This story was originally published by Medill News Service in January, 2016. Read the story on Medillreports.org or below:
By Jay Bouchard
DAVENPORT, Iowa – In a final push before Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is rallying crowds with the help of one of the country’s most prominent evangelical Christian leaders.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Virginia’s Liberty University, is lending his name and reputation as the New York real estate developer works to attract social conservatives. Falwell’s very presence, however, is drawing fresh questions about the authenticity of Trump’s own faith.
A self-described Presbyterian, Trump has made several unconventional comments about Christianity while rising to the top of the polls in Iowa. Yet a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll indicates that conservative Christians slightly prefer Trump to his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who touts his evangelical faith at every campaign stop.
“Now I’m leading with the evangelicals,” Trump boasted at a Saturday rally in Davenport, where Falwell introduced him. “And frankly, I think it was Jerry’s incredible spirit and endorsement.”
Falwell told the Davenport crowd that the United States needs to elect the most qualified leader and not a “Sunday school teacher.” He said, “I really think Donald Trump is uniquely qualified to run this country.”
Trump and Falwell largely avoided the topics of Christianity and faith during the hour-long rally, yet the three-times-married candidate – dismissed by Cruz as having “New York values” – has faced religious scrutiny throughout his campaign. His own words have not helped.
On Jan. 18, speaking at Liberty University, founded by Falwell’s late father, the leader of the Moral Majority, Trump demonstrated an unfamiliarity with the bible. He referred to “Two Corinthians,” prompting laughter from those in the crowd who knew he was referring to Second Corinthians, CNN reported.
Trump made headlines last summer when he referred to communion as drinking his “little wine” and “eating [his] little cracker” and said that he’s never asked God for forgiveness. Trump’s comments about his faith have led supporters and critics to doubt his authenticity.
Lisa Roseborough, a Trump backer from South Carolina, said she thinks he’s pandering to evangelicals.
“I don’t really believe he’s a Christian,” she said at the Davenport rally. Roseborough noted that his stance on immigration is one of the main factors that led her to doubt his faith. “If he was Christian he wouldn’t want to build the wall.”
Many evangelicals in Iowa, however, seem unconcerned about Trump’s faith as they make their decisions ahead of Monday’s first in the nation caucuses.
According to the Des Moines Register poll, 63 percent of likely Republican caucus goers surveyed said questions about Trump’s familiarity with the bible and matters of faith do not bother them.
But as Iowans caucus on Monday, Trump will be counting on evangelical Christians to give him a boost over rival Cruz. To boost the cause, Falwell planned to join Trump at rallies on Sunday in Council Bluffs and Sioux City.