Donald Trump, who’s currently working to appeal to evangelical voters, has secured a key endorsement to advance this effort: Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the late televangelist and president of the conservative Liberty University, threw his support behind Trump’s 2016 presidential bid on Tuesday. Trump’s initial announcement celebrating the endorsement, however, betrays the candidate’s shaky relationship to religious terminology.
“Great honor — Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, one of the most respected religious leaders in our nation, has just endorsed me!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
While Falwell is certainly a prominent figure in the evangelical community, he is not actually a reverend, a title specific to members of the clergy who have completed religious training.
Trump is accruing a long list of subtle missteps in his attempt to appeal to religious Americans. He has struggled to name books in the Bible, displayed a lack of understanding about the Christian denomination he claims, and offered a theologically dubious explanation of the rite of communion. He appears to be confused about the lectionary, the schedule of scripture readings used at many Christian churches. And earlier this year, while Trump was making an address at Falwell’s own Liberty University, the audience laughed when he referenced “two Corinthians” — a book of the Bible that is actually called “second Corinthians.”
The flubs haven’t been lost on the other candidates vying for the GOP nomination. Some other Trump’s rivals have suggested his faith isn’t genuine. Others have made more subtle digs. Earlier this week, on the campaign trail in Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) poked fun at the “two Corinthians” comment — quipping, “Well, you know, two Corinthians walk into a bar…”
Nonetheless, the Falwell endorsement could help Trump successfully gain a foothold among evangelical voters, a bloc that Cruz has been aggressively courting. It’s also a potential blow to Cruz, who first launched his presidential campaign with a speech at Liberty University.
Fallwell, who helped parlay his late father’s televangelism career into running one of the biggest Christian colleges in the country, fits into a category of religious figures known as “entrepreneurial evangelicals.” Falwell appreciates a good business sense and has been candid about his admiration for Trump.
In a statement announcing his decision to endorse the hotel mogul, Falwell referred to Trump as “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”