For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
There’s nobody who’d love to make America great again more than I would, but not at any price — and especially not at the price of a human soul.
That’s exactly what I fear Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, is risking in his effusive praise of Donald Trump.
Falwell, the son of Moral Majority founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, endorsed Trump ahead of the Iowa caucuses in hopes of pulling in evangelical support for the Republican front-runner.
In his endorsement, Falwell said that the thrice-married real estate mogul who bragged in one of his books of his sexual exploits with married women might not be a candidate for church pastor, but he would be the best person for the Oval Office.
Speaking of his father’s endorsement of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Falwell said,
When he walked into the voting booth, he wasn’t electing a Sunday school teacher or a pastor or even a president who shared his theological beliefs; he was electing the President of the United States with the talents, abilities and experience required to lead a nation. After all, Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look at what happened to our nation with him in the presidency.
Good enough, I suppose, but my problem with Falwell was with his introduction of Trump days earlier at a speech at Liberty, where he said,
In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.
Trump said he was honored at the introduction — and who wouldn’t be?
But it sounded as if Falwell was pronouncing Trump a member of the fold. Only God himself knows for certain the true condition of anyone’s heart. But the Bible does tell us we will know a tree by its fruit, and an examination of Trump provides scant evidence of a life lived for Christ.
Yes, Trump paid off the mortgage of a couple who helped him when his limo had a flat tire. And he’s done other good deeds. But evangelicals don’t believe one attains eternal life through good deeds; one does so by recognizing that he or she cannot possibly be good enough for heaven. You require the death of Christ as a substitute for your own.
Trump has said he has never asked God for forgiveness because he simply tries to live a good life. According to Christian Scripture, it’s not possible to live a good enough life to never need forgiveness.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
A man like Trump who isn’t familiar enough with Scripture to know what his favorite part of the Bible is — or how 2 Corinthians is typically pronounced — shouldn’t be given the impression that he is in right standing with God.
It is up to God and Trump to deal with the eternal destination of the man, but it is up to someone like Falwell, who is seen by many Americans as an evangelical leader, not to suck up to Trump to a point where Trump himself is given a misimpression about his eternal destination.
According to Christian theology, if any of us, Trump included, refuses to accept the free gift of God’s forgiveness, the judgment he receives is his own fault. But if a member of the faith — especially a leader — gives someone the impression they’re in right standing when he is not, then the person who failed to give that warning is accountable for that person’s judgment.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]An evangelical divide.[/pullquote] Some evangelical leaders did condemn Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. They included former Moral Majority head Michael Farris, who said that while Falwell, Sr., was urging Christians to get involved in the voting process, Trump was building strip clubs.
“Giving Trump an honorary doctorate in the past was unwise,” Farris said, “but comparing him to Jesus was as close to heresy as I ever wish to witness.”
When Pope Francis stated last week that someone who builds walls rather than bridges is not Christian, most headlines said that he had pronounced Trump to be a candidate for the Lake of Fire.
But Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called the whole thing “a contrived controversy,” noting that a reporter had asked the Pope to comment on something that was not actually Trump’s position and that Francis added two qualifiers: “If that’s what the person said … and if he’s only in favor of borders.”
Falwell, meanwhile, doubled down on his Trump-as-Christian defense. He told CNN:
I’ve seen his generosity to strangers, to his employees, his warm relationship with his children. …I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Franklin Graham suggested that Pope Francis build a bridge to Trump, since he might be our president at this time next year. Even so, the son of evangelist Billy Graham never said that he believed Trump was a Christian.
Again, it’s up to God to determine the fate of anyone’s soul — not me, Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell, Jr. But it’s up to the people who are seen as leaders of their faith to point out what may be shortcomings in a public person, such as Trump, who claims a religious label.
Of the eight candidates left between the two major parties, only Sen. Bernie Sanders doesn’t claim to be a Christian. No religious affiliation is required to be president, but it’s not improper to examine how someone who wants to be leader of the free world follows his or her own faith — if he or she practices one. Here’s a quick rundown of how they do:
- Ben Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist, which is an evangelical Christian church most notable because it holds worship services on Saturday — the Sabbath — rather than on Sunday. It also doesn’t believe in hell, but in a literal six-day creation about 6,000 years ago. Carson has affirmed these beliefs. He questioned Trump’s Christianity early in the campaign and quickly apologized.
- John Kasich was raised Catholic and now is Anglican. He says he “doesn’t find God in church,” though he is a member of a local church. Arguing for his state’s legislature to accept expanded Medicaid payments as part of the Affordable Care Act, Kasich said he told one legislator, “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”
- Marco Rubio was raised Catholic, converted to Mormonism, then back to Catholicism. Today, he attends Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. He ran an ad in Iowa in which he said, “The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan, to those who much has been given much is expected and we will be asked to account for that.”
- Ted Cruz said, “I’m Cuban, Irish, and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.” Often quoting scripture in his campaign, Cruz has been accused by Trump, Rubio and Carson of lying about them. He fired his national campaign spokesman, Rick Tyler, after Tyler retweeted a video falsely claiming to show Rubio saying there was no truth in a Bible that a Cruz staffer was reading. “But I’ll tell you, even if it was true,” Cruz said, “we are not a campaign that is going to question the faith of another candidate for president.”
- Donald Trump is a Presbyterian, but admits he rarely attends church. “I have great relationship with God. I have great relationship with the evangelicals,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”
- Bernie Sanders was raised Jewish, but now claims no religious affiliation. Still, he quotes from multiple religious traditions to support his call for income equality. “Whether you are Catholic or Protestant; Christian, Jewish or Muslim; Hindu or Buddhist, what all of the major religions teach us is that it is immoral when so many have so little and so few have so much,” he said in 2014. When asked by Jimmy Kimmel if he believes in God, Sanders said, “Well, you know, I am who I am. And what I believe in and what my spirituality is about is that we’re all in this together. That I think it is not a good thing to believe that, as human beings, we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people.”
- Hillary Clinton is Methodist. Her daughter, Chelsea, recently defended her from attacks that she is not religious, saying, “My mother is very deeply a person of faith. It is deeply authentic and real for my mother, and it guides so much of her moral compass, but also her life’s work.” Clinton reportedly carries a Bible in her purse and defended people of faith in 2008 when her then-rival Barack Obama made his statement about people in rural areas who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion…” Responded Clinton: “It’s important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being. It is what gives them meaning in life.”
Christians believe they are charged with making the world a better place and with doing all they can to ensure as many people as possible know about the gift an afterlife God offers them. Christian leaders who care about the here and now to the exclusion of anyone’s soul — and Trump’s soul is as precious as anyone else’s — will face judgment themselves.