Falwell Jr to the Red Letter Christians: Don’t Pray On Our Campus

We have covered this weekend’s “Red Letter Revival” in Lynchburg, VA here and here.

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:

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, 

Shane Claiborne

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….

Sincerely, 

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?:

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.

7 thoughts on “Falwell Jr to the Red Letter Christians: Don’t Pray On Our Campus

  1. You say:
    “How does Claiborne expect Falwell to respond in light of some of Claiborne’s recent tweets?”

    How about responding in any of the following ways:

    – Accepting the invitation for prayer and welcoming Shane as a brother in Crhist, regardless of the tweets.
    – Accepting the invitation for prayer and welcoming Shane with restrictions on where he can go on campus or on the number of people who accompany him.
    – Accepting the invitation for prayer and suggesting a “neutral” venue.
    – Asking for more information about how the invitation squares with the prior tweets
    – Politely and lovingly declining the invitation but expressing a sincere hope for reconciliation in the future

    That’s just a few possible ways or responding, off the top of my head. And I am not even a Christian with a heart supposedly transformed by the Holy Spirit, such as you and Falwell claim to have. Yet the two of you – 2 vile peas in a pod – think that the only possible response to an invitation to prayer is a notice from the police threatening arrest. Pathetic. Thanks for reminding me why I am not a Christian.

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  2. I agree that this is a sad situation. The publicity invites everyone to see prayer as a weapon. Twitter wins, prayer loses. I’m reminded of the confusion of means and ends described in Halberstam and Holmes’ *The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel* (no stranger to this blog!):

    “Although power is always justified to subjects as a means of repelling foreign conquest and attaining other collective goods, for the one who exercises it, sovereign power may easily turn into something desired for its own sake. This inversion of a means into an end. . . causes another inversion in turn. As power becomes an end for a sovereign clinging desperately to it, other intrinsically worthy ends turn into disposable means. . . Since sovereigns are always able, and often tempted, to turn morality into an instrument, their observable actions become chronically ambiguous. . . Is the moral justification adduced by the wielder of power a mere pretext covering self-serving political motivation, or is the action principled and driven by a moral quest?” (17-18)

    Matthew 6:5 also seems relevant here: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

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    • All I will say is that we must be careful before invoking a historical movement in support of our own present-day agendas. Martin seems to do this with the Civil Rights Movement. I appreciate Martin’s fire, but I don’t think his approach is the best way forward and it will convince no one who needs to be convinced. I frankly don’t know who this guy is, but he seems to claim to be some kind of Pentecostal “prophet” who is absolutely certain that his approach is God-honoring. So who should I believe–the Pentecostal prophets of the Martin variety or the Pentecostal prophets who claim that Trump is a modern Cyrus. I am afraid that this event will charge-up Martin’s progressive base, but it will do little else.

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  3. I read it the same way.

    An invitation which can safely be made knowing full well it will be rejected, and could therefore be understandably taken as disingenuous, bordering on a stunt.

    A response that is needlessly and disproportionately hostile and antagonistic in tone, when one much less so could have served a Christian witness much better.

    And now everyone can continue to face each other across the no-man’s land, securely dug into their respective trenches.

    Vive la guerre de la culture!

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  4. Yes, Claiborne seems all to familiar in his tone toward Falwell Jr.as if they had no significant disagreements! However, Falwell Jr. lacks any compassion, Love or Christ-likeness in his response. He comes across like some third-world despot calling out his police dogs to fend off any potential opponents! God forbid that any at Liberty hear any opposing public comments. It showcases that Fundamentalists are indeed angry evangelicals!

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