Jerry Falwell Jr.’s coronavirus response shows his staggering level of ignorance

After learning of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s decision to partially reopen Liberty University, my thoughts turned to the biblical account of Balaam’s ass.

According to the Hebrew scriptures, the children of Israel were on the verge of engulfing another Bronze Age tribe. Lacking recourse to the United Nations, the Moabites turned to a diviner named Balaam to curse the Israelis. But on the way to the cursing, Balaam’s conveyance, an ass, saw an angel blocking the path ahead, turned hard into a wall and crushed Balaam’s foot. Unable to see the celestial creature himself, a frustrated Balaam beat his ass. But God permitted the wounded animal to speak, mock her rider and explain the divine roadblock. The eyes of a chastened Balaam were finally opened and he took the Israeli side. And the rest is Middle East history.

Students at Liberty University are more likely than most to understand the specialness of this biblical lesson. It is one of the few stories in which Falwell should not be assigned the part of an ass. For that matter, he does not even deserve the role of Balaam, who at least was open to instruction. Instead, Falwell has charged the angel straight on and — in defiance of nearly all public health experts — reopened the Liberty dorms in the middle of a pandemic. Now, according to the New York Times, at least one student has tested positive and several more have shown coronavirus-like symptoms.

Falwell played down the risk to students who might get the disease. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk,” he argued last week, “and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”

But this public response indicates the staggering level of ignorance that informs Falwell’s leadership. It is possible for students with mild or unnoticeable symptoms to spread the disease. And once cases are discovered, it is generally too late to take preventive action. Yes, the fatality rate of infected college students is likely to be low. Yet places with broad community spread are more likely to see infection of the elderly and vulnerable, who are more likely to fill premature graves. Since when has Liberty University embraced the teaching of Social Darwinism in Ethics 101?

What can’t be disputed is the constant churn of mixed messages that Falwell has contributed to our national debate. His stated intention has been to concentrate Liberty’s student population: “I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell personally welcomed hundreds of students back to campus after Spring Break. “They were talking about being glad to be back,” he recalled. “I was joking how they pretty much had the whole place to themselves, and I told them to enjoy it.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell has called the national pandemic response an “overreaction” with political motivations. “Impeachment didn’t work,” he claimed, “and the Mueller report didn’t work and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell went on Fox News and speculated that the coronavirus might have been the work of the North Korean military.

It can’t be disputed that Falwell called one critic a “dummy,” even though he is the parent of Liberty students. Or that Falwell has dismissed a critical professor named Marybeth Davis Baggett as “the ‘Baggett’ lady.’ ”

There is an old Bob Dylan song titled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Who is Falwell serving instead of students, parents, staff, his board and the Lynchburg, Va., community? Let’s see.

  • Falwell has contempt for the weak. He is
  • dismissive of experts. H
  • traffics in conspiracy theories. He
  • attacks his critics with infantile putdowns and demeaning names. And he
  • refuses to admit when he is dangerously wrong.

Who does that sound like? It is on the tip of my tongue.

In this case Falwell has gone even further than the president, who is occasionally forced, under duress, to say sane things about the virus. Falwell seems to want credit from President Trump for drinking the most distilled, concentrated, rotgut form of the Kool-Aid.

He blunders toward blasphemy by insisting that he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs. “We’re conservative,” he claims, “we’re Christian, and therefore we’re being attacked.” But any path that ignores the truth and endangers the vulnerable can’t be called the way of Christ. No, there is only one explanation: Falwell has laid down the cross to follow Trump.

Bernie Sanders’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Socialism

It’s his disdain for his country. That’s the lesson Democrats should draw from Corbyn’s catastrophe.

With America’s Democrats on the cusp of nominating Bernie Sanders, they have one last chance to look across the Atlantic for a glimpse of how this could end up.

The warning comes via the British Labour Party’s historic defeat in December’s general election. Under Jeremy Corbyn, a leader uncannily similar to Mr. Sanders in ideology, affect and career trajectory, Labour suffered its worst drubbing since 1935. This despite Mr. Corbyn’s adroitness at rallying a youthful and fervent-to-the-point-of-derangement base, the likes of which British politics has rarely if ever witnessed. Ahem.

The conventional interpretation is that it’s Mr. Corbyn’s socialism what done it. He promised a wholesale re-nationalization of the British economy—utilities, transportation, even the internet. He promised an outsize expansion of the state, and outsize tax hikes to pay for it. Those taxes, voters soon noticed, would fall heavily on the middle class, not only the rich.

All that played a role in Labour’s drubbing, but economics may not have been decisive. Polling by YouGov before the election found voters trusting Labour more than the Conservatives on health policy and education, less on taxation, and roughly the same on unemployment.

This angle needn’t worry Mr. Sanders much. Unlike Americans, British voters had labored under the yoke of democratic socialism within living memory. It wasn’t a positive experience for them, and it prompted their turn to Margaret Thatcher and free-market reform in 1979. Mr. Corbyn pledged to take the U.K. back to a past Britons would rather forget.

Mr. Sanders has the luxury of campaigning for socialism in a country that has never tried it. He can present his program as a door to a fabulous new future. U.S. voters still frustrated with the economy for various reasons might be tempted to knock on that door, not understanding what lurks on the other side.

The Corbyn warning for Democrats takes a different form. What British voters really, really didn’t like about Mr. Corbyn wasn’t his economics. It was his culture.

To a remarkable extent the December election wasn’t a vote on Brexit or socialism or Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s economic “leveling up” of poorer regions. It was a referendum on Mr. Corbyn’s Britishness: Does he have enough of it, yea or nay?

Nay, said voters in Labour’s traditional heartlands. Michael Ashcroft, a former Conservative deputy chairman and veteran pollster, this month released a postmortem on Labour’s campaign. His surveys and focus groups with former Labour voters who defected in 2019 are devastating. “He is not patriotic,” one participant said of Mr. Corbyn. “He meets all those terrorist parties. You want someone with good old values.” Quoth another: “He said he would never press the [nuclear] button. We need protection. He should have said he would, even if he didn’t mean it.”

Among those who voted Labour in 2017 but not in 2019, the most common reason for switching allegiance, cited by 53%, was that they didn’t want Mr. Corbyn to be prime minister. That sentiment outranked Brexit as a motivation even among voters who defected to Mr. Johnson’s get-Brexit-done Conservatives by 75% to 73% (respondents could choose more than one option). These voters decided the election.

Mr. Corbyn had given them ample reason for doubt: There was his tendency to pal around with terrorists who killed Britons or their allies. His indulgence of anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks, which offended working-class Britons’ sense of decency. His disdain for alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and military programs such as the Trident nuclear deterrent, which give the U.K. its esteemed place in the world.

Mr. Sanders faces the same problem. No one who shares Middle America’s core values of freedom, democracy and entrepreneurship would choose to honeymoon in the Soviet Union. No one who values American achievements in science, the arts or education would heap praise on Cuba’s schools.

Every other Democratic candidate on a debate stage with Mr. Sanders has been able to communicate even the most fantastical policy ideas with an undertone of patriotism. Mr. Sanders alone sounds as if he wants to replace America rather than transform it.

And if he wins the Democratic nomination he’ll be running against Donald Trump, whose only consistent mode is American greatness. Mr. Corbyn ran aground against a candidate in Boris Johnson and a policy in Brexit that spoke directly to British patriotism.

British voters concluded that the danger of a leader who didn’t share their values was greater than the risk even of Brexit. Labour now faces years in the political wilderness as it tries to rebuild the trust of those who came to doubt whether it’s truly a British party. Democrats still have a chance, barely, to spare themselves that misery.

Trump: I don’t agree with Jesus @ National Prayer Breakfast

The Source of Trump’s Black Hole:

John Fea posted a Lawrence O’Donnell video that names the source of Trump’s black hole — his incomprehension of “love“.

O’Donnell was responding to events at the National Prayer Breakfast, which are listed below:

National Prayer Breakfast: Feb. 6, 2020

Arthur Brooks: America’s crisis of contempt

Arthur C. Brooks’s remarks, as prepared, for the National Prayer Breakfast keynote address on Thursday at the Washington Hilton.

Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.

As leaders, you all know that when there is an old problem, the solution never comes from thinking harder in the old ways; we have to think differently — we need an epiphany. This is true with societal problems and private problems.

Here’s an example of the latter: I have three kids, and two are still teenagers. (Pray for me.) Two years ago, when my middle son, Carlos, was a senior in high school, my wife, Ester, and I were having a rough parent-teacher conference. It was his grades. This was an old problem which we had tried everything to solve, but we were getting nowhere. We left the conference in grim silence and got in the car. Ester finally broke the silence.

“We need to see this problem in a whole new way,” she said.

“I’m all ears, sweetheart,” I answered, “because I’m at the end of my rope.”

“At least we know he’s not cheating,” she said.

See, that’s thinking differently! And that’s the spirit in which I want to address the problem of political contempt.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to Carlos: Currently he’s in Parris Island, S.C., at boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. We couldn’t be prouder of him.)

To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?

First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.

I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.

At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes — only opportunities — and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:

“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with — and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side — political liberals — and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them — which should be your goal — remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”

It was not an applause line.

After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “Liberals are stupid and evil.”

At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?

That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.

Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?

Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?

This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.

Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.

Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy. It’s us, not them — I am guilty. And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do.

What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?

The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.

The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years.

How can he tell? It’s not from the anger that the couples express. As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce. The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt. These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all — eye-rolling. These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.

Why do they do that? The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart. And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk. Look at Twitter — if you dare. Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.

It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.

How do we break the habit of contempt? Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies?

To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments.

  1. First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!
  2. Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.
  3. Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed — they go to the dark places to bring light. It’s hard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved. (Here are words that have never been uttered: “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”) But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?

I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt. If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you. Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media! But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.

My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt. That is your opportunity. So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room. It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church. Here’s what it says:

You are now entering mission territory.

If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.

God bless you, and God bless America.

President Trump: National Prayer Breakfast, Feb 6, 2020

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:11 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, thank you very much.  I’m working very hard for you, I will tell you.  (Laughter.)  And sometimes you don’t make it easy, and I certainly don’t make it easy on you.  (Laughter.)  And I will continue that tradition, if I might, this morning.  And, Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.  (Laughter.)  But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say.  (Laughter.)  But I love listening to you.  It’s really great.  Thank you very much.

And thank you, congressmen, for the great job you’ve been doing and the relationship and the help.  You’re a warrior.  Thank you very much.  And, Kevin, you’re a warrior.  Thank you.  The job you’ve done is incredible.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  A lot of extra work.  Unnecessary work.

It’s wonderful to be with the thousands of religious believers for the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast.  I’ve been here from the first one, where I had the privilege of being asked.  I’ve been with you for a long time before then.  And we’ve made tremendous progress.  Tremendous progress.  You know what we’ve done.  I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years.  And it’s been my honor.

But this morning, we come together as one nation, blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace.  As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.  They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nationThey know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.

Weeks ago, and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, the fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right.  I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that that’s not so.

So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on.  And I’ll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House.

We’re joined today by two people whose faith inspires us all: our amazing, wonderful friend, Vice President Mike Pence — (applause) — and his wonderful wife, Karen.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of our great political leaders out there — so many that I’ve been working with so hard over the last three years.  And we’ve accomplished so much.  And to members of my Cabinet in attendance — Secretary Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, David Bernhardt — (applause) — Gene Scalia, Alex Azar, Ben Carson, Dan Brouillette, Betsy DeVos, Robert Wilke, and Administrator Jovita Carranza.

Joining us — (applause) — for this cherished tradition are a lot of friends in the audience.  And many, really, have become friends.  They are political leaders.  They’ve become great friends.  That’s all I get to meet anymore.  (Laughter.)  That and the enemies and the allies.  And we have them all.  We have allies.  We have enemies.  Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it.  (Laughter.)  But we’re changing all that.  But thank you all, and thank you all for being here.

I also want to welcome foreign dignitaries from more than 140 countries.  That’s something.  (Applause.)  That’s something.  Everyone here today is united by a shared conviction.  We know that our nation is stronger, our future is brighter, and our joy is greater when we turn to God and ask him to shed his grace on our lives.

On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback.  That’s what it is.  (Applause.)  Our country has never done better than it is doing right now.  Our economy is the strongest it has ever been.  And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.

According to the latest Gallup poll that just came out a little while ago, a few minutes ago, American satisfaction is at the highest level ever recorded.  Can you imagine?  And that’s from Gallup — no friend of mine.  (Applause.)  Ninety percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives.  How about that?  Isn’t that something?  Just came out today.  (Applause.)  They must have known I was going to be here.  (Laughter.)

In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom.  (Applause.)

As I said on Tuesday in the House Chamber, “In America, we don’t punish prayer.  We don’t tear down crosses.  We don’t ban symbols of faith.  We don’t muzzle preachers.”  We don’t muzzle pastors.  “In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.”  (Applause.)

So much of the greatness we have achieved, the mysteries we’ve unlocked, and the wonders we’ve built, the challenges we’ve met, and the incredible heights that we’ve reached has come from the faith of our families and the prayers of our people.

Before America declared independence, patriots in all 13 colonies came together in days of fasting and prayer.  In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, Washington and his men had no food, no supplies, and very little chance of victory.  It reminded me a little bit of 2016.  We had very little chance of victory.  (Laughter.)  Except for the people in this room and some others believed we were going to win.  I believed we were going to win.  But what they did have was have an unwavering belief that God was with them.  I believe that too. God is with the people in this room.

Before a single skyscraper rose up in New York City, thousands of poor American families donated all they could to build the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  (Applause.)
When Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, he said, “Houston, I would like to request a few moments of silence.”  Then, he read from the Bible.  (Applause.)

At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.

To protect faith communities, I have taken historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools.  (Applause.)

We can also talk about the Johnson Amendment.  We can talk about Mexico City Policy.  We’ve done a lot.  But I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity.  (Applause.)

We are upholding the sanctity of life — sanctity of life.  (Applause.)  And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position.  You better get out and vote on November 3rd — (laughter) — because you have a lot of people out there that aren’t liking what we’re doing.

And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God.  (Applause.)

Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society.  We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed.  We are bringing hope to forgotten communities.  And more Americans are working today — 160 million.  A little bit short.  Just a little bit.  One hundred and sixty million.  We’ve never been even close — than ever before.  Think of it: More Americans are working today — almost 160 million — than ever before.  Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country.  (Applause.)

A more specific number and numbers that you hear me say, if you listen: African American, Asian American, Hispanic American — the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country.  Women — best in 71 years.  Sorry.  We’ll have you there soon.  Soon, it will be “historic.”  I have to apologize to the women; it’s only 71 years.

But the best unemployment numbers, we have — we’re doing things that nobody thought possible.  We’re setting records that nobody thought achievable.

And to give former prisoners a second chance at life, which so many people in this room have worked on for so long — (applause) — we passed criminal justice reform into law, and I signed it nine months ago.

And it’s proving more and more that America is indeed a nation that believes in redemption.  What’s happened with prisoners is a miracle.  Prisoners would come out and nobody would give them a job.  And oftentimes, most of the time — almost all of the time — they’d go back into prison.  They’d get caught doing something bad.  They had no money.  They had no hope.  They had no job.  Now they’re coming out into a booming economy.  And employers are hiring them, and to a certain extent, maybe because they’re having a hard time getting people.

First time in our country’s history, actually, we’re running out of people.  We have plants moving in by the thousands.  We have car companies coming from Japan and from Germany, from lots of other places, and we need people.  And employers are hiring prisoners, and they would have never done it, except for what we’ve done with criminal justice reform.  But even before that, because the economy has become so powerful.

And these prisoners have done an incredible job.  The employers are saying, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”

So it’s an incredible thing what’s happening to people that are given a second chance, and sometimes a third chance, in all fairness.  And it’s something that everybody in this room should be very proud about, because you’ve always felt that way long before it was fashionable.  So I want to thank you for that.  (Applause.)

As we revive our economy, we are also renewing our national spirit.  Today we proudly proclaim that faith is alive and well and thriving in America.  And we’re going to keep it that way.  Nobody will have it changed.  (Applause.)   It won’t happen.  As long as I’m here, it will never, ever happen.  (Applause.)

Something which wasn’t done nearly enough — I could almost say wasn’t done at all — we are standing up for persecuted Christians and religious minorities all around the world — (applause) — like nobody has ever done.

Last year, at the United Nations, I was honored to be the first President to host a meeting of religious freedom.  It was based all on religious freedom.  That was the first meeting of its kind ever held at the United Nations.  There I called upon all nations to combat the terrible injustice of religious persecution.  And people listened.

And countries that we give billions of dollars to, they listened because they had to listen.  (Laughter.)  It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?  (Laughter.)  That nobody ever played that game before.  (Laughter.)

Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others.

In Venezuela, the dictator Maduro has arrested church leaders.  At the State of the Union, I was honored to host the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.  (Applause.)  Good man.  I told him that all Americans stand with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.

Yesterday, our administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first-ever alliance devoted to promoting religious liberty.  It was something.  Really something.  (Applause.)

More than 25 countries have already joined our campaign.  I want to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, who are both here this morning, for leading this historic initiative.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Mike.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free.  Prayer makes us strong.  And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace.  (Applause.)

With us this morning is a pastor who embodies the miracle of faith and the power of prayer: Reverend Gerald Toussaint from Louisiana.  Reverend Toussaint is an Army veteran, a truck driver, and a pastor.  He leads the same church that his father led, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has been a pillar of the community for more than 140 years.

Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that was destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist.

Yet, in the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation.  Families quickly came together in prayer.  Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could.  Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant — (applause) — and the other two churches that were (inaudible).

On Easter Sunday, just days after he lost his church, Reverend Toussaint preached about what it all meant.  What does it mean?  “The Easter season,” he said, “is a fitting metaphor for recent events.  It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified.  It was dark [at] night when they burned our church.  What has happened since is like a resurrection.”  Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand-new start, and it’s going to be better than ever, Reverend.  (Applause.)  Better than ever.  Fantastic.

And today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared.  Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans.  And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

You know, the Reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does.  He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes.  It’s what he does.  He wants it to be rebuilt.  It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again, and I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before.  What do you think, Reverend?  Yes?  And it’s going to have your mark on it.  It did have and now it will have even great.  And your father is looking down on you right now and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Very much inspire us, Reverend.  Thank you.

Well, I want to just thank everybody.  This has been very special.  Tell your congregation that — and all of your people — that we have 350 million people in our country.  They’re proud Americans.  And they respect what we’re doing, even those that you don’t think so much like us, respect us, want to be with us.  They’re respecting our fight, and we are in a fight.

Religion in this country and religion all over the world — certain religions in particular — are under siege.  We won’t let that happen.  We are going to protect our religions.  We are going to protect Christianity.  We are going to protect our great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all of the people that we so cherish and that we so respect.

America is eternally in the debt of our nation’s African American churches all throughout this country.  That’s why it’s so fitting and so — it’s one of the reasons we chose this particular church in Louisiana.  For generations, they bravely fought for justice and lifted up the conscience of our nation.  And we’re grateful beyond any measure.

But I can say that going beyond that, we’re grateful to the people in this room for the love they show to religion.  Not one religion, but many religions.  They are brave.  They are brilliant.  They are fighters.  They like people.  And sometimes they hate people.  I’m sorry.  I apologize.  I’m trying to learn.  (Laughter.)  It’s not easy.  It’s not easy.  (Applause.)
When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them?  It’s not easy, folks.  (Laughter.)  I do my best.

But I’ll tell you what we are doing: We’re restoring hope and spreading faith.  We’re helping citizens of every background take part in the great rebuilding of our nation.  We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world.  We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now.  We were not a respected nation just a few years ago.  We had lost our way.  Our country is respected again by everybody.  (Applause.)

This morning, let us ask Father in Heaven to guide our steps, protect our children, and bless our families.  And with all of our heart, let us forever embrace the eternal truth that every child is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.

Thank you.  God Bless you.  And God bless America.  Thank you all very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END

 

Source: whitehouse.gov