Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is praising "rank-and-file" evangelicals for being "ahead of all the leadership" in supporting GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and is questioning if leading Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who has been outspoken in his opposition to Trump, is really a conservative.
Falwell, the son of late evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Sr., has been one of the first prominent evangelical leaders to endorse the billionaire real estate mogul for president. He was interviewed Thursday by NPR's Steve Inskeep this week and asked about the negative reaction he got from many evangelical leaders for supporting Trump "so strong and so early" in the election cycle.
As a LifeWay survey of over 1,000 American Protestant pastors in January found that only 4 percent of pastors favored Trump, Falwell applauded the rank-and-file evangelicals for their early support of the 2016 Republican nominee.
"You know, it's was funny that rank-and-file evangelicals were ahead of all the leadership," Falwell said. "They saw for decades conservative Republicans [make] promises to them on issues that were important to Christians and conservatives when they were running for office. But when they won, they didn't keep those promises. I think they just decided 'No more!'"
Falwell added that the rank-and-file evangelicals weren't looking for a candidate who is perfect.
"We want somebody who may make mistakes and maybe sort of talks off the cuff and may not get it right all the time, but at least he is not bamboozling us," Falwell said.
Considering that many evangelical leaders like Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a popular evangelical commenter, have been in staunch opposition to Trump, Inskeep questioned Falwell on Moore's view that Trump has been "a little soft on White Supremacists" and is a "lost person."
Last September, Moore wrote an op-ed that argued Trump's "most illogical support" comes from evangelicals and additionally contended that in order to support Trump, evangelicals and conservatives "must repudiate everything they believe."
"I don't know what Russell Moore's politics really are. I don't know if he is a closet liberal or if he is a conservative," Falwell responded. "I don't think it really matters what I say. I don't think it really matters what evangelical leaders on the Left say. Evangelicals and conservatives are voting as Americans and are voting to save our nation to control immigration, to stop terrorism, to bring jobs back to the country."
Although social issues like abortion and marriage have in the past been big motivators for the evangelical voting bloc, Falwell believes that evangelicals today are much less concerned about social issues.
"If you poll that group and you look for where the traditional social issues fall, they used to be near the top but now they are the last ones on the list — very bottom."
"Because the country is in such dire straights, many pastors tell me, 'What difference does it make what happens with social issues if we lose our country," Falwell continued. "We have got to save our country first."
Falwell issued similar thoughts on how evangelicals are "voting as Americans" in an interview with the Washington Post.
"And so, evangelicals and Christians, they're voting as Americans this time," Falwell said. "And maybe in the future when things aren't so chaotic, maybe they will vote more on the social issues again."
When asked about how thrice-married Trump said last year that he doesn't ask God for forgiveness, Falwell seemingly responded by mixing up the biblical stories of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and the adulterous woman who was stoned to death in John 8.
"Jesus said we are all sinners. When they ask [whether Trump's personal life is relevant], I always talk about the story of the woman at the well, who had five husbands and was living with somebody she wasn't married to," Falwell told NPR. "They wanted to stone her and Jesus said, 'He who is without sin, casts the first stone.' I just see how Donald Trump treats other people and I was impressed by that."
Falwell was also pressed on whether he thought Trump was "humble" and "honest," to which Falwell agreed.
"I do. I think he is very outspoken. What's the old saying, 'If it's true it aint braggin','" Falwell said. "I just know that you don't get where he is in life by not telling the truth or by being dishonest in business and by treating your employees unfairly. It is just not possible."
Falwell will give a speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.