LYNCHBURG, Virginia (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered the convocation address Monday at Virginia’s Liberty University, one of the country’s most prominent evangelical Christian institutions.
The thrice-married billionaire businessman, who sometimes brings a copy of his boyhood bible and a photo from his confirmation to events to bolster his Christian credentials, worked to appeal to the crowd of more than 11,000 students and local residents by quoting from the scripture.
“We’re going to protect Christianity,” he told the audience, before proceeding to quote from what he introduced as “Two Corinthians, 3:17.”
The comment prompted chuckles from students in the crowd, who were quick to point out that the New Testament book is generally referred to as “Second Corinthians.”
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The visit comes as Trump seeks to bolster support among the evangelical Christians who form a significant voting bloc in Iowa — first among the early voting states in the primaries — where Trump is currently running head-to-head against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz launched his campaign at the school.
The campus has become a popular stop for presidential contenders, welcoming candidates from both parties, including Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders.
Trump stuck to his traditional pitch during the campaign speech, but also touted the bible and promised that, as president, people would be saying “‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
He also called for Christians to band together, saying that Christianity is “under siege.”
While Trump is running against several candidates who have deep ties to Christian votes, he was given a rousing introduction by the school’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., who called Trump a “breath of fresh air” and compared his blunt style, not only to his father’s, but to that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus Christ. All spoke the truth, no matter how unpopular, Falwel said.
Falwell also made the case that presidential candidates should not be judged on their religiosity, noting that his father was criticized for supporting Republican Ronald Reagan, a divorced Hollywood actor over Jimmy Carter, a southern Baptist Sunday school teacher.
“My father proudly replied that Jesus pointed out that we are all sinners, every one of us,” he said.
The timing of Trump’s visit prompted protests from a handful of students, angry that the GOP presidential front-runner had been invited to deliver the address on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“It’s just very disheartening and disappointing,” said Jeff Long, a junior at the school who attended the speech wearing a shirt that read, “Black Lives Matter.”
“I was disappointed, I was shocked that the school was inviting someone who does not honor the values of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he said of Trump.
Trump made only passing reference to the late King in his remarks, noting that the crowd size was testament to the civil rights champion’s legacy.
“We’re dedicating the record to the late, great Dr. King, ok?” he told the crowd of more than 11,000 people.
Convocation events, which occur three times a week, are mandatory for residential students at the school.