John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the nation's only Catholic president, would be "rolling over in his grave right now" if he heard Pope Francis' contention
that GOP presidential Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his positions on immigration and building a wall along the Mexican border, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said Thursday.
"I've gotten to know Donald Trump very well over the last four years," Falwell, who is the son of famed evangelist Jerry Falwell, told CNN's "Legal View With Ashleigh Banfield"
"I've seen his generosity to strangers, to his employees, his warm relationship with his children . . . I'm convinced he's a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ."
Further, said Falwell, "I think the Pope is mistaken. I think John F. Kennedy would be rolling over in his grave right now if he could hear what the Pope was saying, because that's a man who fought to be president against lots of prejudice, because many Protestants in this country did not want to elect a Catholic president, and he broke down those barriers."
Jesus said to "render under Caesar the things that are Caesar's," Falwell continued. "And that means to choose the best president. Here's the Pope saying we have to choose the leaders — sounds like he's saying this — that share his faith. Or share the Christian faith."
In his statements, Pope Francis did not specifically call on Americans to elect Christians, but said he was not going to get involved in politics.
"I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that," said the Pope aboard the Vatican plane as he was traveling back to Rome from Mexico. "We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt."
However, Falwell contended, by bringing up the question of a candidate's beliefs during an election, "the Pope is bringing up Christianity as a criteria for being president, in my view. I believe that's what he said."
Falwell continued that the matter of a candidate's faith should not enter into whether that person would make the best president, and he didn't think it was right for Christians to refuse to vote for GOP nominee Mitt Romney four years ago because he was a Mormon.
"I don't think that's our job," Falwell told CNN. "It's not our job to choose the best Sunday school teacher, like Jimmy Carter was. It's our job to choose who would defend and protect our nation, who would be the best president."
And in the current election, Falwell said he believes Trump is a Christian, but that's not why he endorsed him. Instead, he said he was looking for a candidate "who would lead us away from $20 trillion in debt and restore our country's economic viability . . . I endorsed him because I believe he'll be the best president of the United States."
Trump has fired back
quickly at the Pope, saying that it is "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question a person's faith and Falwell, when asked about Trump's comment referred to Jesus, who called the religious elite of his day "hypocrites, a generation of vipers and he called them wolves in sheep's clothing."
"So if what Donald Trump said is bad, then also what Jesus said is bad," said Falwell. "Jesus questioned religious leaders who judged others, and that's exactly what Donald Trump said in his comments today that you just mentioned."
Falwell also refuted a question that asked about Jesus, as someone who was forced away from his home by political leaders would agree to deport refugees.
"It was religious leaders who persecuted Jesus because they said things that didn't agree with the religious dogma of his time," Falwell said, "and so I dispute what you said about political leaders. It was religious leaders who pushed the political leaders to crucify Jesus for what he said."
But Falwell said he does not think the Pope's statements will hurt Trump in the upcoming South Carolina primary, even though the state's evangelical vote is an important one.
"I think it will hurt the Pope more than it will hurt Donald Trump," said Falwell. "I just don't think people in this country take statements like that seriously. I don't think they look to religious leaders to tell them who is the best Christian, and if they understand politics, then they're not choosing a political leader based on who is the best Christian, who says all the right things, who uses evangelical lingo.
"That is not who will make the best president. I'm sorry, but I think our people are very intelligent and I think they understand that. And I don't think statements like this will have any impact at all."
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