Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University Jan. 18, 2016 in Lynchburg, Va.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

This Week in God, 10.15.16

After a hiatus, the God Machine is back this week, and first up is a story about one of the nation’s more politically active evangelical colleges, which is facing a familiar schism.

Virginia’s Liberty University, founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell, is now run by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who also happens to be one of Donald Trump’s most loyal and enthusiastic allies. Indeed, during the Republican presidential primaries, while many social conservatives and leaders of the religious right movement were rallying behind Ted Cruz, Falwell bucked the trend and offered his spirited support (no pun intended) a secular, thrice-married adulterer and casino owner who’s never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.

Even this week, after Trump was heard boasting about sexual assault and accused by a variety of women of sexual misconduct, Falwell continued to express his enthusiastic support for the Republican nominee. The interesting twist, however, came when Liberty students – a conservative, evangelical bunch – balked. The Washington Post reported this week:
Students at Virginia’s Liberty University have issued a statement against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as young conservatives at some colleges across the country reconsider support for his campaign.

A statement issued late Wednesday by the group Liberty United Against Trump strongly rebuked the candidate as well as the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for defending Trump after he made vulgar comments about women in a 2005 video. […] The students at Liberty University wrote that they felt compelled to speak out in light of Falwell’s steadfast support for Trump even after the candidate’s comments about women and sexual assault.
The statement, released under the Liberty United Against Trump name, read, “Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him…. He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”

As of Thursday, the total number of Liberty students, alumni, and faculty who signed on to the letter stood at more than 1,300.

Falwell called the statement, among other things, “incoherent and false.”

In the larger context, Falwell has had great success expanding Liberty’s political relevance and influence in Republican politics – a fact that, he likely hopes, has positioned Falwell as a power player in GOP circles for many years to come.

But this week offered a striking reminder that many evangelicals aren’t quite prepared to trade in their principles of partisan expediency, and if that means embarrassing Jerry Falwell, Jr, so be it.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* An unexpected story out of Oklahoma: “A proclamation by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin inviting Christians to pray for the oil and natural gas industry will be amended to be more inclusive of other faiths, the governor said Monday. The two-term Republican said the proclamation declaring Thursday ‘Oilfield Prayer Day’ will be revised to invite people of all faiths to pray for the industry, which has seen a recent decline.”

* News out of the Vatican: “Pope Francis on Sunday promoted 17 Roman Catholic prelates from around the world to the high rank of cardinal, including 13 who are under 80 years old and thus eligible to succeed him one day.”

* If he didn’t exist, some on the left might have to invent him: “Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has previously registered his concern about the prospect of gay space colonies, connected homosexuality to Noah’s Flood on a radio program yesterday.”



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This Week in God, 10.15.16