More than 10,000 Liberty students packed into the university’s Vines Center on Jan. 18 to hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Trump at a convocation on the first day of the spring semester. Trump also addressed a convocation in 2012.
Photo by Brandon Pickett
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, addressing a Jan. 18 convocation at Liberty University, tells capacity crowd, “Christianity is under attack. But we are going to protect Christianity.”
Falwell told the students that while the university wasn’t officially endorsing the New York businessman, Trump is a caring man who is politically incorrect and reminded him of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr. – which Trump said was the best compliment of all.
Falwell quoted Matthew 7:16 (“You will know them by their fruits….”) and said people can know who someone really is because of what he has done in the past.
Meanwhile, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, used Trump’s address at Liberty to reiterate and amplify his concerns about Trump’s candidacy, both on Twitter and in two subsequent CNN interviews.
Trump began his speech at Liberty by saying he is proud of being a Protestant, “a Presbyterian to be exact.”
“Evangelicals love me – I’m big with evangelicals,” Trump said.
“There’s nothing like the Bible,” he said.
He then told the crowd that “Christianity is under attack. But we are going to protect Christianity.”
Trump tried to quote the university’s theme verse, 2 Corinthians 3:17: “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” But he was met with some laughter when he said, “I hear this is a major theme right here. But two Corinthians, right?” diverting from a conventional reference to “second Corinthians.”
“Two Corinthians 3:17. That’s the whole ballgame,” Trump said.
Photo by Brandon Pickett
Hitting on his major stump speech themes, Donald Trump spoke on immigration, the military, Iran and trade deficits in a Jan. 18 convocation at Liberty University.
With the international press looking on, there were a few protestors outside the Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va., but inside, students like Noah Soistmann, a freshman, said he was excited Donald Trump was there.
“I’m glad that we get to experience the political speakers that come. We should be able to accept all points of view and filter them out through a biblical worldview on our own. We can show what true Christians are like when they hear different opinions and that’s a good testimony.”
Rebekah Leybold, a junior at Liberty, has seen various political speakers in her time at Liberty. “A number of students are protesting because they didn’t want him to come,” she said, because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the protesters claim Trump has racist views. “But I feel we should be respectful toward whoever comes,” Leybold said, “and we should not make a big deal out of things.”
Trump hit on his major stump speech themes of immigration, the military, Iran, trade deficits and winning on deals around the world.
He ended his speech by telling the students that “we have to run it [the country] like a business, but with heart.”
After leaving the stage to a cheering crowd, Trump worked the rope line and left Lynchburg bound for New Hampshire.
Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced his presidential bid at Liberty on March 23 of last year. Also speaking at convocations last year were Republican contender and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Nov. 11 and Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Sept. 14.
Moore, on CNN’s “Out Front” telecast, commended Liberty for hosting candidates “from across the spectrum” and noted that “some of the greatest leaders that I know in the country are Liberty graduates.”
But, voicing some of his months-long opposition to Trump, Moore described the New York businessman as “someone who has broken up two households, by his own admission, with scandalous results [the subject of one of his tweets]; someone who has been involved in the casino gambling industry all of his life, preying upon poor people and breaking up families; someone who has been using racially charged rhetoric all through this campaign against people who are my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Moore said he wants someone in the White House “who has personal character. One of the things evangelical Christians have been saying for 50 years is that character matters. If character matters for Bill Clinton, and it does, and it did, then character matters for Donald Trump, and to dismiss that is unbelievable.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Pickett is associate executive director of the SBC of Virginia and editor of the convention’s missions magazine, Proclaimer at sbcv.org/proclaimer. Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.)