A New York Times profile today of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., heirs to their respective fathers’ evangelical dynasties, included one very surprising line.
Falwell Jr., who is Donald Trump’s most prominent evangelical endorser, took issue with criticism of his preferred candidate:
I really believe that anybody on the left or the right that tries to invoke the teachings of Jesus to say they should vote for this candidate or that candidate, I think they’re stretching Scripture.
Then, this afternoon, as Trump engaged in a war of words with Pope Francis over the GOP presidential frontrunner’s hardline anti-immigrant policies, Fallwell Jr. — who has compared Trump to Jesus — told CNN:
Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country.
With these remarks, Falwell Jr. is denying the very premise of the Religious Right movement … which was shaped in large part by his father, Jerry Falwell.
Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority with the explicit goal of pressuring politicians to follow what he believed were the Bible’s dictates, holding up a Bible at events and telling his audience, “If a man stands by this book, vote for him. If he doesn’t, don’t.”
Falwell engaged in battles over the social issues generally associated with the Religious Right, harnessing his “moral majority” of voters to “turn back the flood tide of moral permissiveness, family breakdown and general capitulation to evil and to foreign policies such as Marxism-Leninism.”
But he also applied his reading of the Bible to more surprising issues. Falwell wrote in 1980 that the “free-enterprise system is clearly outlined in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible.” An early People For the American Way report outlined what this meant to Falwell in practice:
Thesis Number 16 of Falwell’s “Ninety-Five Theses for the ‘80s” is: “That the free enterprise system of profit be encouraged to grow, being unhampered by any socialistic laws or red tape.” What “free enterprise” and “socialistic laws” mean to moral majoritarian leaders is clear from Jerry Falwell’s statement that, “I think we ought to take the shackles off (business) and get rid of outfits like OSHA.” … Falwell has even taken on the progressive income tax system. He has said: “I don’t think a guy who makes a lot of money should pay more taxes than a guy who makes a little.”
Falwell infamously also used his reading of the Bible to argue against desegregation. Brian summed up his line of argument a couple of years ago:
He preached against Brown v. Board of Education, which banned racial segregation in public schools, telling his church, “When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line. The true Negro does not want integration.”
Falwell kept his private Christian school segregated to help families avoid integration in public schools and opposed the Carter administration’s attempt to challenge the tax status of segregated schools. He also subscribed to the belief that black people were under “ Noah’s curse on Ham ” and argued that school “facilities should be separate.”
“If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made,” he said, warning that integration and interracial marriage will “destroy our race.”
Nobody is responsible for what their parents say, but Jerry Falwell Jr. is very consciously carrying on the legacy of his father as president of Liberty University and as a conservative activist and evangelical leader. He might be angry that some of his fellow evangelicals and the pope are criticizing his favorite presidential candidate ... but he could do with a small dose of self-awareness.