In one of his many diatribes against the Pharisees, Jesus noted that the content of a man’s heart is revealed by his words.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34, KJV)
In light of that precept, recent words from Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. paint a very disturbing picture.
During a Washington Post interview published earlier this week, Falwell further cemented his unwavering support of President Trump by affirming that there is nothing Trump could do to lose that support.
While that may sound like a huge problem, Falwell goes on to provide context that actually makes it a reasonable position.
“Only because I know that he only wants what’s best for this country, and I know anything he does … it’s going to be what’s best for this country, and I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”
Excellent contextual defense. After all, if you don’t believe the President is going to harm the nation, it stands to reason you’d always support him.
But take another look at that quote. See those three little dots about halfway through? Those little dots indicate I’ve left out part of the quote. That’s done frequently, most often to make a quote more readable when a speaker goes off-topic for a moment and then circles back. But in this case, the part that’s been left out is the most revealing.
Here’s what was left out, along with the phrases immediately before and after to provide context:
“I know anything he does, **it may not be ideologically “conservative****,” but it’s going to be what’s best for this country”.
Pay close attention to that. Although an action taken by the President may not be conservative, it’s still going to be best for the country.
But wait, conservative reader – hold your discontent for a moment, because Mr. Falwell is about to put himself in a very awkward position – something which often happens when someone talks out of both sides of his mouth.
During his response to the question of whether it’s hypocritical for an evangelical Christian to support a President who has unapologetically revealed himself to be morally lacking, Falwell makes the following statement:
“So you don’t choose a president based on how good they are; you choose a president based on what their policies are.”
Taken on its own, this sentence isn’t that bad. We might debate the merits of the position, but there is a strong argument to be made for it. But note the message that results when we consider both of Falwell’s declared positions together.
President Trump’s policies will be what’s best for the nation, even if they’re not conservative.
We choose a President based on what his policies are.
Logic dictates that if Falwell truly holds both of these positions, one of two things must be true. Either he is not a true conservative, or his unwavering support of Trump is for some reason other than Trump’s policies. One might wonder just what that other reason might be. (We may find the answer in a few paragraphs.)
Of course, a third option also exists – that Falwell is making this up as he goes and doesn’t really hold both of those positions. But none of those three options is a good one for Falwell. With the first, he’s not a conservative. With the other two, he’s a liar.
If you’re a fan, pick the one which paints him in the best light and go with that. If you’re not, take all three.
As bad as that little Catch-22 might be, we have yet to broach the worst.
At multiple points during the interview, Falwell is asked to address morality – specifically, the perceived lack of morality in the President’s personal life. Now remember – he’s already made clear that personal shortcomings are not really important. But note what he says in defense of supporting a man who is lacking in the moral realm.
“What earns him my support is his business acumen.”
“A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume.”
“ … he’s got African American employment to record highs, Hispanic employment to record highs. They need to look at what the president did for the poor.”
Notice anything in common among these statements? In each case, Falwell relies upon financial arguments to defend the notion of supporting someone lacking morality. The unavoidable impression is that Falwell actually believes improved economic conditions are sufficient to identify policy – and more importantly, that policy’s promoter – as moral.
In fact, the last quote comes from a response where he calls his detractors immoral for criticizing him because of improved economic conditions. Here’s the full context:
“It may be immoral for them [Falwell’s critics] not to support him, because he’s got African American employment to record highs, Hispanic employment to record highs. They need to look at what the president did for the poor.”
Before closing, one last item for your consideration.
At one point in the Post interview, Jerry Falwell, Jr. – the man who is the face of arguably the most prestigious Christian institution of higher learning in the nation and whose father attempted to awaken a Moral Majority in the United States to refocus the country on its Christian founding – makes the case that public policy in the United States should not be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.
A liberal would rise up and applaud such a position. I suspect most Christians would not.
The obvious question must be asked: What would Liberty’s board of trustees do?
If any of that group’s members are pondering the question, perhaps they might start by looking to item number 8 in their mission statement.
Photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite