Evangelical Christians came out to support Donald Trump last week and, as the president-elect begins to assemble a team to help him run the country for the next four years, one prominent evangelical Virginian could play a role — Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.
Falwell, an early and engaged supporter of the billionaire businessman, knows him personally and was in New York for his election last Tuesday. Since then, Falwell has spoken with the next president and with Vice President-elect Mike Pence about his interest in serving the new administration.
“I let them know one of my passions is reforming higher education and education in general,” Falwell said in an interview Tuesday.
“I told them I’d be willing — I have a lot of responsibilities here — but I’d be willing to serve in some capacity that sort of brings education back to some form of sanity.”
Liberty, in Lynchburg, is the largest Christian school in the country. It has spent $900 million on capital improvements over the past 10 years.
Falwell said higher education has to “get back to the basics of teaching” and eschew the “ivory tower” mentality that has led to “salaries that are out of this world.”
In public K-12 education, Falwell said, school vouchers could “transform the country and the inner cities” by giving parents an educational choice that provides “a whole generation of young people a new lease on life.”
Falwell described the discussions as “very informal conversations” but said his offer was well-received. “They were very surprised because they know how busy I am ... but very glad to hear” his offer to help.
Evangelicals have a lot of expectations of the incoming president they helped elect a week ago. Falwell said he expects Trump will keep his promises on selecting Supreme Court nominees who share evangelical positions on such issues as abortion.
Falwell said he also favors a repeal of the so-called Johnson Amendment, a portion of the federal tax code, named for then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, that prohibits tax-exempt institutions like schools and religious organizations from directly endorsing political causes.
Falwell had harsh words for how he believes liberal colleges reacted to Trump’s election, “having these little cry sessions and canceling classes and basically saying the wrong guy won.”
“Those are nonprofit schools. They are subject to the Johnson Amendment ... and they’re saying, ‘We’ll help you mourn since the wrong guy won,’” Falwell continued. “If Liberty had done that after Obama had won, we would have been called on the carpet on the Johnson Amendment and our tax exemption would have been at stake.”
Falwell said he was drawn to support Trump from his own perspective as a former businessman and lawyer who was involved in commercial real estate development. But he said the key to the broad base of evangelical support the candidate received probably had a more general foundation.
“The vast majority voted for Trump because they wanted change,” Falwell said. “They’ve been betrayed by career politicians, by establishment Republicans so many times — they just don’t trust them anymore — and they just wanted something different and didn’t want to go with Clinton.”
He added: “I knew on the other side you had the Pharisees, you know, the real judgmental Christians who were never going to support him, but I really felt like they were outnumbered.”