Sorry Mr. Falwell, Spreading a Lie is Not a Sign of Courage

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

Another court evangelical speaks.

In the run-up to Donald Trump’s commencement speech tomorrow at Liberty University, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece on Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here are a few things you might learn from Jack Stripling’s piece:

  • Donald Trump has a big red button on his desk that he uses to order Coca-Cola.
  • Law professors at Liberty have tenure, but the rest of the faculty do not.
  • Falwell believes that tenure is a threat to Liberty’s conservative curriculum.
  • The article reaffirms the longstanding Falwell hope, dating back to his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., that Liberty become the evangelical Notre Dame.
  • Then there is this paragraph:  “Four of the past six presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter — gave commencement addresses at Notre Dame during their first years in office. But the university broke with tradition this year, announcing that Vice President Mike Pence, not President Trump, would do the honors. Prior to the announcement, thousands of students, alumni, and faculty members had petitioned the university not to invite President Trump, saying he did not share the university’s values. Mr. Falwell suggested in a recent interview that Liberty may become a natural first stop for newly elected presidents — an unlikely scenario, at least for Democrats. “It might be a symbolic passing of the torch,” he said.”
  • In 2015 Liberty received $800 million in federal aid.  No wonder Falwell is so concerned about religious liberty for Christian colleges who uphold conservative religious values on sexual ethics.
  • Not all Liberty students are happy that Trump will be delivering their commencement address.  One student is quoted as saying: :He’s going to come and advance an agenda, and that agenda is going to be a political agenda and not encouraging graduates.”
  • Trump probably likes Falwell because he flatters him.  Falwell is courtier.

If you read The Way of Improvement Leads Home you might be familiar with a lot of these things.  (Although this was the first I have heard of Falwell’s interest in having Liberty be the place where all new Presidents come to speak).

But what struck me the most about this piece was Stripling’s reporting on Falwell’s support of Trump during the so-called “birther controversy.”  Here is a taste of that part of the article:

In the years before, Mr. Trump had publicly questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States, never presenting any evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t until last September, about two months before the election, that then-candidate Mr. Trump affirmed: “President Obama was born in the United States — period.”

Throughout their relationship, Mr. Falwell has praised Donald Trump for speaking fearlessly, even when others would say he was speaking falsely. The “birther” issue, Mr. Falwell said, was one such profile in courage.

“He was brave enough to say something that was so politically incorrect,” Mr. Falwell said. “I had no idea where Obama was born or if he had a birth certificate; I didn’t have an opinion on that. But just the fact that he was bold enough to challenge Obama on something like that, because you didn’t see the press challenging Obama much. And so that impressed me that he was bold enough to do it.”

Pressed on his own beliefs, Mr. Falwell said, “The birth certificate says Hawaii, so I believe it.”

Seriously?  Trump’s involvement in spreading falsehoods about Barack Obama’s birth was “brave” and “fearless?”  There is so much that is wrong with this.  Falwell is the president of an academic institution–a place where evidence and truth should be valued above all else.

Liberty is also a Christian university.  Does the Falwell brand of evangelical Christianity believe that publicly accusing someone with no evidence is a mark of courage?  Courage is speaking truth–Gospel truth–to power.  Courage is not bowing to political power when it is tempting to do so.  This is court evangelicalism at its worst.

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