Liberty University President Jerry Falwell called Donald Trump a “dream president” for evangelical Christians, a judgment perhaps in keeping with the president’s executive order championing religious freedom.
“I think evangelicals have found their dream president,” Falwell declared on Fox News. He argued that the president achieved a great deal in his first 100 days and gospel-centered Christians are grateful.
“I think reuniting Israel with America after eight years of treating them badly, appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, appointing people of faith to his cabinet in almost every area … I think he is attacking ISIS so that Christians being murdered in the Middle East will stop,” Falwell listed. “All those things evangelicals love.”
There is some evidence to support Falwell’s bold declaration. A poll last month found that Trump voters gave the president a high approval rating (94 percent), and only 2 percent said they regretted voting for him. Considering that a whopping 81 percent of self-described evangelical Christians voted for Trump, this suggests evangelicals are happy with the beginning of Trump’s time in office.
But a “dream president”? Perhaps Falwell should remember that Trump invited televangelist and prosperity gospel preacher Paula White not only to speak at his inauguration, but to attend the religious liberty executive order ceremony on Thursday.
Yes, the same Paula White that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, described as “a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe.” White has a history of bankruptcies, failed churches, and unsuccessful marriages. She preaches the gospel of health and wealth rather than the saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Trump is also the same candidate who said, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.” The president claims to be a Christian, but Jesus made clear throughout the gospels that repentance is central to forgiveness, and he taught his disciples to ask God for forgiveness in the “Lord’s Prayer,” the model prayer for followers of Christ.
Yet when pressed, Trump said, “I think repenting is terrific,” but seemed not to understand the necessity of doing so. “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?” I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”
That’s great, but Romans 3:23 is clear that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” God’s standard of “not making mistakes” means being perfect — worshiping God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Trump has cheated on two wives and made the infamous “Access Hollywood” comments — even if he has never sexually assaulted any women.
Every human has fallen short of the glory of God, and Trump is included in that. When Christians explain the need to repent, it’s not a special judgment on Trump, but a fundamental part of Christianity he seems not to understand. A president does not have to be a Christian, but to call a man with this checkered moral past and a lack of understanding of Christianity, one who masquerades as a Christian, a “dream president” for evangelicals seems a stretch.
Not to mention the time Trump called Jesus an egomaniac — in a Playboy interview!
Also, the very religious freedom executive order Trump signed on Thursday is a half measure, a compromise that came about after first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner shot down an executive order that would have done more to promote religious freedom.
None of this is to say President Trump is a bad president, and it certainly is not to deny the benefits he has brought to evangelical Christians. Hillary Clinton represented an insidious threat to traditional Christianity — with her staff’s attempts to infiltrate Catholicism and her comparing opposition on LGBT issues to “honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”
Evangelical Christians dodged a bullet when Clinton lost last November, and even those who refused to vote for Trump should acknowledge that. But all these benefits — and they are very real, Justice Gorsuch much included — do not make Trump a “dream president” for Bible-believing Christians.
Many people seem to think a president has to be either anointed by God or foisted upon America by the devil, but the world does not work like that. Christians should take Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29) to heart and “seek the peace of the city” without identifying it with the kingdom of God.
Declarations like “God showed up” to make Trump win or “God raised up” Donald Trump as the only candidate who can win are grasping at straws. God’s providence is real, but America is not the Promised Land, and winning does not make a candidate God’s chosen. When conservatives say this, they make the same mistake as liberals with their “right side of history” garbage.
The vast majority of Trump’s presidency is yet to be seen. Just because he isn’t a “dream president” for evangelicals does not mean he won’t turn out to be a good one — and that may be more than enough.