Why Liberty University should close the Falkirk Center, and why it probably won’t happen

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

If you want to understand what a university values, consider the kinds of centers and institutes they have on campus. Most centers and institutes are extra-curricular in nature and are designed to bolster the ideas and values that define the mission of the school that sponsors them.

I wrote a bit about this in an earlier post comparing Liberty University to my own institution, Messiah University.  For example, Messiah University was founded by a small Protestant denomination called the Brethren in Christ Church (BIC). The BIC draws from three Christian traditions–Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism. These traditions have a long history of promoting peace, social justice, women’s ordination, personal holiness, and service. Because of these commitments:

  • Messiah University has a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • Messiah University has a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • Messiah University has a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer. The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • Messiah University has a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Liberty University, on other hand, was founded by cultural warriors. The school came of age with the rise of the Christian Right. Evangelical students started attending Liberty because they or their parents were enamored by Jerry Falwell Sr.’s vision of a school that would serve as an extension of his Moral Majority.

Today, in the wake of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s temporary removal from the presidency of Liberty, a narrative has emerged suggesting that Falwell Jr. somehow took the school in a direction that was different from the good old days of Falwell Sr. There may be some truth to this, but the narrative as a whole is false.

Jerry Falwell Sr. may have been more pious than his son, but his public statements and positions were just as scandalous. During apartheid, Falwell Sr. thought that Desmond Tutu was a “phony” and those fighting racism in South Africa were communists. He distributed The Clinton Chronicles, a documentary claiming that Bill Clinton was connected to the supposed murder of Vince Foster. Falwell Sr. blamed the September 11 attacks on abortionists, “pagans,” feminists, and “the gays and the lesbians.” And we could go on.

The Falwell legacy was in good hands with Jerry Jr. Little about the Falwell family approach to “Christian” politics has changed over the years. Just compare Jerry Sr.’s “greatest” hits with those of his son.

American culture, however, has changed. Add social media and the Internet to the mix and it becomes more difficult for Falwell Jr. to get away with the stuff his father did. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried.

So let’s get back to the Falkirk Center, the place that seems to most reflect the Liberty brand.

According to its website the Falkirk Center is

Rooted in compelling, enduring, absolute truths, our principles transcend generational divides and withstand cultural trends. As the creeds of secularism are proving tenuous and unsatisfying to millions of Americans, there has never been a better time to fill this void and amplify these truths.

Upcoming generations are falling victim to the teachings of secularism, primarily because they’re not learning America’s exceptional foundational ideals within the public education system. Further, attacks on religious freedom have caused them to abandon their Christian roots in droves. So, it’s no coincidence that as young people’s acceptance of traditional values declines, depression and anxiety are reaching record highs. Young people are hungry for fulfillment and truth like never before. And, right now, the only option for them is the siren song of secularism promoted by the far left.

Today we have a tremendous opportunity to provide our youth—and all Americans—an alternative to the left’s unfulfilling and outright dishonest attempt to provide a purposeful life. We also have an opportunity to provide clarity to a passionate, yet confused, generation of believers in Jesus Christ.

Jerry Falwell Sr. would have agreed with every word of this.

And then comes the culture war piece:

The function and the moral mission of the Falkirk Center is to go on the offense in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.

Accomplishing this end requires more than adding noise to the echo chamber. It requires an army of bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum. This includes Christian leaders and influencers—of all ages and backgrounds—defending, explaining, and sharing their beliefs on all platforms and sectors of society.

Thankfully, we don’t have to render ourselves powerless as the left misguides our young people. Much like Wallace’s struggle for freedom, we need brave, tenacious, passionate fighters to prevail in our war to save the greatest nation on earth. The Falkirk Center will remain on the front lines of this war. And we believe, like the passionate freedom fighters that courageously charged into the breach before us, we will eventually see victory.

So what does this mission look like in real life? Yesterday, we included several tweets from the Falkirk Center’s “bold ambassadors.” Read them here.

Today we heard more from these “bold ambassadors.”

Here is Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of the Falkirk Center:

Here is Falkirk Center “fellow” Jenna Ellis:

Ellis is also promoting a Kamala Harris birther controversy. (Trump did not deny this in today’s press conference). She retweeted this today:

And what would hateful Christian Right culture war rhetoric be without an occasional biblical quotation:

I guess Ellis does not realize that Malachi 1:11 comes in the midst of a passage in which the prophet Malachi rebukes Israel for dishonoring God and defiling his name.

Here is Falkirk Fellow Darrell B. Harrison:

Eric Metaxas is also a Falkirk Fellow. Today, on his Facebook page, he promoted an article defending Jerry Falwell Jr.  This, I might add, is the first time I have seen any court evangelical come to Falwell’s defense since he was put on indefinite leave.

Meanwhile, Falkirk Fellow Sebastian Gorka is trying to discredit Kamala Harris by claiming that she had slaves in her family history.

I don’t know if this true, but it hardly disqualifies a person from running for Vice President. If it is true, and if these tweets get to the level to which Harris needs to address them, all she needs to do is admit it and reject slavery. This would distinguish her from the Trumpers who want to defend monuments to Confederate generals and deny that systemic racism is a problem.

Gorka and D’Souza are perfect examples of what Christian Right politics has become. Namely, do everything possible to smear and degrade your enemy even if it means digging-up stuff from 200 years ago. I can imagine the conversation in the Falkirk Center ZOOM staff meeting this week: “Let’s do our part to take Harris down, even if we have to peddle in half-truths that besmirch her character.”

Yes, I realize that this “politics as usual,” but is this really the kind of politics Christians should be involved with?

Another Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow, David J. Harris, is also promoting birtherism:

David Brat, a fellow at the Falkirk Center and former Virginia congressman, plays to white evangelical fears:

It is doubtful that the Falkirk Center will disappear because its pronouncements are so deeply embedded in the history of Liberty University. It is worth noting again that the
acting president is an old-school, Falwell Sr loyalist who came of age with the Liberty University founder in the 1980s.

In the end, if the Board of Trustees does decide to end the Falkirk Center, it will represent a major break with the history of Liberty University. It would be the equivalent of  Messiah saying that it no longer thinks a center to promote peace, justice, service, and reconciliation reflects the values of the university and thus must be eliminated.