Spring Arbor University and the “scandal of the evangelical college”

Last month we asked: “What is happening at Spring Arbor University?” The post centered on Spring Arbor University‘s decision to dump their most promising young Christian scholar, English professor Jeff Bilbro.

In that post I wrote, “Seldom does one find such a productive and thoughtful Christian scholar. If I was an administrator facing tough faculty cuts, Jeff Bilbro would be on my untouchable list. He would be the kind of professor I would want to rebuild around.”

Now Eric Miller, professor of history and humanities at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, has taken-up Bilbro’s cause and placed Spring Arbor’s treatment of him in the larger context of evangelical liberal arts education.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece, “The Market Made Me Do It: The Scandal of the Evangelical College“:

Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind turned twenty-five last year. If we know a classic by its ability to speak across eras, one single event from this past summer is enough to assure everyone of the continuing tragic relevance of Noll’s book.

In late July, Spring Arbor University, a Free Methodist institution affiliated with the evangelical Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), gave Jeffrey Bilbro his one-year notice. A tenured English professor in his mid-thirties, Bilbro had just completed his eighth year at Spring Arbor. He had also just completed his sixth book: three written solo, one co-authored, and two co-edited. Three of these are published by mainstream presses and three by Christian houses. The journals for which Bilbro has written—essays, scholarly articles, poems—range from The South Atlantic Review to Early American Literature to Radix.

To boot, less than three years ago Bilbro stepped forward to become the editor of a once-thriving website, The Front Porch Republic; under his direction weekly traffic has leapt sixty percent. To top this strange tale off, just before he was blindsided by Spring Arbor’s decision Bilbro had received word that a team of scholars of which he is a part has been awarded a $30,000 grant by the CCCU. Their project? “Between Pandemic and Protest: The Future of the Liberal Arts in Higher Education.”

Bilbro is the project director.

You may at this point have Bilbro pegged as an absentee professor. Not the case. He is the president of Spring Arbor’s Faculty Forum, elected by his colleagues. He directs the university’s Writing Center and teaches English and Writing classes. He is a two-time winner of the Faculty Merit Award. He and his department chair have launched the Oak Tree Almanac podcast. And he has been instrumental in bringing an array of guest lectures to campus.

Bilbro, only nine when Noll’s book was published, is a child of the renaissance in Christian thinking of which Noll’s book counterintuitively bears witness. It takes a live and nourished mind to identify intellectual scandal, and the heady reception of Noll’s book within the evangelical academy was a sign that something like an evangelical mind was actually coming to life—as Bilbro’s own trajectory shows.

Miller concludes:

We need another direction. And we need those who will use what power they have to take us there.

“Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” declared Martin Luther King, Jr. on the last Sunday before his assassination. He stood within a church speaking to the world, a higher authority beneath his feet, and it propelled him in a different direction. A new consensus needed to be formed, he knew. He gave his life trying to mold it. We need a new consensus, too, and it begins like this: Our minds matter. The Christian mind matters. It’s time we—parents, pastors, presidents, philanthropists—take the sacrificial action required to show it. A silenced Christ, after all, is no Christ at all.

Read the entire piece at Mere Orthodoxy.

John Brown University students protest visit from court evangelical Eric Metaxas

John Brown University is an evangelical college in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Back in October 2018, I visited the university on the Believe Me book tour and was greatly impressed by the quality of the students and faculty.

On Tuesday, September 8, 2020, John Brown hosted an event titled “Should Christians Vote for Trump?” The evening featured a debate between conservative writer David French and court evangelical extraordinaire Eric Metaxas. This was a repeat performance of a debate that took place in April at the “Q” conference.

Here is Maria Aguilar at The Threefold Advocate, the John Brown University student newspaper:

In response to Metaxas’ involvement in the event, a group of students decided to form “Love Activates Action,” a university movement which advocates for marginalized students on campus, according to its Instagram profile, @love_activates_action.

Before the event began, students gathered with signs outside the BPAC that expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQIA+ pride. Attendees who arrived at the recital hall could read their signs laid on the grass next to the sidewalk.

According to a statement released by Love Activates Action, student protesters aimed to “create awareness surrounding the harmful, toxic effects Eric Metaxas can have on our student body.” At the scene, students—some of whom expressed support for Metaxas—also gathered to share their views and engage in discussion with the group.

A few minutes after the event wrapped up, student protesters held their signs high for Metaxas to see as he walked out of the building. A couple of students even requested answers from Metaxas, but he did not comment.

On Sept. 1, a week prior to the event, the Center for Faith and Flourishing addressed students’ concerns with Metaxas’ invitation to campus. “JBU knows how to respectfully and reasonably engage with those with whom we disagree. We also trust that no one in our community will use the past statements or behavior of an invited speaker as an excuse to harass or act offensively toward any other member of our community,” the emailed statement read. “Verbally aggressive or violent approaches are not in keeping with principles of civil dialogue or engagement, nor are they consistent with JBU’s core guiding principles to support and care for individual uniqueness.”

Read the rest here.

Catherine Nolte’s reporting on the the event includes a reference to Metaxas’s defense of a punch he recently threw at an anti-Trump protester.

Jeh Johnson speaks at Liberty University

Jeh Johnson was Barack Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. Today he spoke to Liberty students about character and leadership. Though he didn’t mention Donald Trump, much of this speech was about Donald Trump (and perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr.) During the Q&A he tells campus pastor David Nasser that he believes racism is a systemic problem.

Watch:

Good leaders, Johnson argued:

  1. Tell people the truth
  2. Build consensus (and do not merely find consensus).
  3. Surround themselves with people willing to offer hard truths
  4. Never ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. (Like separating immigrant children from their parents).
  5. Live by the Golden Rule

Click here for Politico‘s story on Johnson’s visit.

Two days earlier, campus pastor David Nasser spoke about race in America and on the Liberty campus. He still seems skeptical about systemic racism and believes that a religious revival will solve everything, but before you say he doesn’t go far enough, please try to understand his speech in context. Nasser is trying to address important issues and understands his audience. These are worthwhile steps. Nasser says he is getting some blow-back on campus for his efforts.

People on the Christian Right are noticing what Nasser is doing at Liberty and they are not happy about it. The right-wing Christian website Capstone Report is upset about a recent event on Liberty’s campus:

Here is a taste of the Capstone Report’s post:

According to the source, a Liberty University dean promoted a Christian study of the book The Heart of Racial Justice. The book study is an attempt to radicalize young nursing students in the Social Justice rhetoric, we were told by worried conservatives at Liberty.

The book promotes what are now common tropes among the Critical Race Theory-Intersectionality and Social Justice Wokevangelical movement. Namely, that American Evangelical Christianity is defective, individualistic and promoted evil power structures.

On page 209, the authors assert that the Christian West has used its power to preach an “individualistic gospel” over true forms of Christianity. Instead some type of communitarian form of Christianity is promoted and preferred.

And on pp. 88-89, the authors preach an anti-corporate message claiming that White Americans “must face what people of their ethnicity have done to others” and that “Western government and corporations are the world champions of spin doctoring and spin control” and that the West pursues economic and military conquest of others around the globe.

If this book were written in 1979 instead of 2009, everyone would recognize the Marxist roots of that critique.

The core of the book teaches white people enjoy white privilege and have exploited other people groups historically. There is no nuance in this view showing the historical reality that every people group in history has done something like the authors allege—it is what the pages of history continue to show—whether the Islamic invasion of Europe reversed only by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours or the vast invasion of the West by the Great Khans of the Steppes.

On the day (Thursday) between Nasser’s remarks and Johnson’s visit, the Falkirk Center, Liberty’s culture war wing and public voice, held a conference on campus. The folks at the Capstone Report sound just like what I heard yesterday at the Falkirk event. Liberty University is trying to address racism on campus, but their public image, as represented the Falkirk Center, remains the same. As might be expected, the university is in the midst of a post-Falwell identity crisis and we are seeing it all play out on YouTube and online.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center

Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

On Aug. 26, hundreds of students, wearing masks and properly distanced, gathered in Liberty University’s Williams Stadium for Campus Community, a weekly event that campus pastor David Nasser calls “one of the largest Bible studies in the world.”

It was the first Campus Community of the new academic year and Nasser did not avoid the elephant in the room (or, in this case, on the field). He directly addressed the resignation of former Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. after allegations that Falwell and his wife, Becki, had initiated a multiyear sexual affair with a Miami pool boy named Giancarlo Granda.

This moment that we’re in is a mess,” Nasser said, and “I am sorry.” He added, “Liberty is more than a college. … We are God’s college and as our founder (Jerry Falwell Sr.) always said, ‘If it’s Christian it ought to be better,’ certainly better than this.”

These were powerful, heartfelt words. It’s obvious that Nasser is a good man who wants to bring healing to the university he loves. Such healing starts with acknowledging Falwell Jr.’s sin and affirming a commitment to make Liberty, in Nasser’s words, a more “God-glorifying place.”

But for many onlookers, the problems at Liberty run much deeper than a sex scandal. If the university is serious about cleaning up the mess, it will need to take a hard look at the approach to Christianity and public life that the university’s leadership has championed for more than four decades. With Falwell Jr. gone, Liberty does indeed have a chance to be a “better,” more “God-glorifying place,” but it will require serious reforms. The first step should be to close its culture war “think tank,” the Falkirk Center.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that the Falkirk Center is having a big “Faith Summit” tomorrow called “Get Louder: Fighting for the Soul of America.” Speakers include Mike Huckabee, Eric Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, John MacArthur, and Jenna Ellis.

Rod Dreher defends the “Little Hitler” philosophy professor at Taylor University

In my post on the firing of Taylor University philosophy professor Jim Spiegel, I wrote:

Should he be fired for “Little Hitler”? I can’t answer that question. I would need to know more about the local culture on campus at Taylor and the way Spiegel and his song fit into that culture. Perhaps there is a larger story here. Maybe this is more than just an academic freedom issue.

I do know, however, that Taylor University Provost Michael Hammond, a historian of American evangelicalism during the civil rights movement, is a good man with the best interest of Taylor in mind.

Over at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher comments on Spiegel’s firing. His entire post relies on a New York Post article defending Spiegel. Here is what Dreher wrote:

You want to commit yourself to taking out loans to pay for a college at which the administration will not support faculty, and presumably not students who cross an invisible line? The firing of Spiegel sends a signal to every other professor on campus, and every other student: you could be next. All it takes is a single absurd accusation, based on even the simplest joke, to ruin a professor’s life.

Some of you think I’m exaggerating when, citing the testimony of Soviet-bloc emigres, I say that life in the US is starting to resemble life under Soviet totalitarianism. Here is the connection: under the Soviet system, all it took was an accusation of disloyalty — including telling a joke that offended the Party — to lose your job and even be sent to prison or into exile. This happened over and over. Last year, I visited Rudolf Dobias, an 84-year-old Slovak former political prisoner, sentenced to 18 years of hard labor in a uranium mine on a false accusation that he had drawn a cartoon making fun of Stalin and Czechoslovak communist leader Klement Gottwald. After release from prison, Dobias and his family lived a life of internal exile; he couldn’t get a decent job, his kids suffered from their father’s punishment, and so forth. All because of a single joke, one that he didn’t even tell! After our interview, Dobias mentioned to my Slovak translator that he was in constant pain now, the result of all the beatings he took in prison as a young man.

Obviously — obviously — Jim Spiegel is not Rudolf Dobias. But he’s on a spectrum. As more than a few Rudolf Dobiases told me for Live Not By Lies, free people have to resist this stuff the moment it starts. Jim Spiegel was absolutely right to refuse to take down his satirical song. The prissy authoritarians at Taylor University ought to apologize to him and hire him back. And they had better make it clear that they have done so, because this is a black mark on the school’s reputation, and a warning to students about an emerging climate of censorship, at a time when liberal arts colleges cannot afford them.

If I were a Taylor student — presuming that they are back on campus this fall — I would gather with a group every day outside Provost Michael Hammond’s office, and sing “Little Hitler” cheerfully, to cause Hammond and the university’s leadership to reflect on the nature of what they have done to a professor who has wronged no one.

Read the entire screed here.

A few thoughts:

  1. Dreher, with very little knowledge of Taylor University, its culture, or the history of the administration’s relationship with Spiegel, compares this situation to Soviet totalitarianism. (Dreher doesn’t even know if Taylor is currently holding face-to-face classes). Soviet totalitarianism at Taylor University? Again, his piece shows absolutely no understanding of Taylor or Christian colleges.
  2. Dreher’s ignorance about schools like Taylor is surprising since he is the author of a book titled The Benedict Option which argues that serious Christians should form intentional communities designed to uphold traditional beliefs. On one level, Taylor University is such an institution. I have no doubt that the administration’s decision to remove Spiegel was made in this context. For whatever reason, Taylor University concluded that Spiegel’s continued employment at Taylor was detrimental to the Christian community that they were trying to sustain. Wouldn’t the Bruderhof, an intentional Anabaptist group Dreher likes, make a similar move if one of its members was undermining community?
  3. Dreher has now put himself into a position where his anger about “cancel culture” and “academic freedom” seems to be butting-up against the Benedict Option.
  4. Finally, my sources at Taylor tell me that the reasons for Spiegel’s firing go well beyond his song “Little Hitler.”

Was Liberty University a school or Jerry Falwell Jr.’s personal business?

Aram Roston and Joshua Schneyer of Reuters are uncovering things. Here is a taste of their recent piece:

Falwell, who took over as president of Liberty in 2007 after years as a lawyer handling its real estate interests, intertwined his personal finances with those of the evangelical Christian university founded by his father.

He put his two sons – and their wives as well – on the university’s payroll. He arranged the transfer of a multi-acre Liberty facility to his personal trainer. He enlisted a friend’s construction company to manage an ambitious campus expansion costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

And before becoming school president, Falwell set up two companies that enabled him to cut property deals with one of the many nonprofit entities affiliated with the university, Reuters found. In each of the deals, Falwell played multiple roles with potentially conflicting interests: He was an officer of the university, a board member for the nonprofit selling the land, and a private developer who could profit from the transactions.

“It’s very worrisome to have these sorts of financial arrangements going on and they deserve intense scrutiny,” said Michael Bastedo of the University of Michigan School of Education.

In 2001, property records show, Falwell set up a private company while he was a lawyer for Liberty, used it to buy an undeveloped tract of land from the school, and then developed a strip mall on the plot. The company sold the property five years later at a significant premium.

In 2005, property records show, Falwell again acted as a private businessman when a university nonprofit affiliate and a company he operated joined together to sell land to a third company – controlled by Falwell’s real estate partner.

And in 2012, in a project Falwell launched as Liberty’s president, the university spent more than $2 million to build a tunnel that links the campus to another shopping plaza near campus. Falwell is a part owner of that shopping plaza.

Read the entire piece here.

What is happening (once again) at Taylor University?

James Spiegel, a philosopher professor at evangelical Taylor University, was reportedly fired for refusing to take down a video of him singing a song he wrote titled “Little Hitler.” Watch:

Here is a Facebook post from Chris Date, a friend of Spiegel:

The commentators on the YouTube video also suggest Spiegel has been fired.

Some folks are talking about this on Twitter:

As Date’s Facebook post notes, Spiegel was one of the Taylor University professors involved in the publication of Excalibur, an underground newspaper which, according to a March 26, 2018 piece in Christianity Today, “claimed the evangelical college was becoming more liberal on sex, immigration, and race.” Here is a taste of that piece:

True to its namesake, the controversial newsletter sliced through campus conversation, drawing students and staff to take sides in classroom discussions, op-eds, and official communications since its February 21 release.

Weeks after Taylor president Paul Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust, hurting members of our community,” four members of the faculty and staff came forward online as its creators: Jim Spiegel, professor of philosophy and religion; Richard Smith, professor of biblical studies; Gary Ross, men’s soccer coach; and Ben Wehling, marketing director.

They apologized for the uproar, but even their website was pulled due to the controversy.

The newsletter aimed to fill a growing conservative void” on the Upland, Indiana, campus, Spiegel explained in an email to CT.

Since this controversy, Paul Lowell Haines has resigned as president. His resignation came shortly after he invited Mike Pence to speak at the 2019 Taylor commencement. (See my piece on that controversy at Religion News Service here. I still have no idea why it is attributed to Bob Smietana, the RNS editor, but it is my work).

I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour on October 2, 2018. I gave a public lecture and spent an evening with a group of students. If the campus was still reeling from these ideological differences, I did not sense it. After my visit, the student newspaper, The Echo, ran a review of my visit. I don’t think Samuel Jones, the author of that piece, was a big fan of my lecture, but he did not situate my visit in the debates taking place on campus. So far, The Echo has not reported on the Spiegel firing.

So what should we make of all this?

I understand what Spiegel was trying to do here. By invoking Hitler, brutal killers, shotguns, rape, Jeffrey Dahmer, and his own capacity for murder, he was trying to shock us into taking sin and human depravity seriously. But the song offers no antidote to such depravity. For Spiegel, human beings are one step away from committing the worst atrocities known to man. The conscience, natural law, or the indwelling Holy Spirit cannot curb the power of sin.

To be fair to Spiegel, he has also posted a video of him performing a song titled, “What it’s Like to be Born.” This song talks about conversion, the born-again experience, and redemption. Watch:

And if you really want to know where Spiegel is coming from, consider his song, “Let’s Start Our Own Country.” It opposes culture wars, nuclear proliferation, the tearing down of monuments, the renaming of football teams, dysfunction in Washington D.C., “taking a knee,” identity politics, and the closing of churches during COVID. Watch:

Should he be fired for “Little Hitler”? I can’t answer that question. I would need to know more about the local culture on campus at Taylor and the way Spiegel and his song fit into that culture. Perhaps there is a larger story here. Maybe this is more than just an academic freedom issue.

I do know, however, that Taylor University Provost Michael Hammond, a historian of American evangelicalism during the civil rights movement, is a good man with the best interest of Taylor in mind.

Let’s see how this unfolds.

UPDATE (Friday, September 4, 2020 at 9:17pm): The Echo has a piece on this today.

The last fundamentalist empire died yesterday in Lynchburg, Virginia

Falwell and Falwell

Male authoritarian figures presiding over regional empires were an important part of 20th-century Protestant fundamentalism. I began to think historically about these empires during divinity school when I first read William Trollinger’s book God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism.

For a long time I thought I would write a similar book about Carl McIntire, a South Jersey fundamentalist who was able to expand his empire across the nation through radio. (See Paul Matzko’s book The Radio Right). In 2001, while I was doing a post-doctoral fellowship at Valparaiso University, I drove to Trollinger’s house in Bluffton, Ohio to talk with him about fundamentalist empires and learn more about how he used questionnaires in his research. (Do you remember this, Bill?). I also used questionnaires (and oral history interviews) as I started work on a potential McIntire biography, but Philip Vickers Fithian kept calling me back to the eighteenth-century. I have a few boxes of research on my McIntire project sitting under a table in my home office. Some day I may open the boxes and get back to work.

Who were these fundamentalist emperors? The Bob Jones (and Bob Jones Jr.) empire was based at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina and it was sustained through a host of fundamentalist Christian schools. John R. Rice started out in Wheaton, Illinois and eventually moved to Murfressboro, Tennessee. His empire revolved around evangelism and The Sword of Lord, the most widely-read fundamentalist periodical of the age. McIntire’s empire was complex. It included radio, colleges and seminaries, hotel conference centers, and a popular newspaper called The Christian Beacon. Earlier fundamentalist emperors included Riley,  J. Frank Norris, and Mark Matthews.

Most of these fundamentalists taught the doctrine of biblical separation. Drawing upon 2 Corinthians 6:17 (“come our from them and be ye separate, says the Lord”), they preached personal holiness and the rejection of “worldly” activities such as movie-going, dancing, card-playing, alcohol use, and smoking cigarettes. They guarded their understanding of biblical orthodoxy like 17th-century Massachusetts Puritans. They were especially concerned with defending the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, and a dispensational view of the “last days.” Historian George Marsden has described them as “militant” in their defense of these doctrines.

When mainline Protestant denominations strayed from fundamentalist orthodoxy, these leaders led their followers out of the denominations. Some of them created their own sectarian denominations–many of them personality driven. Others started independent congregations. In both cases, these emperors presided over their empires with little accountability. They were their own religious authorities or, as they might have put it, their authority came directly from God.

Separation was one of the ways these leaders kept their empires under control.  Sometimes they even separated from other fundamentalist or evangelical Christians who did not separate from liberal theologians. This was often referred to as “second-degree separation.” (Many of these fundamentalist emperors broke with Billy Graham when they learned the evangelist was working with Protestant mainline churches and pastors during his mass crusades).

Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, came of age in this era of independent empire builders. He started his ministry as a young pastor connected to John R. Rice’s empire. Falwell once described Rice as a father figure and mentor. Rice provided Falwell with networking opportunities and the young pastor used these connections to build his fiefdom in Lynchburg, Virginia. When Falwell was trying to get Liberty Baptist College (later Liberty University) on the map, he asked Rice for the names and addresses of those on his massive Sword of the Lord mailing list.

By the mid-1980s, Falwell ruled over one of the nation’s most recognizable fundamentalist empires. He continued to serve as the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church. Liberty University was growing. And he was leading the Moral Majority in a fight to restore America to it supposedly Christian roots. Falwell Sr. was the king of Lynchburg, Virginia and America’s most well-known culture warrior. And, unlike many other fundamentalist emperors, he became a fixture on the national scene. When older fundamentalist leaders like the Bob Jones Jr. and McIntire criticized Falwell for working with non-fundamentalists–Catholics, Mormons, and others–who shared his moral concerns, Falwell ignored them.

The older fundamentalists eventually died off. Rice’s empire had no clear successor. A member of the Jones family no longer serves as president of Bob Jones University. At the end of his life Carl McIntire was preaching to a few people in his living room in Collingswood, New Jersey.  Even Falwell, the author of a 1981 book titled The Fundamentalist Phenomenon, abandoned the label “fundamentalism.”

But Jerry Falwell had two sons. After his death in 2007, Jonathan Falwell took over his father’s post at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Jerry Falwell Jr. became the president of Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr. did not posses his father’s gift for communication. That gift seems to have gone to Jonathan. But Jonathan was not a culture warrior. Nor did Jerry Jr. seem drawn to his father’s moral crusades. He was a lawyer and a businessman. He would use these skills to lift Liberty out of financial debt and turn it into the largest and wealthiest Christian university in the world.

In the end, a successful fundamentalist empire requires a leader who can do four things:

  1. Defend doctrinal orthodoxy.
  2. Cultivate a culture of personal holiness bordering on legalism.
  3. Rule with a strong authoritarian personality.
  4. Go on the attack against outside threats from theological and political liberals, communists, socialists, and other forces of secularization.

In the case of Jerry Falwell Jr., it seems as if the limits of his skill set clashed with profound changes in American culture that made the world a very different place from the one in which his father ruled. Let’s take these one-by-one:

By all accounts, Falwell was not interested in theology, the defense of evangelical doctrine, or even the meaning of Christian higher education. Unlike his father, he did not have to stand behind a pulpit every Sunday morning and deliver a sermon. He did not have to shepherd a flock. He left the spiritual life of Liberty University to others. Falwell Jr. ran Liberty University like a business. He seemed unconcerned with integrating faith and leadership and never engaged with what has become over the last couple of decades a robust and vibrant conversation about the purpose of church-related higher education. He never considered bringing Liberty into the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), a clear sign that separatism and the independent spirit of fundamentalism are hard to shake once they have been embedded in an institution.

Almost every person I know who left Liberty University after a semester or two has complained about the strict rules. The rules are also a remnant of Liberty’s fundamentalist past. We can criticize the legalism of American fundamentalism, but this call to personal holiness generally served as a moral check on fundamentalist emperors. As conservative evangelical leaders became more “culturally engaged,” and began to loosen their moral grip on their students and congregations, they were faced with new temptations. In the last several years, it became clear that Liberty’s rules did not apply to Jerry Falwell Jr. But as we learned this week, his libertine spirit could not escape the ghosts of fundamentalism, particularly the movement’s longstanding commitment to personal holiness and codes of behavior.

If Falwell Jr. inherited anything from his father, it was the old fundamentalist propensity for authoritarian leadership. From most reports he tolerated no dissent. But we live in different times. 20th-century fundamentalist authoritarianism is no longer acceptable in an age of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, corrupt CEOs, and shared governance in higher education.

Finally, Falwell Jr. tried to be a good culture warrior. His efforts at living up to his father’s legacy on this front partly explains his support for Trump. But Jerry Jr. couldn’t pull it off like his father did. Again, he just didn’t have the skill set. Moreover, he could no longer get away with saying the kinds of things about race, social justice movements, sexual ethics, and the LGBTQ community thae Falwell Sr. always ranted about while seated on his Lynchburg throne.

Perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr. was the last fundamentalist emperor.

Bethel College, a Mennonite school in Kansas, gets hit with a significant COVID-19 outbreak

Bethel Kansas

Here is Inside Higher Ed:

Nearly 10 percent of the first roughly 500 students and employees tested for COVID-19 at Bethel College, in Kansas, have the virus, the local health agency and Bethel’s president announced Monday.

In a videotaped statement, Jonathan Gering, Bethel’s president, said that “approximately 50” of those tested as they came to campus this week had the virus, including 43 students and seven employees. Those who tested positive were in isolation on the campus, and contact tracing had begun to identify others who had contact with those infected. Some of those identified are already in quarantine, Gering said.

Read the rest here.

The conservative evangelical defense of Jerry Falwell Jr. has begun

Strang and Falwell

Steve Strang (center) at Liberty Universit

Conservative evangelicals are coming to the defense of Jerry Falwell Jr. after the Liberty University Board of Trustees placed him on “indefinite leave.”

Eric Metaxas, a Christian radio talk show host and author who works for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, recently shared a pro-Falwell Jr. article on his Facebook page.

Now court evangelical Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine and website with a huge following in the Pentecostal and charismatic world, has devoted a podcast episode to the Falwell Jr’s removal.

Listen here to the August 14, 2020  episode of The Strang Report.


Strang’s guest is John Wesley Reid, a former Liberty University employee and “writer and strategist” at the Falkirk Center. Reid is the author of a recent Christian Post piece titled “Dear Christians: They world saw Falwell’s sin, will they see your mercy?” In this piece, Reid asks Christians to treat Falwell Jr. fairly and stop reveling in his “sin.” Reid agrees with the Board’s decision to remove Falwell. He also believes that the Instagram photo of Falwell with his pants unzipped, holding a glass of wine, and with his arm around a young women’s waist, was “blown out of proportion.”

But Reid is a bit more nuanced in his conversation with Strang. He says that Falwell was asked to take an indefinite leave of absence “because of the picture and previous things.” Reid does not mention these previous things. He then says, “there’s really been nothing Jerry has done that in itself is super bad…nothing that was terrible, but just a bunch of things here or there….” According to Reid, none of the behavior on this list is “super bad” or “terrible” for the president of a Christian university. I think a lot of Christians would disagree with this claim.

Reid thinks that Falwell Jr. did not post the picture. He thinks it was posted by a member of Falwell Jr.’s staff. He also wants Falwell Jr. to run for Congress.

Strang manages to bring a defense of Trump’s behavior of Stormy Daniels into the conversation. “I believe he [Trump] didn’t do anything [with Daniels],” Strang says.

I like what Reid says about forgiveness and kindness. He is absolutely correct about how the things we do on social media hurt our Christian witness.  Yes, Mr. Reid, the “world is watching.” But it is very difficult to listen to a representative of the Falkirk Center lecturing us on these matters. Perhaps next Reid can write an article about the Twitter feeds and public pronunciations of Falkirk fellows Eric Metaxas, Sebastian Gorka, Charlie Kirk, and Jenna Ellis. Or maybe he can do a piece on how the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump has hurt the witness of evangelical Christianity.

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

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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.

“Even before Trump declared his candidacy, the culture of Liberty was changing to one of greater deference to Falwell and an intolerance of dissent”

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

Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education has done some of the best reporting on Liberty University’s decision to remove Jerry Falwell as president of Liberty University.

Here is a taste of his piece “The Making (And Unmaking) of Jerry Falwell Jr“:

Early on, Falwell showed an interest in academic matters, but he became ever more focused on the financial side of the university over the course of his presidency, according to a former administrator. Falwell’s relationship with Trump, such as it was, seemed to accelerate a preoccupation with money, said the administrator, who was not authorized to speak about working at Liberty and requested anonymity out of fear of retribution.

“He was moving the focus away from academics and more toward the financials, and Trump gave him an ideology to put behind that,” the administrator said.

Even before Trump declared his candidacy, the culture of Liberty was changing to one of greater deference to Falwell and an intolerance of dissent, the administrator said. Colleagues who once called the president “Jerry” started referring to him as “President Falwell,” and the reverence that had once been reserved for his father was extended to him, the administrator said.

“Jerry Jr. is no prophet,” the administrator said. “But some folks just transferred that right over to the next guy.”

Insulated from criticism within his ranks, Falwell grew more publicly political and began to cultivate a persona not unlike that of Trump, who had spoken at Liberty’s convocation in 2012. As Trump had demonstrated, a free-form, politically incorrect style played well to Liberty’s conservative students. Falwell, who had sometimes stammered or appeared to shake nervously at the podium, wanted that same kind of reaction, the administrator said, going so far as to announce on the spot that classes were canceled for the day.

“Increasingly he loved the crowds,” the administrator said. “There was a frat boy-ness about how he behaved around them.”

Falwell’s provocations, though, took a darker turn in late 2015, when, in responding to a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., he encouraged students during a convocation to acquire concealed-carry permits and indicated that he was carrying a gun in his back pocket.

“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed,” Falwell told the students, who were required to attend.

Later that day, in Falwell’s office, where his lieutenants had gathered for a meeting, there were awkward whispers about what had been said — right up until the moment when Falwell walked into the room, according to the administrator. The subject did not come up again.

“It was extremely tense,” the person said. “Jerry made no mention of it”

Read the entire piece here.

The press covers Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leave of absence from Liberty University

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The reasons why the Board of Trustees of Liberty University finally decided to ask Falwell to step-down as president is still somewhat of a mystery.  We can make some pretty good assumptions, but little has been said specifically.

Almost every major news outlet is covering this story and some are adding a few more wrinkles to what we already know.

Elizabeth Dias of The New York Times scored an interview with Franklin Graham:

“He is a great leader and he has taken this school — it is one of the largest universities in the United States. He’s done an incredible job,” Mr. Graham said. “He is a great leader and I certainly support him.”

Mr. Graham said he had not spoken with Mr. Falwell about the photograph or his leave.

About the photograph, Mr. Graham said: “All of us in life have done things that we’ve regretted. I think he certainly has regretted that. It was a foolish thing.”

It is worth noting that all three of Graham’s sons and other members of his family attended Liberty.

Dias also quotes Calum Best, a recent Liberty University grad who has criticized Falwell:

Calum Best, 22, who graduated from Liberty in May and who has spoken out against Mr. Falwell’s political activity, called the move “a victory.”

“It feels like they did it more because they were embarrassed, more than because it was the correct thing to do,” he said. But, he said, “it’s great that he is gone.”

“He is the one who holds up Liberty’s culture of focus on money, material well-being, political nationalism,” he said. “Without Falwell gone, we can’t really change any of that.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey and her colleagues at The Washington Post interviewed D.J. Jordan, a publicist and 2020 Liberty University graduate:

D.J. Jordan, a publicist who graduated from Liberty in 2002, said Falwell’s previous controversial actions did not make the same waves as his Instagram post did this week. He said the school received more phone calls and emails from pastors around the country than it ever had before.

“This was a tipping point that was so obvious because there was photo evidence,” he said. “It was like, here we are, being hypocritical, and we don’t want our faith to be perceived that way.”

Jordan, who played football at Liberty and met his wife there, said he gets strange looks when he says he went to Liberty since he is Black and works in Washington. Most people, he said, know about the school because they see Falwell on television. The board’s quick decision Friday, he said, was shocking because the leaders have not reprimanded Falwell for his other controversial behavior.

“We never imagined the board taking this kind of discipline,” he said.

They also interviewed Derek Rockey, last year’s student body president:

“It sure is sobering,” said Derek Rockey, 22, who is finishing his degree at Liberty after a term as student body president this past year. “It’s not something that myself or any of my friends who are concerned about Liberty thought would happen.”

He supports the board’s decision, he said. “I do think, with all the events that have piled up, it makes sense,” so that Liberty can restore the faith of the people who love the school. “The school’s motto is ‘Training champions for Christ,’” Rockey said. “People have been extremely concerned over the past months and years. … The school means so much for the Christian community.”

ABS 8 News in Richmond has local reaction to Falwell’s removal.

The aforementioned Calum Best has a piece on this whole mess at The Bulwark.

Stay tuned. This story is still developing.

What happened when an evangelical university created a scholarship named after George Floyd

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On August 3, 2020, Bethel University, a Christian school in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced the George Floyd Scholarship.

The scholarship, named after the Black man killed by police during a May 2020 arrest in Minneapolis, is open to “incoming African American and Black students in all Bethel’s schools.” The scholarship was established “to invest in the future of diverse leaders.”

Bethel president Ross Allen, who attended Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis, wrote: “The deaths of George Floyd, Philando Castille, and so many others are evidence of the pain and persistence of racism…as followers of Christ, we are called to seek Jesus by seeking justice–and we will do so imperfectly yet consistently, until the inherent worth of all people is respected, cherished, and protected.”

Over at the the Clarion, the Bethel student newspaper, Emma Harville reports that the response to the George Floyd Scholarship has been mixed.  Here is a taste of her article:

Bethel University received support, but mostly criticism, from alumni and community members on social media following its Monday announcement of a George Floyd Memorial Scholarship for incoming African-American and Black students. 

Most comments criticized Floyd’s criminal history, claiming Floyd was a drug addict, felon and “not a man to look up to.” A couple even questioned why white students could not apply for the scholarship, too. 

“Shame on you Bethel…The Lord is removing His hand from you!” Bethel alum Linda Koblish wrote under Bethel’s Facebook post announcing the scholarship. 

Bethel junior S.I. Washington said he and a couple of his Black friends from Bethel met over FaceTime after they found out about the negative comments circulating Twitter and Facebook. To them, Floyd’s death was something that “brought all of us together.” 

“They’re so focused on [Floyd’s] life,” Washington said. “But his death meant everything to us. Yes, his life wasn’t amazing. But his death was everything.” 

Read the rest here.

The announcement at the Bethel University Facebook page currently has 66 comments. I think it’s fair to say that this a pretty good cross-section of how evangelicals are thinking about race in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Here are a few of those comments:

–As an alum, I am also looking forward to the ways that Bethel will announce how it will not just get black students through the door, but will fundamentally care for those student while they are there by making major policy, theological and environmental shifts by committing and ensuring students thrive by being protected, supported, centered, seen, and listened to – moving beyond perforative actions and into true repentance and transformation.

–I’m proud of Bethel’s actions in creating this scholarship in the name of George Floyd. As many have also expressed, I’d be interested and excited to hear more about additional and forthcoming anti-racism measures–especially those that focus on supporting BIPOC students throughout the years they attend. #BLM

–This is an amazing first step. As Christians it is our job to stand up and fight for those who are marginalized, serve them , love them, walk beside them the way Jesus did. This scholarship opens a door and I hope that bethel continues to do so in supporting our students of color during their time there too !

–As a Converge pastor, I find this to be virtue signaling and pandering and I can’t in good conscience recommend a school that is going to do this. I could support a scholarship, but it should not be named after a career criminal who was high, passing counterfeit money, and resisting arrest when he died. What I could support was something that would actually help our black brothers and sisters. Like addressing broken families, doing something to help with money management, sponsoring a charter school in at risk communities to give better education options (maybe connecting that with a scholarship), doing something to improve training of officers, etc.

I’m proud of my university for creating such a scholarship–this, and more scholarships like it, are a good first step toward making Bethel a place that can both reflect and honor the true diversity of the body of Christ. I hope, at the same time, we can keep working on Bethel’s *culture* to make it a place where BIPOC folk can feel entirely at home in the community, down to the level of each everyday interaction. That’s going to take a lot of intentional work from everyone.

Sounds like you’re joining the race to the bottom of the Woke Sea. An AA scholarship program sounds fantastic, but too bad you couldn’t pick from the myriad options of unbelievable historical black contributors to the nations history.

–Bethel could have and should hang their scholarship hat on a more deserving individual. His criminal past does not warrant the honor even if he was murdered. Better to name it after one of the children murdered in Chicago during the protests.

–George Floyd used to be a thug. He once held a gun to a pregnant womans stomach. Bethel University, bad idea. This is your role model? He indeed should never have been killed but still there is a lot to consider.

–I just lost all respect for Bethel. It is not the college we used to love! With many grandchildren coming of age to pick their college…Bethel will not be one of their options. You are supporting terrorism and a drug addict, felon and Covid-19 positive person who didn’t care who he spread the virus to. Everyone should be welcome…and if you are presenting the Christian faith…you should not distinguish between any race…rather you should be promoting that in Christ we are all one race and one body! Shame on you Bethel…The Lord is removing His hand from you!

–Thank you for acknowledging the persistence of racism. Looking forward to seeing Bethel make more steps in the direction of change!

–So proud of being Bethel University Almuni💪💪💪#BLM

–Thank you for creating this scholarship. This is a good first step, I will be anxiously waiting for what comes next.

Why did the Liberty University Board of Trustees put Jerry Falwell Jr. on indefinite leave?

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Hint: Answer is in the last paragraph.

Was it because he created a Blackface face-mask and tweeted about it?

Was it because the aforementioned tweet hurt Liberty’s athletic program?

Was it because Black students and employees were leaving Liberty?

Was it because African-American alums could no longer endorse the school?

Was it because he supported Donald Trump’s idea about delaying the 2020 presidential election?

Was it because he told a wild tale about how his father did not like the word “lynch” in Lynchburg?

Was it because one of his Vice Presidents started writing for the alt-Right Breitbart news?

Was it because he “doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do?

Was it because he called a Liberty University parent a “dummy?

Was it because he founded a “think tank” with a mission statement that said the biblical command to “turn the other cheek” was “no longer sufficient” when engaging on the “cultural battlefield?”

Was it because one of his best faculty members left because she couldn’t take the culture of the school any longer?

Was it because he thought there was a “criminal conspiracy” to oust him from power at Liberty University?

Was it because he admitted that he is not involved in the spiritual or Christian dimensions of Liberty University?

Was it because he told an evangelical megachurch pastor to “grow a pair?”

Was it because he got rid of the Liberty University philosophy department?

Was it because he left a late-night voicemail with a New York Times reporter telling her that she is “in some serious trouble?

Was it because he went on Fox News and blamed the coronavirus on Trump’s political opponents and a secret collaboration between Kim Jong Un and China?

Was it because he wants Liberty University to secede from the state of Virginia and join West Virginia?

Was it because he said that the editor of Christianity Today ignored “the teaching of Jesus?

Was it because he said that his religious faith does not inform his politics?

Was it because he likes to hang out in a Miami nightclub?

Was it because he called Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore “nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat“?

Was it because Michael Cohen had “racy photos” of him and his wife?

Was it because he employed a man who was rigging online political polls in favor of Trump?

Was it because he was sending alumni e-mail addresses to Republican candidates?

Was it because he advised Donald Trump to fire Jeff Sessions as Attorney General?

Was it because he censored the Liberty University student newspaper?

Was it because he refused to let progressive evangelicals hold a religious revival on Liberty’s campus?

Was it because he said that Christ “did not forgive the establishment elites?

Was it because he said that Donald Trump “has single-handedly changed the definition of what is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth”?

Was it because he defended Roy Moore when he was accused of molesting teenage girls?

Was it because he said he would join alt-Right Trump adviser Steve Bannon in driving “fake Republicans” from office?

Was it because he called Donald Trump a “dream president?

Was it because he praised Trump’s Charlottesville comments?

Was it because he defended Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape?

Was it because he told Liberty University students who were protesting Trump’s visit to campus that they “are going to be making fools of themselves?”

While I am sure some people at Liberty University were troubled by all these things, it was a photo with a glass of wine, unzipped pants, and his hand around a woman’s waist that FINALLY got the Liberty Board of Trustees to act. This is classic evangelicalism. It’s OK for the president of the largest Christian university in the world to do all the things I listed above, but in the end it all comes down to sex and alcohol.

A president linked to sex and alcohol, not all these other things, is what is most likely to hurt enrollment numbers at Liberty University.

A pro-Trump U.S. Congressman asks Falwell Jr. to resign as president of Liberty University

Watch:

Mark Walker is on the music faculty advisory board at Liberty University. He represents North Carolina’s 6th congressional district. He will not be running for reelection in 2020. If he did run, he would probably lose due to redistricting. He may have his eye on a Senate seat. Walker is a graduate of Piedmont Baptist College (formerly Piedmont Bible College) and is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been involved in music ministry.

Notice how Walker tries to thread the needle here. He wants Falwell Jr. to resign, but he is strongly pro-Trump. He doesn’t like Falwell’s vulgarity, but he is happy to tolerate it in the president. I think this gets to the heart of the matter for many pro-Trump evangelicals. They will not tolerate immorality in their schools or churches, but they are fine with it in the White House as long as the president is delivering on their policy agenda. This seems like a distorted “Two Kingdoms” view of church-state relations.

Here is a piece at Politico.

What is happening at Spring Arbor University?

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Spring Arbor University just fired one of its most talented young professors

I know a few faculty members at Spring Arbor University, a Christian college in Spring Arbor, Michigan. But when I think about this school, I think first about English professor Jeff Bilbro. In the world of Christian scholarship and intellectual life, I have long considered him to be the public face of the university.

Bilbro graduated from George Fox University in 2007. I am guessing that this makes him around 35 years old. He has already published or edited five books. Jeff’s scholarly essays have appeared in Christianity and LiteratureChristian Scholars ReviewSouth Atlantic ReviewThe Journal of Ecocriticism, Milton Quarterly, Early American Literature, Journal of Narrative Theory, Mythlore, and The Southern Literary Journal. I have benefited from his essays on Phillis Wheatley, C.S. Lewis, and Wendell Berry. In addition to his scholarly work, Jeff has published pieces in a variety of popular venues and he currently serves as editor of The Front Porch Republic.

Seldom does one find such a productive and thoughtful Christian scholar. If I was an administrator facing tough faculty cuts, Jeff Bilbro would be on my untouchable list. He would be the kind of professor I would want to rebuild around.

Now he is gone, or at least he will be gone after this coming academic year.

I don’t know all the details of Bilbro’s situation. But I have met Jeff, corresponded with him, and share several mutual friends. I can attest that he is a kind, genuine, and gracious Christian scholar who cares deeply about the mission of Spring Arbor and Christian higher education.

What does Jeff Bilbro’s story tell us about Spring Arbor University?

More importantly, what does this story tell us about the fate of some of our brightest Christian intellectuals working at Christian colleges?

Sadly, we are going to see more of this.

“Jerry Falwell’s dream of athletic domination is in peril” as Black athletes leave Liberty University

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I was happy to help Joel Anderson with this piece at Slate.

Here is a taste:

Liberty’s football team has indeed come a long way since its inaugural season in 1973, when the Flames lost their first game to Massanutten Military Academy by 10 points. Liberty now plays in the top division of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, and earned its first bowl victory in December. But to get to where Falwell Jr. wants to be, the university needs the caliber of athletes—many of them Black, like Land and Clark—that he has increasingly alienated with his far-right activism. (Nearly half of Division I football players are Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.)

“In order for them to attract the kind of players they need to become a top Division I school, they need to go recruiting people, Black and white, who aren’t necessarily perfect fits for a place like Liberty,” said John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotta go beyond the megachurch youth group.”

In our conversation just before his announcement, Land made it clear that football was never a problem for him at Liberty. The training facilities at the school were top notch. He’d acquitted himself well as a freshman defensive back, playing in 11 of 13 games, including five starts, and finishing with 23 tackles. He was projected to start as a sophomore. It was everything he dealt with off the field, Land said, that made it hard for him to recommend the experience to anyone else.

Read the rest entire piece here.

ADDENDUM (August 2, 2020). After rereading this piece, I also realize Anderson quoted me on race:

This school was borne out of a culture that was systemically racist,” said Fea, the Messiah University professor who has written extensively about Liberty on his website. “And they won’t address that because they don’t even believe in it.

More reporting on Wheaton College’s ousting of Rev. Tim Blackmon

Chapel Wheaton

Get up to speed to here and here.

Here is a taste of Emily McFarland Miller’s piece at Religion News Service:

CHICAGO (RNS) — The Rev. Tim Blackmon denies the allegations of misconduct that led to his firing from Wheaton College late last month, saying the split was caused by a clash of cultures between his “Dutch upbringing” and the “deeply religious and very Midwestern culture of Wheaton College.”

“Almost all of the challenges that I’ve had at Wheaton have been related to my sense of humor that has been misinterpreted or lost in translation,” Blackmon told Religion News Service.

In particular, he said, the culture at the evangelical Christian school in suburban Chicago does not allow people to easily discuss the subjects of race and sex.

Wheaton announced earlier this month it fired the former chaplain for “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” he made toward other staff. The school later detailed those allegations after Blackmon released a statement saying he was considering legal action against the school.

Among the allegations: Blackmon reportedly referred to a colleague repeatedly by a racial slur, had “The Idiot’s Guide to Kama Sutra” left on a female colleague’s desk, mocked an online sexual harassment training during a staff meeting by suggesting a female colleague sit in his lap and complete the training for him and made comments to a newlywed female colleague about her sex life.

“They don’t quite call me a sexual predator, but they might as well have,” Blackmon said.

The former chaplain called the firing a disappointing end to five “amazing” years at the school. 

Blackmon was hired in 2015 as the sixth chaplain of Wheaton College — and the school’s first Black chaplain, according to a GoFundMe set up to support him after his firing.

Read the rest here.