If believing oneself to be the Only Begotten Son of God makes one a follower of Jesus, then maybe Trump qualifies. Either way, Jerry Falwell has a truth problem.
On Tuesday, January 26, Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, endorsed Donald Trump for President, saying that Trump is “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” The endorsement is no surprise: Falwell had previously likened Trump to his own father and even to Jesus himself, saying “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.”
Is Trump a faithful follower of Jesus?
Set aside for the moment the fact that he’s biblically illiterate. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify him. In fact, research suggests that atheists typically perform better on tests of religious knowledge than Christians do. So, maybe the fact that Trump can’t name a favorite verse, can’t decide whether the Old Testament or New is more important, and doesn’t know how to pronounce 2 Corinthians, is just a way of establishing credibility among the faithful. Same reason he uses a 4th grade vocabulary. Clever guy, that Trump.
But let’s take a look at what Falwell said about the Great Commandment.
What is the Great Commandment?
Falwell’s effusive words reference a story from the book of Matthew. In it, the Pharisees, who are the religious authorities of the time, ask Jesus which is the greatest of all the commandments in the Torah. Levitical law recommends capital punishment for 30 different felonies, so some legitimate moral confusion could arise: Is sassing your parents really as bad sex before marriage, being a witch, or committing murder? And faced with an offense, what’s a decent person to do? In the words of the now-famous “Dr. Laura Letter,”
“I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?”
As I said, the long list of Levitical crimes and punishments can be confusing, but in Matthew’s story, the Pharisees are just trying to trick Jesus into saying one sin is worse than the rest so that they can show he’s a bad Jew. But Jesus slips the noose by answering that the whole of the Torah can be summed up in two principles: 1. Love God with all your heart; 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The way you know you’re doing well on Commandment 1 is if you’re doing well on Commandment 2.
Love your neighbor as yourself? That’s a high bar for a guy whose narcissistic personality disorder is so florid that experts have broken the normal professional taboo against diagnosing a public figure. Clinical psychologist and professor George Simon told the press,
“He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics. Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”
Ok, ok, so love your neighbor as yourself is a stratospherically-high bar for a narcissist, rather like a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Some would argue that it’s an impossible (or unhealthy) bar even for those of us without personality disorders. How about some of the other teachings that have made Jesus a figure of inspiration for the last 2000 years?
Jesus advocates nonviolence (Matthew 5:39). Trump vows to use brute force against America’s enemies, and then take their assets to pay for the war. “To the victor belong the spoils.” He promises to strengthen the military so that it’s “so big and so strong and so great” that “nobody’s going to mess with us.” At Liberty University, he championed gun ownership, telling Christian college students, “We’ve got to have the right to protect ourselves.”
Jesus says not to call other people names (Matthew 5:22). Trump has made headlines with his public insults of (among others) Fox reporter Megan Kelly, disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski, competing presidential candidates, and the people of Iowa.
Jesus says give all your money to the poor and come follow me (Luke 18:22). Trump’s tax returns show him to be one of America’s least charitable billionaires, “a miser, not an ‘ardent philanthropist’.”
Jesus heals the sick (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Trump vows to take away an insurance program that has made healthcare accessible to 10 million Americans.
Jesus welcomes the downtrodden. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Trump envisions an “artistically beautiful” wall of steel rebar and hardened concrete along the southern border of the United States. “I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Jesus says not to shirk taxes, even if you don’t agree with the government (Mark 12:13-17). While promising to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, Trump pledges to cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations.
Jesus teaches that sometimes a “Samaritan,” a member of a despised minority, can show us how to live and love better (Luke 10:25-37). Trump proposes halting immigration from war-torn Syria and shipping 11 million Latin Americans back to the countries they came from.
Jesus willingly endures the criticism of his detractors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Offended at being asked hard, critical questions by conservative Fox journalist Megan Kelly, Trump announced he would refuse to participate in any debate where she was a moderator.
Falwell might have gotten away with likening Trump to Jehovah–the petulant, racist, sexist, war-mongering, temper-tantruming God of the Old Testament who seeks constant adoration. But Jesus is a different character. If believing oneself the Only Begotten Son of God makes one a follower of Jesus, then maybe Trump qualifies. Otherwise, the two have as little in common as Napoleon and Gandhi.
Either way, Jerry Falwell has a serious truthiness issue—which in biblical terms raises questions about who he really worships. The old trope of selling one’s soul to the “Father of Lies” comes to mind. Perhaps that is why few Christians other than Evangelical Conservatives have been swayed by Falwell’s adoration of a man who so obviously is Not Like Jesus.
If Liberty University students are paying attention, Falwell’s endorsement of Trump may help some of them realize why so many former Bible believers now stand on the outside, refusing to take our guidance from self-proclaimed messengers of God and instead assessing presidential candidates and university presidents alike through the lens of our own reason and conscience.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.