Last weekend I wrote a post about Jordan Ritter Conn’s article on the Liberty University football team. Read the post here. One reader pointed out an interesting paragraph in the article that I failed to highlight in my post. Here it is:
Falwell is one of the bulwarks of the religious right, an heir to his father’s Moral Majority. His family has built its legacy on the intertwinement of faith and politics, fighting for prayer in schools and against gay marriage. Yet Falwell seems to be suggesting that his political activity is no longer guided by his Christian beliefs. So I ask how much his faith informs his political views.
“Not at all,” he says.
There is it folks. “Not at all.”
Without pausing, he rushes into an explanation. “I mean, I believe what I do politically because I believe it’s what’s best for the country. And I take to heart what Jesus said. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. They’re two different things.” In years past, many within the religious right have seemed to equate Christian belief with conservative politics—particularly on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Falwell, though, justifies his support for Trump by suggesting that faith and politics need not be intertwined. “I think you can be a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian, and still be a good Christian.”
I refer back to what Falwell said earlier, that he sees Trump as a “Christ-centered” man.
In its “Statement of Mission and Purpose,” Liberty University claims to “promote the synthesis of academic knowledge and a Christian worldview in order that there might be a maturing of spiritual, intellectual, social and physical value-driven behavior.”
Here is what I wrote in January 2019 in response to the aforementioned line in the Statement of Mission and Purpose:
This kind of “worldview” language suggests that students at Liberty will learn to think Christianly about all things, including the ways Christianity intersect with politics and government. After all, wasn’t this Falwell’s father’s vision for Liberty University? Wasn’t Liberty University directly linked to Falwell Sr.’s Moral Majority–an attempt to bring Christianity to bear on government and politics?
Falwell Jr. seems to believe that the only thing Christianity teaches Christians about their responsibility as citizens is that Christianity has no role to play in our responsibility as citizens. If I am reading him correctly, he is arguing that the promotion of capitalism, entrepreneurship, free-markets, and the accumulation of wealth is the essence Christian citizenship. In other words, Falwell Jr. assumes that Christianity and capitalism are virtually the same thing. I would love to hear from a Liberty professor on this point. Is there anything about capitalism (as defined by the accumulation of wealth, free markets, and entrepreneurship) that contradicts the teaching of Christianity? I know some Liberty professors and I DO think that they would say there is a difference between the two, but I wonder how free they are to make that critique in public.
I also wonder if Falwell Jr. believes that there is anything within the Christian tradition that might provide a critique of government. I don’t have the time to search, but I am sure it is pretty easy to find Falwell Jr. making some kind of theological or Christian critique of Barack Obama.
It is important to note here that Falwell is not arguing, as other court evangelicals have done, that evangelicals should support Trump because he will deliver a conservative Supreme Court or defend religious liberty. Remember, in this interview he says that there is NOTHING Trump can do to lose his support. NOTHING! This, of course, means that if he would commit adultery in the oval office, appoint a radically pro-choice Supreme Court justice, call for the end of the Second Amendment, or shoot someone on 5th Avenue, Trump will not lose Falwell’s support. I don’t know of any American–Christian or not– who would be so confident about a political candidate.
The Statement of Mission and Purpose also notes that Liberty University will “encourage a commitment to the Christian life, one of personal integrity, sensitivity to the needs of others, social responsibility and active communication of Christian faith….” Apparently Falwell believes that all these things can be practiced without any connection to politics or government. In other words, Falwell wants to train students to live personal lives of faith, but never apply that faith to democratic citizenship. I am not sure his father would have agreed with this.
Which leads me to one more question: What is taught at the Jesse Helms School of Government at Liberty? (Yes, THAT Jesse Helms). According to its website, the Helms School of Government develops “leaders who are guided by duty, honor, and morality. It also claims to instill “a Christian sense of justice and civic duty in our students….” Dr. Stephen Parke, the Associate Dean of the Helms School, lists his favorite Bible verse as Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” This is an interesting choice for a dean at a Christian school of government and politics at a university run by Jerry Falwell Jr.
Read this entire post here.