Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a stalwart evangelical defender of President Donald Trump, says in a new interview that it is wrong to base U.S. policy on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“I almost laugh out loud when I hear Democrats saying things like, ‘Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto me’ and try to use that as the reason we should open up our borders,” the 56-year-old son of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell said in a Washington Post interview published Jan. 1.
“It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally — to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor — can somehow be imputed on a nation,” Falwell said.
Falwell, who in 2007 took over the presidency of the Lynchburg, Virginia, university founded by his late father, said that Jesus never tried to tell Caesar how to run the Roman Empire.
“It’s a distortion of the teaching of Christ to say Jesus taught love and forgiveness and therefore the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving, and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world,” Falwell Jr. said. “That’s not what Jesus taught. You almost have to believe that this is a theocracy to think that way, to think that public policy should be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.”
His father’s Moral Majority, a political organization associated with the Christian right and Republican Party, mobilized evangelical voters in 1980 to deny a second term to President Jimmy Carter, a lifelong Baptist whose candidacy and election introduced the term “born again” to many Americans unfamiliar with teachings of evangelical Protestantism.
Falwell Sr.’s Thomas Road Baptist Church – long affiliated with the Missouri-based Baptist Bible Fellowship and now led by his son Jonathan – dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1996. Falwell Sr. attributed the move to a “theological renaissance” in the nation’s second-largest faith group that began in 1979.
Over the next two decades the movement more commonly called the conservative resurgence (or fundamentalist takeover) shifted the SBC from a centrist position to identification with the Religious Right. It spawned counter movements including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, formed in 1991 to defend discarded doctrines such as local-church autonomy and the separation of church and state.
Today’s new generation of SBC leaders has sought distance from the GOP, emphasizing moral concerns such as immigration and racism alongside issues like abortion and homosexuality long galvanizing the Religious Right, sometimes at their own peril.
Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, drew defunding threats and calls for his firing for pushing too hard in his criticism of evangelical enablers of candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prominent Southern Baptists like Moore’s predecessor Richard Land, former SBC President Jack Graham and First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, meanwhile, are among a cadre of mostly Pentecostal and prosperity gospel preachers enjoying access to the White House as Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory team.
Falwell Jr., who claimed in 2016 that he turned down the job of Trump’s Secretary of Education, said in the Post interview that he holds a “two kingdom” view of the interaction between church and state.
“There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom,” he said. “In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country.”
“A poor person never gave anyone a job.”
“Think about it,” Falwell continued. “Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.”
The “two kingdoms” doctrine originates in Roman Catholic teaching articulated in St. Augustine’s classic City of God, a philosophical treatise vindicating Christianity in response to the sack of Rome by pagan barbarians in 410 CE.
Reformer Martin Luther further developed the idea that God rules the world in two “kingdoms” – spiritual and earthly – represented by church and state.
John Calvin — a 16th century theologian whose views on salvation have been reborn in recent decades in evangelical circles including the Southern Baptist Convention in the emergence of a network of “young, restless and Reformed” ministers seeking to engage historical church doctrines with modern culture – distinguished between “earthly” and “heavenly” things in his seminal work of systematic theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in Latin in 1536.
“In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country.”
Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama, warned that Falwell’s two kingdoms theology is the “same approach German Lutherans took as Hitler rose to power.”
“None of this is to say that Trump is Hitler or Falwell is promoting Nazi ideology,” Cross, missional strategist for Montgomery Baptist Association, said in a series of tweets. “Not at all. Rather, this is about how history teaches us about the way subversion happens. Falwell lays the groundwork for church capitulation to the state. He should be vigorously critiqued.”
R.J. Rushdoony, a theologian and author who died in 2001, said in a two-volume systematic theology that God’s goal in history is “the establishment of His Kingdom or House against the Kingdom or House of Man.”
Rushdoony’s Christian Reconstructionism – also known as Dominionism – argues for a Christian form of government including reinstatement of biblical law, making sins like homosexuality and adultery civil crimes punishable by death.
While a fringe movement in Calvinism, Dominionist ideas remain influential in the Christian homeschooling movement — which Rushdoony saw as a way to combat the secular nature of public education in the United States – and with politicians such as Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann who believe America is a Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles but has become unmoored from its moral foundation by decades of secularism.
Falwell said he supports Trump because of his business acumen, that nothing Trump might do would dampen his support and that “it may be immoral” for evangelical leaders to oppose the administration’s policies.