Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received a full-throated welcome from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. on Monday during a speech at the renowned Christian college in Lynchburg, Va. – but don’t call it an endorsement.
“As you know, Liberty University does not support or oppose candidates for public office, and Mr. Trump's appearance here should not be interpreted by any as an endorsement by Liberty. ... But I do want to share with you things,” Falwell began.
Falwell, the son of renowned televangelist Jerry Falwell, delivered a long and glowing testimony about Trump’s personal qualities, including references to several philanthropic donations the business mogul has made to organizations and people in need. Falwell has spoken highly of Trump in the past, telling Fox News Channel last month that “Trump reminds me so much of my father.”
“In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” he said Monday.
Falwell added that Trump is “the only candidate in this national election” who can reasonably claim to be free from pressures by donors. He called Trump a man “who is not a career politician, who has succeeded in real life.”
“He cannot be bought, he's not a puppet on a string like many other candidates ... who have wealthy donors as their puppet masters,” he told the crowd. “And that is a key reason why so many voters are attracted to him.”
The strong endorsement of Trump's character, even if not an outright political endorsement, could help the candidate shore up support among Christian evangelicals who have reservations about supporting a candidate whose bona fides on social issues have been frequently criticized.
"To be compared to his father, just a little bit, to be compared to his father is really an honor for me, so I want to thank Jerry for saying that,” Trump told the crowd.
But the real estate mogul caught flak on social media -- and drew laughter from the crowd – for inadvertently blundering common scriptural nomenclature during his speech.
"Two Corinthians, 3:17, that's the whole ballgame," Trump said in an overture to the religious crowd. Many in the crowd laughed because he misidentified "Second Corinthians."
And not all were convinced by Falwell's words. As Trump spoke to Liberty students, evangelical faith leader Russell Moore launched into a tweet storm panning his speech and Falwell’s comments.