Jerry Falwell Jr., the chancellor of Liberty University who along with his father spent years trying to infuse their narrow interpretation of the Bible into U.S. law, is now trying to argue that Jesus never intended to instruct politicians.
Really? Then what was that Moral Majority business all about?
“Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” Falwell said in an interview with CNN. “Jesus told us to help the poor, but he never said vote for somebody who is going to take money from your neighbor and give it to the poor. Jesus never told us whether to vote for a socialist or a capitalist. He told us to render unto Caesar, use our own brains to decide who would be the best political leader.”
Hmmm. What’s going on here? Has Jerry Jr. had some sort of startling conversion while on the road to Damascus? Not quite. What’s happening is that Falwell is busy trying to cover his posterior in light of his controversial endorsement of Donald Trump, real-estate magnate, reality TV star and newly minted great Christian leader.
See, some people in the Religious Right didn’t react well to that endorsement. They noted that Trump, who’s on wife number three, never had a tendency to wave the Bible until a few months ago when he decided he wanted to be president. Some suspected he might not really mean it.
But no worries! Falwell’s got Trump’s back. It doesn’t really matter because suddenly Jesus isn’t really into picking your leaders.
The amazing thing about all of this is how Falwell managed to deliver it with a straight face.
Look, the entire movement that Falwell Jr.’s dad built was predicated on the idea that Jesus was a bootstrap capitalist who hated legal abortion, gays, evolution, women’s rights, environmentalism, secular government, immigration, social-service programs for the poor and public education, among other things.
The senior Falwell and his pals never hesitated to say who in public life was “unbiblical” or not a real Christian. Sure, there were plenty of Christians who argued that the Jesus of the Religious Right had precious little in common with the Jesus of the Bible. They asserted that Falwell and his followers had merely coated their far-right political opinions with a thin Jesus patina.
But whether Jesus would actually agree with these views isn’t the point. The premise of the Religious Right was that its members knew the mind of Jesus and had correctly interpreted the Bible. This gave them the right – indeed a duty, in their view – to impose a version of “biblical law” on the rest of us who either would not or could not get with the biblically correct program. It wasn’t just a matter of them being right and us being wrong. They were right because they had three powerful trump cards on their side: God, Jesus and the Bible. They win!
Now Falwell Jr. tries to tell us that Jesus wasn’t really about politics after all?
I’m afraid it’s much too late for that. Jerry Jr., your father spent something like four decades claiming to speak for Christ and insisting that such insights gave him the power to know what was best for us. His Jesus certainly knew how you were supposed to vote.
Falwell Jr. took some heat for backing Trump, who on Saturday won the South Carolina GOP primary. I realize Falwell is worried about the possibility of long-term damage to his reputation. But if he thinks holding Jesus up as an advocate of separation of church and state is going to repair the damage and quiet his evangelical critics, the man is even more deluded than I thought.