Jerry Falwell Jr., 56, took over as president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2007, following the death of his father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the school. He lives with his wife, Becki, in Bedford County, Va.
You said recently that conservatives and Christians should stop electing nice guys. Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice guys?
Of course, of course. But that’s where people get confused. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
So, the government you want is one free of religious association?
Yes. The government should be led by somebody who is going to do what’s in the best interest of the government and its people. And I believe that’s what Jesus thought, too.
In 2016 you wrote in a Washington Post editorial that voters in the 2010 and 2014 midterms sent a message they were “tired of the leftist agenda.” What message did voters in the 2018 midterms send?
This midterm, the president did better than the average president does in his first midterms. So I think the message is that the American people are happy with the direction the country is headed and happy with the economy, happy with our newfound respect in the world. It’s a better result than you normally see in the first midterms.
You pushed for national leaders to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” when describing Muslims who are terrorists. Should leaders call it “white supremacist terrorism” when we have violent acts by white supremacists in this country?
Sure, if a terrorist is someone who is trying to overthrow a political regime. I guess it depends on what your definition of terrorism is. Anybody who kills anybody else or commits violence against anybody else because of their race is horrible. It’s just as bad as the 9/11 attack.
You and other white evangelical leaders have strongly supported President Trump. What about him exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support?
What earns him my support is his business acumen. Our country was so deep in debt and so mismanaged by career politicians that we needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.
The deficit and debt have increased during his first two years.
Yeah, Congress, the spending bill that they forced on him in order to get the military spending up to where it needed to be — he said that would be the last time he signed one of those. But he had no choice because Obama had decimated the military, and it had to be rebuilt.
Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?
That’s the shortest answer we’ve had so far.
Only because I know that he 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.
Is it hypocritical for evangelical leaders to support a leader who has advocated violence and who has committed adultery and lies often? I understand that a person can be forgiven their sins, but should that person be leading the country?
When Jesus said we’re all sinners, he really meant all of us, everybody. I don’t think you can choose a president based on their personal behavior because even if you choose the one that you think is the most decent — let’s say you decide Mitt Romney. Nobody could be a more decent human being, better family man. But there might be things that he’s done that we just don’t know about. So you don’t choose a president based on how good they are; you choose a president based on what their policies are. That’s why I don’t think it’s hypocritical.
There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. 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. Think about it. 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.
You’ve been criticized by some other evangelical leaders about your support for the president. They say you need to demand higher moral and ethical standards. You disagree with them on that?
It may be immoral for them not to support him, because he’s got African American employment to record highs, Hispanic employment to record highs. They need to look at what the president did for the poor. A lot of the people who criticized me, because they had a hard time stomaching supporting someone who owned casinos and strip clubs or whatever, a lot them have come around and said, “Yeah, you were right.” Some of the most prominent evangelicals in the country have said, “Jerry, we thought you were crazy, but now we understand.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.