Evangelical leader is being hypocritical, backing candidate who violates biblical teachings, says Randall Balmer
Balmer: What about biblical values, which are supposed to be at the core of the Religious Right?
Editor’s Note: Randall Balmer, chair of the Religion Department and director of the Society of Fellows at Dartmouth College, is the author of more than a dozen books, including “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
When the Nobel committee conferred its Peace Prize on Henry Kissinger in 1973, singer-songwriter and essayist Tom Lehrer declared that satire had become obsolete.
How could the committee possibly bestow its highest honor on someone who, in collusion with Richard Nixon, had expanded military operations in Vietnam to Laos and Cambodia at the cost of thousands of lives?
If satire had somehow managed to make any comeback in the four-plus decades since the Nobel-Kissinger debacle, it suffered another crippling blow on Tuesday when Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump for president. You can’t make this up.
Falwell’s father and namesake was one of the architects of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, arguing that politically conservative evangelicals should be active in the pursuit of “biblical values” in the arena of politics. Although Falwell’s politics were misguided – he mobilized politically to defend the tax-exempt status of his own Liberty Christian Academy and other so-called segregation academies – the elder Falwell, at times at least, upheld the pretense that his political agenda was shaped by the principles set forth in the Bible, even as he led evangelicals away from their historical concern for the poor, for women and minorities and into the maw of right-wing politics.
His son and successor as head of Liberty University has abandoned all pretense that biblical values inform his politics. The younger Falwell, however, is very much like his father in one crucial respect: He clearly is more interested in political influence than scriptural principles.
In his endorsement, Falwell Jr. did not anoint Trump as the most righteous candidate; that distinction would probably go to Bernie Sanders, a self-described secular Jew who calls out moneyed interests with the passion of the Hebrew prophets. Falwell, however, hailed Trump as “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
Trump is on his third marriage. Whether or not he qualifies as a “wonderful father” is not for me to judge, although he has eerily suggested that, were she not his daughter, he’d consider dating Ivanka Trump (his daughter). Similarly, in 1980, Jerry Falwell Sr., while proclaiming his support for “family values,” embraced the divorced and remarried Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.
And what about biblical values, which are supposed to be at the core of the Religious Right? Jesus was emphatic that his followers busy themselves with caring for people on the margins, a concern that does not appear to be animating the Trump campaign. Jesus described those who would be admitted into the kingdom of heaven as those who demonstrated acts of kindness toward people in need. Those gestures would be reckoned as though they were directed to Jesus himself: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry with outcasts, healing the sick and the lame,while Trump regularly makes fun of people he labels “losers.” Whereas Jesus was especially gracious toward children and women, Trump, on the other hand, derides women as “pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” “bimbos” and “disgusting animals.” He characterized many Mexican immigrants as “killers and rapists” and said nothing as supporters suggested setting a protester at one of his rallies on fire. Although he tried later to deny it, Trump mocked a journalist for his disability.
Jesus, by contrast, preached love for one’s neighbor. He instructed his followers to care for “the least of these,” to look after widows and orphans and to welcome the stranger.
In the midst of his effusive endorsement, the younger Falwell failed to explain how Trump’s construction of a wall on our southern border or his plan for massive deportations lined up with those biblical principles.
Jerry Falwell Jr.’s backing of Donald Trump demonstrates that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. The elder Falwell’s 1980 embrace of Reagan over Carter, an evangelical Sunday school teacher, represented the triumph of political opportunism over biblical principles. His son’s endorsement of Trump looks much the same.
Satire is dead.