integrity – and harming their reputations – for the sake of a dime-store demagogue's vile, doomed cause," French wrote.