U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first commencement address Saturday at Liberty University, the nation’s largest Christian college whose leader was among Trump’s earliest supporters.
Trump’s visit to the Lynchburg, Virginia, school marks his first extended public appearance since his Tuesday firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election and possible connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
Trump said in his weekly radio address Saturday he was “delighted” to participate in Liberty’s celebration of its more than 18,000 graduates.
Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of the late televangelist and conservative activist, is seen as having helped Trump win 80 percent of the white evangelical vote.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that three quarters of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s performance during his first 100 days in office, compared to 39 percent of the general public.
Christian conservatives have been pleased with Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and his choice of socially conservative cabinet members such as Health and Human Services Secretary Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion activist.
But Christian conservatives have given mixed reviews to Trump’s executive order that directs the Internal Revenue Service to relax a rarely enforced limit on partisan political church activity. The order did not address broad exemptions from recognizing same-sex marriage, one of the most pressing issues for religious conservatives.
Trump has spoken at Liberty University before. While campaigning there in January 2016, he drew laughs from audience members when he referred to one of the Bible’s books as “Two Corinthians” rather than the more common “Second Corinthians.” He promised during that speech “We’re going to protect Christianity … I don’t have to be politically correct.”