Some pastors and Christian critics have hit back against Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.'s specific defense of President Donald Trump over an alleged affair with a porn star, by arguing that lust and adultery are not of the same degree of sin.
Garrett Kell, a pastor at Del Ray Baptist in Alexandria, Virginia, disputed on Friday claims made by Falwell Jr. on CNN last week, where the latter said in part, "I believe he (Trump) has changed and Jesus said if you lust after a woman in your heart, it's the same as committing adultery, you are just as bad as the person who has."
"That is why our faith is based around the idea that we are all equally bad, we are all sinners, we need Christ's forgiveness. That's why evangelicals are so quick to forgive Donald Trump when he asks for forgiveness for things that happened 10-15 years ago."
Falwell Jr. was commenting on an alleged affair Trump had with adult actress Stormy Daniels in 2006, though First Lady Melania Trump has described the story as "unrealistic scenarios being peddled daily by the fake news."
Kell wrote on his website that Jesus never made such an equation, however.
"In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching that the Law not only addresses external sins, but also sins of the heart," he wrote, and pointed to Christ's words in Matthew 5:27-28, reading: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
"What Jesus was saying is that lust condemns you, just as adultery does," Kell noted, and said that although lust and adultery are in the "same family of sins," they are at different degrees of maturity.
"Lust is the seed, adultery the weed. Lust is the root, adultery the fruit," he added. "Lust and adultery are quantitatively different — their degree of severity is exceedingly different. These sins are similar, but Jesus did not say they are the same."
The pastor suggested that Jesus' words "were intended to expose the heart of self-righteous people who felt satisfied because they had not crossed a certain moral line."
"We should never feel comfortable with any sin against a holy God. At the same time, the moral relativism that is presented in the opening line of this article unhelpfully blurs lines that dull the sword of God's Word," he insisted.
Christian columnist David French, writing in the National Review on Thursday, had even stronger words for Falwell Jr. He slammed those who have a "seemingly-pathological desire" to always defend Trump and "distort their faith to the point of stupidity and embarrassment to sit in a first-class seat on the Trump Train."
French found three "basic, embarrassingly bad theological arguments" in Falwell Jr.'s defense of Trump, starting with the notion that "judge not lest ye be judged" could be applied to this scenario.
"It doesn't require anyone to 'judge' to condemn serial adultery and sexual assault. It simply requires reading comprehension. The Bible is clear. God has made the relevant judgment. Moreover, can we dispense with all the cheap grace that Evangelicals fling at Trump? I've never seen so much forgiveness without repentance in my life. Here's a hint — if a man is lying to continue covering up his sin, that's not repentance. That's not evidence of a transformed heart," the columnist wrote.
Next, he argued that Jesus saying all people are sinners should not be equated with sin itself.
"All sin is wrong. All men need Christ. But not all sin is equally grave. Throughout scripture some sins are singled out as particularly vile and are punished accordingly," he positioned.
"Serial adultery is a serious sin. Serial sexual predation is a serious sin. Other politicians need Jesus too, but they have substantially better characters than the president. This is not a hard concept."
Finally, he took issue with the suggestion that Jesus did not forgive establishment elites.
"What? So now the good news itself is wrapped in dime-store populism. You don't get more 'establishment elite' than the men who crucified Christ, yet he asked God to forgive them even as he hung on the tree. He forgave all those who repented," French wrote.