White Evangelical Christians, it seems, are desperate for celebrity. So when President Donald Trump chose Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA to deliver a graduation speech, the school’s leaders were elated.
According to a recent Washington Post article, President Jerry Falwell, Jr. is particularly excited.
Falwell, who recently called Trump a “dream president” for evangelicals, said that he hasn’t spoken with the president about his planned remarks, but he knows what would go over well with the graduating class.
For Trump, a trip to Liberty is reciprocation for the undying loyalty of the University president.
Perhaps no Christian leader in the United States has more closely aligned himself with Trump than Falwell. The Liberty president delivered a glowing tribute to Trump during a campaign visit in January 2016. And his support was critical after the release in October of the “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump was overheard bragging lewdly about groping and trying to have sex with women. Falwell went to bat for Trump, saying that his comments were reprehensible but that “we’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.” (Paul Haim, Washington Post, May 6, 2017)
Never mind that candidate Trump dismissed the embarrassing remarks as just “locker room talk” not meant for public ears, in a rather empty “sorry I got caught” kind of apology.
Hopefully the theology is better in the Liberty U classroom – be it virtual or literal. With only 15,000 of the enrolled 80,000 students taking classes on campus, Liberty University’s distance learning initiatives make it “the largest Christian University in the world with over 250 online programs.”
Ivan Herrán is a Liberty University distance student who has recently earned a degree in Biblical studies and counseling. He is also a first generation Colombian immigrant and proud USAmerican citizen. He will be attending the 2017 graduation exercise.
What he is not is an enthusiastic Trump supporter. A church deacon who helps lead a multicultural ministry, Ivan understands well the stress felt by the Latino people, documented or not, resulting from the President’s negative and racist campaign, as well as the his administration’s determination to deport as many people as possible, regardless of their value to his adopted country.
True to his Christian faith founded on social justice, he aspires to demonstrate the value of our nation’s immigrants to his adopted country. For Ivan, the Trumpian anti-Hispanic rhetoric is not helpful, neither to himself nor to those he seeks to serve at church or as a community college First Year Facilitator.
So with a sense of great personal pride in having earned a University degree while studying in his second language, Ivan is set to attend his graduation ceremony at the growing Lynchburg campus.
Yet it is with a sense of trepidation that he prepares to be addressed by a man who clearly knows little of the teachings of Jesus, and who does not share his Christian principles of humility and compassion.
A naturalized U.S. citizen raised as a Colombian Catholic, Ivan will undoubtedly express appreciation for an institution which has made possible distance learning while working a full-time job, yet shake his head at what white evangelicalism has become.