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Liberty University Alumni Return Diplomas to Protest President Praising Trump

Jerry Falwell Jr. said Trump made a "bold, truthful statement about the Charlottesville tragedy."

Then U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Jan. 31, 2016. / REUTERS

A group of Liberty University alumni are preparing to return their diplomas by Sept. 5 to protest leader of the Christian-based university Jerry Falwell Jr.'s support for President Donald Trump, which is "incompatible with a Christian witness," according to alumni. Meanwhile, Paula White, one of Trump's spiritual advisors said he has been "authentically raised up by God."


Falwell, an evangelical Christian, came to the defense of Trump after he was widely criticized for his statements. During a press conference Aug. 15, the president morally equated the actions of white supremacists with those of counter-protesters during a deadly white supremacist demonstration on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va.

Falwell tweeted on Aug. 16:

Falwell told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, "One of the reasons I supported [Trump] is because he doesn't say what's politically correct; he says what is in his heart. But he does not have a racist bone in his body."

Regarding his tweet, he said, "The only groups he identified by name as evil and causing what happened in Charlottesville were the Nazis, KKK and the white supremacists. That's what I thought was bold and truthful."

Host Martha Raddatz responded, "Well, let me tell you what he said, though, let's go back to this. He said there were very fine people on both sides. Do you believe there were very fine people on both sides?"

Fallwell answered, "He has inside information that I don't have. I don't know if there were historical purists there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don't know."

In an interview with "Fox & Friends" Monday morning, Falwell repeated his statement that Trump "does not have a racist bone in his body."

"I know him well," he said. "He loves all people; he's worked so hard to help minorities in the inner cities, to bring jobs back to them. He says that school choice is the civil rights issue of our time. African American employment has skyrocketed since he became president."

In response to Falwell's appearance on Fox, Trump tweeted:

Alumni of Liberty University, which is located in Lynchburg, Va., have organized a "Return your diploma to LU" group on Facebook that currently has more than 500 members. The organizers point to longstanding frustration with Falwell, from his endorsement of Trump during the presidential campaign — despite the businessman's 2005 comments against women — to his support of Trump's statements following the act of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville.

Alumni sent a group letter to Falwell asking him to retract his statements. It said, in part, "During the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, white supremacists, nationalists and neo-Nazis perpetrated brutal violence against anti-racist protesters, murdering one woman and injuring many. Instead of condemning racist and white nationalist ideologies, Mr. Trump provided equivocal and contradictory comments." They said Falwell's statements in defense of Trump are "incompatible with Liberty University's stated values, and incompatible with a Christian witness."

Falwell told the Associated Press on Monday that the alumni protest is "all just grandstanding."

In a statement, the university, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Sr., where Trump gave a commencement address in May, said it strongly supports the right of students to express their political opinion but also noted that the diplomas "are quite helpful" in getting them a job with a high salary.

"The tactic of returning diplomas has been used by students of many other schools to draw attention to various causes, but let's also remember that those same diplomas are quite helpful in helping these graduates secure well-paying jobs," the university said.

Trump 'Authentically Raised Up by God'

Falwell is among a number of evangelicals standing up for Trump, including Paula White. The televangelist and one of Trump's spiritual advisors said on Tuesday that he has been "authentically raised up by God."

"They say about our president, 'Well, he is not presidential.' Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness," White said on the PTL Network's "Jim Bakker Show."

"And I mean that with all due respect. Because, in other words, he is not a polished politician. In other words, he is authentically — whether people like it or not — has been raised up by God.

"Because God says that he raises up and places all people in places of authority," she continued. "It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God."

However, there are spiritual leaders who do not see Trump as "authentically raised up by God." Last week, New York City megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard decided to leave Trump's unofficial evangelical advisory board.

Bernard tweeted a statement on Friday, saying that after having distanced himself for several months "it became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration."

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