Well, it looks like things are getting a bit tense between the progressive evangelicals staging the event and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. This afternoon Shane Claiborne, the organizer of the revival, tweeted this:
BREAKING: I sent @JerryFalwellJr a sincere request to pray with us at the #LynchburgRevival. His response? A letter threatening up to a year in jail and a $2500 fine if we attempt to pray on campus @LibertyU, even with students and alumni. Here are both letters. pic.twitter.com/hiGq3C0Zh5
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) April 5, 2018
In case you can’t read the tweet, I have typed the exchange of letters below. I have added links where appropriate.
Claiborne to Falwell:
Dear President Falwell,
I’ve been in touch with David Nasser, who shared your email with me. David and I had a chance to talk at length on the phone, and we had a meaningful time of prayer together. We’ve also been discussing the possibility of bringing a group of Liberty students up to Philly to spend some time with at The Simple Way, and volunteer in the neighborhood. I hope that can happen soon. I have come to know so many wonderful Liberty students and alumni, one of which works in our office. I loved my visit to Liberty a few years ago when I spoke in chapel, though I do have one regret–not hitting up the snowboarding hill. Next time.
As you may know, we are hosting a gathering in Lynchburg on April 6-7 called the Red Letter Revival Lynchburg. I’ve had the privilege of working with Liberty University students, Liberty alumni, and the fine folks of Lynchburg who are all working together to host and shape this important event. We will be featuring an amazing lineup of preachers. Christian authors and musicians–both from Lynchburg and from all over the country. You are welcome to join us. In fact, we would love to have you join us–for all of the revival or any part of it. We truly believe we will see a large number of folks dedicate their lives to Jesus and justice over the weekend.
I am writing with a very specific request. I have reached out to you in the past to ask you to pray with me, and I am reaching out again. I’d still like to pray together, even regularly if you are willing. I already pray for you, but I would love to pray with you. I also would like to ask your permission to bring some people from the revival onto campus on April 7. We’d like to join students and alumni, and you if you are willing. What we have in mind is not a protest but an on-campus prayer vigil in the afternoon (1-3pm). Would you join us? If you can’t join us, would you give us permission to come onto campus and pray for our country, our leaders, for you, and for Liberty University?
Feel free to give me a call if you prefer. My cell number is _____________________. I look forward to hearing from you.
Your brother in Christ,
And here is a response from the Liberty University Police Department:
Mr. Shane Claiborne,
This letter serves as notice to inform you that you have been restricted from all properties owned and controlled by Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church. It is also notice that you are restricted from attending any and all events and activities of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church. Should you decide to violate this restriction, you will be arrested for trespassing according to Virginia Code Section 18.2.119….
Colonel Richard D. Hinkley
This whole thing is a mess. I am no fan of Liberty University or Jerry Falwell Jr. Anyone who reads this blog knows that to be true.
I am a fan of Shane Claiborne and his work in Philadelphia. I don’t identify as a “progressive evangelical,” but I certainly appreciate the concerns of those who do identify with the label. I support the spirit of the #LynchburgRevival.
Yet something doesn’t seem right to me about Claiborne’s letter to Falwell.
Yes, Claiborne takes the high road. He asks Falwell to pray with him on the campus of Liberty University. But the letter also fails to acknowledge that Claiborne has brought this Red Letter Revival to Lynchburg precisely because Lynchburg is the home of Liberty University and precisely because Falwell Jr. is a rabid court evangelical.
This Red Letter Revival is a direct attack on Falwell Jr. and his university. It suggests that Falwell Jr. and Liberty University are somehow insufficiently Christian. (This might be a fair argument, but that is not the point here). But the letter sounds like Claiborne has no issues whatsoever with Liberty or its president. Claiborne should at least acknowledge his differences in his letter to Falwell or say something about how prayer might play a role in softening those differences.
How does Claiborne expect Falwell to respond in light of some of Claiborne’s recent tweets?:
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) April 5, 2018
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) March 30, 2018
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) March 29, 2018
Again, I have no problem with the content of any of these tweets. I think Falwell Jr’s Christianity is toxic. I don’t think a Christian university should have a gun range. I have strongly criticized Falwell’s comments about Trump. But if Falwell Jr. prays with Claiborne, it looks like he (Falwell) is admitting that he is wrong about Trump and that the Christianity he promotes at Liberty is indeed “toxic.” If Falwell Jr. doesn’t pray with Claiborne, he looks like a jerk.
The fact that Claiborne shared these letters via Twitter makes it look like there is more going on here than just a request for prayer. Did Claiborne really believe Falwell Jr. would take him up on this offer?
On the other hand, Falwell Jr. is incapable of putting aside his ego and praying with Shane Claiborne and his friends. This should not surprise anyone. Even if Claiborne is trying to paint Falwell Jr. into a corner, Falwell Jr. always has the option to be the better man, put down his animosity toward the Red Letter Christians, and join them in prayer. This might be a bad political move for him, but I am sure God would be pleased.
I am afraid this whole event is just going to cultivate more division. Falwell Jr. will double down. Claiborne will go home with yet another reason to show how the Christian Right is intolerant of his progressive evangelicalism.
Evangelicals have been divided for a long time, but the Trump presidency is exacerbating things. I wrote about this here.