Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is receiving criticism for his most recent statements of support for President Donald Trump, which included saying that Christian ethics shouldn't apply to public policy.
Falwell has been a longtime supporter of President Trump, being one of the first major evangelical leaders to endorse the Republican candidate in Jan. 2016.
In an interview with The Washington Post that was published Tuesday, Falwell justified his support for Trump in part by stating that he did not believe Christians should vote for people who want to apply Jesus’ teachings to government.
“Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome. He went out of his way to say that's the earthly kingdom, I'm about the heavenly kingdom and I'm here to teach you how to treat others, how to help others, but when it comes to serving your country, you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's,” said Falwell.
“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. That's not what Jesus taught.”
Falwell also derided Americans living in poverty.
"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," he said.
When asked, "Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?" Falwell simply answered, "no."
After the questioner commented on the shortness of Falwell's answer, he continued, “I know that [Trump] only wants what's best for this country, and I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it's going to be what's best for this country, and I can't imagine him doing anything that's not good for the country.”
Falwell's remarks are being widely condemned across the political spectrum.
Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume responded on Twitter to Falwell's critique of poor people.
"Falwell is such a disappointing man. Does he not remember the impoverished woman in Luke 21, who gave a pittance, leading Jesus to say she had given more than the rich because she gave all she had?" Hume wrote.
Regarding the whole interview, former Republican Congressman Reid Ribble wrote, "This says more about the state of evangelicalism than the Presidency. Being 'good' is fundamental to leadership. So if I agree with the policy it doesn’t matter how it is achieved? The end justifies the means? Wow."
In a series of tweets posted on Tuesday, author and Southern Baptist minister Alan Cross said Falwell’s reasoning was the “SAME approach German Lutherans took as Hitler rose to power.”
“If you want to know how the German Lutheran church comprising 80-90% of all Germans collapsed into subversion to tyranny, Falwell lays it out the blueprint perfectly,” tweeted Cross.
“Hitler advocated for ‘positive Christianity’ rather than a prophetic Christianity. Support the state as it advances its own interests and the state will leave you alone. Except, the state demands loyalty. Falwell’s position is disaster for the church in a democratic republic.”
Cross went on to state that while he did not consider Trump to be Adolf Hitler or Falwell to be a Nazi, he did believe that “Falwell lays the groundwork for church capitulation to the state,” adding that Falwell “should be vigorously critiqued.”
Tyler Huckabee, editor at the Christian magazine Relevant, argued in a series of posts to Twitter that Falwell’s statements contradict “the statement of mission and purpose of his own institution.”
“According to Falwell's interview, Christians should be one way personally but another way politically. According to what he's saying here, Christian ethics are all well and good for individuals, but bad for politics,” explained Huckabee.
“Falwell's dad coined the phrase: ‘If it's Christian, it ought to be better.’ The idea is that the sort of Christian education Liberty provides will be useful in any field, because Christian praxis will lead to superior work. Falwell Jr. isn't convinced, apparently.”
Michael Wear, chief strategist for The AND Campaign, commented that the media should stop focusing on Falwell as a representative of evangelicalism.
"One thing I no longer want to hear in 2019 is that charlatans like Jeffress and Falwell represent evangelicals until 'someone else will speak up.' There are others speaking and your insistence on focusing on fools suggests you get more pleasure from tearing down than building up," he wrote.
For his part, Falwell retweeted a post by preacher and ministries head Rick Amato, defending the Liberty leader's interview remarks.
“The civil message of Falwell Jr. in this article should become the basic teaching on good citizenship and patriotism in every Protestant, Catholic and Jewish school in America. Let’s keep the founding fathers doctrine of separation of Church and State,” stated Amato.