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

Liberty_University_Flames_stadium,_Lynchburg,_VA_IMG_4118

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.

Evangelical quit lit

QuitQuit Lit: “…a genre of literature about the experience of resigning from one’s job (usually in academia).

Read more about quit lit here. We also did a podcast about it here.

As a professor at a Christian college, I am always interested in reading quit lit from evangelical humanities professors. Over at Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative, he quotes from a letter he received from a professor at a Christian university:

Over the last 10 years, our university’s traditional undergraduate enrollment shrunk by more than a third. Administrators attempted to remedy the crisis in ways that were entirely predictable. They brought in consultants; they marketed the university as an ideal destination for any career-minded person; they highlighted professional programs and portrayed their Christian identity in anodyne terms. Trustees—most of whom have no skin in the game when making university-related decisions—responded to budget shortfalls by calling for program eliminations. During this time, the university relied on athletic programs to drive enrollment.

At the end of the day, the university became a less compelling option for prospective students. The teaching environment also changed. The theological literacy of students deteriorated as the university marketed themselves to a wider demographic. While we managed to attract some good students, many (especially male athletes) were unprepared for college-level work. Retention became a responsibility for every professor. Yet enrollments still lagged, and more academic programs were eliminated, including my own.

The prospect of redefining my professional life is frightening, but staying in academia has no appeal for me. I’ve spent too much emotional energy defending the humanities only to see them subsumed by the servile arts. In cash poor colleges especially, humanities programs have only a nominal role in the curriculum. Administrators may acknowledge the inherent worth of the humanities; yet their survival requires demonstrating their value in economic terms.

For many years, I thought the Christian university could serve as a bulwark against secular drift. But its failure is assured by academia’s de facto objective. Frank Donaghue, a professor of literature at Ohio State, is precisely right: “Higher education is job training, however academics like to think otherwise” (The Last Professors, 85). In this regard, Christian universities are no different than their secular counterparts. Despite their professed mission, they are almost entirely utilitarian in their perspective and bourgeois in their aims. In some cases they can’t afford not to discard the disciplines that would help the Church think carefully and responsibly about the world and its place within it. There are exceptions to this trend, of course. But on the whole, Christian education is increasingly incapable of addressing present day cultural challenges in bold and effective ways.This became especially clear to me in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I watched several Christian college presidents attempt to establish their anti-racist credentials through feckless moral posturing. As far as I know, none will admit to using academically underprepared young men (many of whom are racial minorities) to pad their enrollments.

Yes, administrators will continue reminding constituents about their institutions’ “enduring Christian mission” and “transformative” educational experience. Such language is an adornment masking the smell of polluted air. Scroll through the list of member colleges and universities of the CCCU. Many of them are bullshit centers of cultural assimilation and vocational training. As crushing student debt increases, these universities will have a harder time explaining why someone should pay more tuition at an institution which may not exist in five years.

Worries about my own career aside, there is something liberating about being untethered from an institution whose future is less than promising.

Anyone who teaches the humanities at a Christian college can relate to this person’s story. We are all experiencing enrollment drops and budget cuts, especially in the humanities. I agree with this writer’s assessment about the “theological literacy” of our students. The humanities are being “subsumed” by professional programs and graduate programs. Sometimes I also wonder whether or not our Christian colleges have become little more than vocational schools.

In sum, I fully understand this writer and I sympathize with him. I respect his decision to leave.

I have long wondered whether the humanities need to be cultivated in places apart from academic institutions. (Johann Neem makes a similar suggestions in his book What’s the Point of College? Listen to our interview with him in Episode 54 of the podcast).

Is the American mind closing?

College-classroom

James Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, makes some important points about intellectual inquiry in this piece at The National Review. 

I found this section useful:

Begin with higher education, the institution traditionally charged with presenting much of our youth with different perspectives and with asking them to explore alternative points of view. University mottoes often boast of just this kind of commitment, be it Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth,” Yale), Emet (“Truth, Even unto Its Innermost Parts,” Brandeis), or Scientia et Virtus(“Knowledge and Virtue,” Middlebury College). Many universities and colleges have become renowned for suppressing such inquiry, reversing course on plans to award honorary degrees, as Brandeis did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or allowing their students to prevent, through disruption, an invited speaker from giving his talk, as with Charles Murray at Middlebury. Such actions are taken today in compliance with decisions of university presidents or in acquiescence to student-activist demands. The institutions now insist on their new unlimited right to indoctrinate, not their old obligation to present uncomfortable ideas. The greater problem in universities is not, however, in the limits they place or allow on outside visitors, which can prove embarrassing for the media coverage they attract. The deeper challenge is found in the day-in, day-out operation of the institution itself, where the left-leaning positions of the faculty and administration are pervasive. Higher education has become a monoculture, serving as a plantation for progressive and leftist ideas. Conservative perspectives are rarely heard. Just a decade ago, when the imbalance of viewpoints was becoming more obvious, lip service was paid to making an effort to bring to campus a greater diversity of opinions. This concern has now gone by the wayside. The term “diversity” itself now carries a completely different meaning, no longer referring to different ways of thinking but to the gender orientations and ethnic and racial characteristics of the faculty. Applicants for many faculty positions are today required to present diversity statements, testifying to their views on this subject, as a condition for employment, while existing faculty in many institutions are asked to offer a report on their equity activities. 

Read the entire piece here.

I find myself in general agreement with this part of Caesar’s piece. I actually wrote something similar here. (If you want to see proof of what I am talking about, read the comments).

I have always enjoyed working at a Christian institution because of the academic freedom I enjoy. Do Christian colleges and universities limit academic freedom? Of course they do. I have to affirm the Apostles Creed to teach at Messiah University. But for those who teach from the perspective of faith, a Christian college can be an incredibly liberating place.

But when I read pieces like Caesar’s, I wonder where conservatives draw the line in their arguments for open inquiry and academic freedom. This is an honest question. I understand that there are different views on abortion and sexual ethics. Some faculty are Republicans or, dare I say, Trump supporters. I would argue, as I did in the Aeon piece above, that there should be plenty of room for diversity on these things. I wish there was more intellectual pluralism in universities. (I also wish there was more intellectual pluralism, within the Christian tradition of course, at Christian colleges and universities. But that is another matter for another post).

But what about a scholar who denies the existence of the Holocaust? Should a white supremacist be allowed to teach on a university campus? Someone who thinks COVID-19 is not real? What about a professor who denies systemic racism? How about a climate change denier or someone who teaches a Trumpian view of American history or thinks the earth is 3000-years-old or believes the past is best explained in a history course by invoking divine providence? Certainly free inquiry can’t be completely free, can it?

Since I do not teach at a secular university, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw such boundaries. Most of my battles on this front take place from within the Christian tradition. But whenever I hear conservatives complaining about a lack of free inquiry, I seldom hear anyone offering positive visions for what they want the university to look like or how to navigate some of the questions I raised above. If there are examples of this, and I have a hunch that there are and I am just not familiar with them, I would like to learn more.

By the way, the National Review is running what looks like an interesting series on American identity, but I can’t read it or engage it because of the paywall. Authors include David French, Joseph Epstein, Allen Guelzo, and Yuval Levin.

More reporting on the ousting of Wheaton College’s chaplain

wheaton1

We did a post on this last week. On May 26, 2020, Wheaton College fired Tim Blackmon, the college chaplain. Blackmon has threatened to sue the school, prompting Wheaton officials to reveal more information about his firing.

Here is Emily Miller McFarland at Religion News Service:

CHICAGO (RNS) — The Rev. Tim Blackmon allegedly referred to a colleague repeatedly by a racial slur and had “The Idiot’s Guide to Kama Sutra” left on a female colleague’s desk while he was chaplain at Wheaton College.

Those are among the allegations that led to Blackmon’s firing late last month, according to a statement Wheaton provided to Religion News Service early Thursday morning (July 9).

Wheaton, an evangelical flagship school in suburban Chicago, initially declined to comment on the details of Blackmon’s firing, referring only to “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” that the former chaplain made toward other staff.

The college’s written statement comes in response to what it called Blackmon’s “recent public attempts to exonerate his behavior and suggest that the College has treated him unfairly.”

Read the rest here.

And here is a taste of Kevin Schmit’s reporting at The Daily Herald:

“To be clear, I was completely blindsided by this Title IX investigation,” Blackmon said. “Moreover, there were no allegations of flirtation, inappropriate relationships, sexual misconduct or any sexual action towards anyone. At no time did anyone, either the complainant or any witness, communicate offense or discomfort.”

But Joe Moore, Wheaton College’s director of marketing communications, disputed Blackmon’s account late Wednesday night.

“We sincerely hoped not to share details regarding the termination of Reverend Tim Blackmon’s employment at Wheaton College,” Moore said in a statement. “However, in light of the recent public attempts to exonerate his behavior and suggest that the college has treated him unfairly, the college must provide further information about the conduct at issue.”

Moore’s statement alleges Blackmon used an ethnic slur against an Asian American employee, made graphic sexual comments to a married female employee, circulated a lewd meme, and arranged to have an illustrated manual of sexual positions placed on a female staff member’s desk.

Read the entire piece here.

What is going on at Wheaton College?

Chapel Wheaton

Wheaton College chapel

This is sad news. Wheaton College, the country’s flagship evangelical liberal arts college, just fired its chaplain. His name is Tim Blackmon.

Here is college president Philip Ryken:

 

Dear Campus Community,

I write to share difficult news.

The College received allegations that Chaplain Tim Blackmon engaged in inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature towards specific staff members in violation of our policies. The College retained external professionals to carefully investigate and adjudicate these concerns. While Reverend Blackmon did not engage in sexually immoral relationships or physical sexual misconduct, the investigation revealed conduct inconsistent with Wheaton’s policies and commitments. Following this investigation and adjudication, as well as a Trustee review process, Tim Blackmon is no longer employed at Wheaton College.

Because of the unique role of the Chaplain as one of Wheaton’s primary spiritual leaders, we believe it is important to share this information with the campus community. In deference to the confidentiality of multiple parties in a personnel process, though, we do not plan to provide additional information beyond this message and encourage our community to respect the privacy of the individuals involved.

It grieves us when any community member falls short of the College’s standards, and our prayers and sympathies are with those who experienced these policy violations. The Senior Administrative Cabinet remains committed to a campus community that is free from harassment and discrimination, understands our policies, and knows that any concerns brought forward will be heard and addressed.

Soon I will announce the appointment of an Interim Chaplain to serve during the 2020-2021 school year. Until then, and throughout the summer, the Chaplain’s Office remains available to all students, staff, and faculty for spiritual encouragement and prayer support. Please send a message to chaplains.office@wheaton.edu, and someone will respond within 24 hours to connect you with the Chaplain’s Office staff or to let you know that your prayer request has been received and will be lifted up to God.

We recognize that this is painful news. As our community experiences brokenness, we also recognize our ongoing need of restoration and reconciliation. We lament this situation and pray for all who have been affected by these events, as well as for Reverend Blackmon and his family.

Philip Ryken

Here is an article in The Daily Herald.  It is hard to imagine a worse time for this to happen. I am sure we will learn more soon.

More on the Cedarville University Scandal

Cedarvo;;e

If you want to know what’s happening at Cedarville University, a Christian college in Cedarville, Ohio, read Bill Trollinger at his blog “Righting America.” (What is the scandal at Cedarville? Get up to speed here).

Trollinger’s latest post is titled “A Whitewashing at Cedarville (Even While the Stories Keep Multiplying):

It is significant that not all Board members agreed with the decision to reinstate White. Two of them – the president of Southeastern Seminary and an evangelical pastor/author – have resigned in protest. And the Gospel Coalition – a collection of conservative evangelical churches – has also registered its unhappiness with the Board’s decision, calling White’s reinstatement “deeply and extremely troubling,” in part because “the process of reinstatement fails to provide adequate accountability.”

To be fair, we perhaps should be heartened by the fact that White will be taking classes – taught by whom? – on victim prevention and advocacy. 

Will these classes alert White to the fact that his university has a terrible record when it comes to protecting and advocating for women students and faculty, to the point of shaming those who talk about sexual abuse? Will these classes lead White to order his academic Vice President and other administrators that they must begin enforcing Title IX requirements, or will the university continue its inexplicable practice of ignoring these mandates? Will these classes prompt White to reform Cedarville’s Counseling Center so that it is actually a place that cares for and protects students who have been raped and sexually harassed?

In his book, Fundamentalist U, Adam Laats makes the very wise point that fundamentalist schools like Cedarville sell themselves as “safe schools.” All I can say is that, even if I accepted Cedarville’s hardline fundamentalist theology, I could not imagine allowing any of my three daughters to go to Cedarville, a place that is anything but safe for young women.

Of course, this might all change. Thomas White might be transformed by the victim prevention and advocacy classes he is supposed to take.

But White is a Paige Patterson protege. It doesn’t seem like transformation is in the cards. The best bet is that, if White remains as president, it is more of the same at Cedarville.

That said, the remaining members of the Board of Trustees and Thomas White are not the only voices in this struggle. Contingency rules. We shall see.

Read the entire piece here. And let’s remember that not all Christian colleges are the same.

Cedarville University reinstates president Thomas White in the wake of a scandal surrounding his hiring of an administrator accused of sexual misconduct

Cedarville

Some of you may recall that we have spent some time here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home covering the ongoing drama at Cedarville University, a conservative Christian college in Cedarville, Ohio. Most of our posts here have linked to the writings of University of Dayton historian Bill Trollinger, who has been covering the scandal at his Righting America blog. I encourage you to get up to speed here. Or, if you prefer, you can read our coverage here.

The bottom line is this: In 2017, Cedarville president Thomas White hired Anthony Moore to serve as a “Multicultural Recruiter” and “Biblical Research Fellow.” In a little over a year’s time, the Cedarville Board of Trustees gave Moore a faculty position in the school’s Biblical and Theological Studies Department and, in January 2019, White gave him the title “Special Advisor to the President for Kingdom Diversity.”

But, as Trollinger writes, “there was a problem.”

In his previous stint as an associate pastor at The Village Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Moore had secretly videotaped, on multiple occasions, a male youth pastor showering in Moore’s home. Trollinger adds: “More than this, Moore emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abused the victim for almost a decade. While videotaping could have brought a two-year jail sentence in Texas, the victim chose not to press charges.”

In January, 2017, The Village Church fired Moore. Matt Chandler, the lead pastor of the Fort Worth congregation, said that Moore was released for “grievous immoral actions against another adult member that disqualify him as an elder and staff member.”

A few months later, White hired Moore at Cedarville, despite the fact that the leadership of The Village Church had informed him of the reason behind Moore’s firing.

After more than three years at Cedarville, Moore was fired on April 22, 2020. Why? Because White learned that he did not have all the information about Moore’s behavior at The Village Church.  “Instead of at most two videos,” White said in a statement, “I heard that there were at least five videos. Instead of this being over a short period of time, I heard that these were taken over a period of at least five months. I also heard details of an unhealthy friendship.”

So let’s try to get this logic straight. When a person secretly records TWO videos of a man in the shower it is fine. But FIVE videos? Now that is downright over the line.

Last month, the university trustees placed White on administrative leave, retained the Husch Blackwell law firm to investigate White’s role in Moore’s hiring, and signed-on with an evangelical public relations firm to handle damage control. It looks like the public relations firm is going to have its hands full during the next several weeks and beyond.

Today, the board of trustees of Cedarville (you can read their names here) reinstated White as president. Blogger Julie Roys is reporting that two of the members of the board resigned in protest. I guess the hiring of a sexual predator was the last straw. One of them was Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary:

 

Here is the Cedarville press release:

WHEREAS, the Board of Trustees of Cedarville University was made aware of additional information related to Dr. Anthony Moores past that led to the termination of his employment by President Thomas White on April 23, 2020; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Trustees considered this matter at the spring meeting of the Board and ordered three courses of action on May 1, 2020:

  1. To hire an independent firm to conduct an internal investigation to ensure nothing inappropriate involving Dr. Moore took place on our campus or with any of our students elsewhere. This firm will report to the Board, and the Board will then report the findings to the Cedarville University community at-large.
  2. To retain an independent firm to conduct an audit of the entire process surrounding the hiring of Dr. Moore. This will include a thorough review of all relevant communication involving Dr. White and Dr. Moore, the Trustees, The Village Church, employment references, etc. The firm will report its findings to the Board.
  3. To place Dr. White on administrative leave during these investigations and appointed Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Loren Reno as acting president of Cedarville University; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Trustees asked Husch Blackwell LLP to conduct an investigation using its independent professional judgment and to present its findings to the Board; and

WHEREAS, Husch Blackwell LLP found no evidence that Dr. Moore engaged in any conduct of a sexual nature on campus or with any University student or employee elsewhere; and

 WHEREAS, the Board of Trustees asked Husch Blackwell LLP to conduct an audit of the process surrounding the hiring of Dr. Moore using its independent professional judgment and to present its findings to the Board independent of any outside influence; and

 WHEREAS, Husch Blackwell LLP found that:

  1. There is no reason to question President White’s benevolent motivation with respect to the overall enterprise of hiring Dr. Moore.
  2. It is reasonable to infer from the evidence available that President White took steps that he knew, or should have known, clouded the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct.
  3. It is reasonable to infer that President White subsequently failed to notify the Board of the specific nature of Dr. Moore’s misconduct; and 

WHEREAS, President White has apologized for these mistakes, acknowledged his errors in judgment and oversight, and has expressed remorse for hiring Dr. Moore; and

 WHEREAS, President White took action when he learned the full extent of Dr. Moore’s past; and

 WHEREAS, President White has seven years of excellent service, and during his administrative leave he has continued to express remorse for his mistakes and has voluntarily cooperated with the internal investigation; now, therefore, be it

 RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Cedarville University reinstates President White from administrative leave; and be it

 RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Cedarville University is requiring Dr. White:

  1. To complete courses on victim prevention and victim advocacy
  2. To lead Cedarville University to emphasize victim prevention, awareness, advocacy, and other related areas; and be it 

RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Cedarville University commits to moving forward with humility, grace, mercy, integrity, civility, and respect and prays that God will be honored by these actions.

I know that many Cedarville alums were hoping that this scandal would lead the school in a new direction. Trollinger has been publishing testimonials of former students who have suffered under White’s leadership.

White has brought Cedarville into the national spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons. Here are just a few of our posts about his administration:

April 24, 2014: “What is Going on at Cedarville University?” (A story about an underground student newspaper that was squashed by the administration).

April 26, 2017: “What is Going on at Cedarville University?” (A story about Cedarville’s new “Philippians 4:8 curriculum reforms).

April 29, 2017: “Cedarville University President Responds” (backlash related to the Philippians 4:8 curriculum).

May 1, 2017: “Cedarville University Proposes Concealed Carry Policy.”

November 28, 2017: “More Thoughts on Cedarville’s ‘Biblically Consistent Curriculum

May 31, 2018: “Will Cedarville University Remove Paige Patterson From its Board of Trustees?

June 1, 2018: “Paige Patterson Resigns from the Cedarville University Board of Trustees.”

Do you sense a pattern here?

So expect it to be business as usual, at least for the near future, at Cedarville University.

And let’s always remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

The fallout of Liberty University’s failure on race

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

Elana Schor and Sarah Rankin of the Associated Press get us to up to speed on the fallout from Liberty University president Jerry Falwell’s recent racist tweet. Here is a taste of their piece, “Evangelical Liberty U rattled by its own racial reckoning“:

Football players Tayvion Land and Kei’Trel Clark, who are also Black, shared their transfer plans in social media posts with a Black Lives Matter hashtag. Land was among the school’s highest-rated football recruits. Another player, Waylen Cozad, announced his decision without explanation.

Liberty’s provost told local news station WSET that the school had terminated a professor whose behavior contributed to Land and Clark’s transfer decisions.

The athletes aren’t alone among the disappointed.

“It’s a personal regret of mine, getting my degree from here now,” said Liberty senior Janea Berkley, a leader at the school’s Black Christian Student Association. “I would never want to give my money to a place that didn’t support me, that felt like my life mattered.”

Thomas Starchia, who resigned as an associate director in the school’s office of spiritual development, said Liberty students and staff made good-faith efforts to promote diversity but its president’s tweet was a “tipping point.”

Acknowledgment of Liberty’s difficulties engaging on race isn’t limited to staffers and alumni of color. Recent graduate Calum Best said that “there is no serious conversation about it.”

“Many Christians are plenty happy to have hard conversations about issues they care about, like abortion, like homosexuality,” said Best, who is white. “For whatever reason, racism is a thing they don’t want to talk about. It’s a personal heart issue to them, something to be prayed over.”

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s also remember that not all Christian colleges are the same.

Being black at Liberty University

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Over at Slate, Ruth Graham has a sobering piece on LeeQuan McLaurin, the Liberty University alum and employee who resigned in the wake of president Jerry Falwell Jr.’s racist blackface tweet. Since leaving Liberty, McLaurin has started the Liberty University Underground Railroad.

Here is a taste:

LeeQuan McLaurin thought it would be “the simplest of actions” for his department at Liberty University, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, to post something on social media in response to the ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality. But in this case, Liberty’s director of diversity retention says he encountered nothing but delays and confusion from colleagues when he tried to get approval for a post. According to McLaurin, his boss—the office’s director, Greg Dowell, who is also black—said a post was unnecessary. Then the topic came up at a larger meeting, still with no action. On June 1, McLaurin finally went ahead and posted something himself to the office’s account: a simple image reading “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and a caption citing six Bible verses backing up the slogan. Within an hour, McLaurin said, an administrator had removed the post. (McLaurin shared a screengrab of the post with Slate, but the administrator did not respond to a request for comment.)

McLaurin, who had worked at Liberty since he graduated from the school in 2015, resigned in early June, an act he described as the culmination of accumulated years of frustration at a school he loved. For him, the current moment is a time for both optimism and regret. He recalled feeling sick sitting as a chaperone to a mostly white student group at a “Blexit” event that black conservative activist Candace Owens held in Richmond, Virginia, last year—a rally intended to convince black voters to leave the Democratic Party. Liberty had offered the outing as a “cultural excursion.” McLaurin said that someone outside his department sent out an all-campus email about it from McLaurin’s Liberty email account without his permission. Backstage after the event, watching Owens surrounded by adoring white people, “it felt like I was in a horror movie.” “I cannot encourage students of color to go to that university the way that it is,” McLaurin said. “Our students deserve better. Our faculty deserve better. Our staff deserves better.” (A Liberty spokesman declined my request for interviews with Dowell and Jerry Falwell Jr. and did not respond to a detailed list of questions.)

Read the rest here.

What is happening to Liberty University? In the past year:

  • The school lost a star basketball player over Falwell Jr.’s racist tweet.
  • Prominent African-American alumni say that they cannot endorse the school.
  • The university dumped its philosophy department.
  • A vice-president wrote an op-ed in the alt-Right Breitbart News.
  • Falwell Jr. threatened a New York Times reporters with a late night phone message.
  • A former university executive says Falwell Jr. “doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants….”
  • At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, an English professor pleaded, “Please stop Jerry Falwell Jr. before it’s too late.”
  • When a parent questioned the president’s decision to keep the university open during the coronavirus, Falwell Jr. called him a “dummy.”
  • A new Liberty University think tank, created to promote Christian nationalism and Donald Trump, suggested that the biblical command to “turn the other cheek” is no longer sufficient in today’s political climate.
  • Perhaps the most well-known member of the Liberty faculty left.
  • When Politico published a piece critical of Falwell Jr. and his running of the university, he called it an “attempted coup” and “criminal conspiracy” against him.
  • Falwell Jr. admitted that he is not involved in the spiritual or Christian dimensions of Liberty University. The Liberty chaplain defended him.

Let’s remember that not all Christian colleges are the same.

What is at stake for religious liberty in the latest SCOTUS decision?

Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a previous post, I discussed what this ruling means politically, especially for the agenda of the Christian Right and their faith in Donald Trump. In this post, I want to discuss what it means for religious liberty in the United States.

Rather than pontificate, I want to simply call your attention to a few statements that reflect my views. First, here is a statement from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU):

Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision that extends federal protections to LGBT employees. At the CCCU, this is a decision that we have long recognized was possible, and is why we have been public supporters of legislation that would proactively balance the rights of religious communities and LGBT Americans. We believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. Today’s ruling gives LGBT Americans more employment security, but it leaves important questions unanswered for religious employers. We call on Congress to address these uncertainties through legislation that makes explicit the religious protections important to a rich and vibrant civil society. We look forward to playing an important role in these vital conversations on behalf of our institutions and their First Amendment rights, and will continue to pursue strategies that protect the Christ-centered mission of our institutions and preserve and strengthen Christian higher education for the future.

At this point, I am not sure what this Supreme Court decision means for “Fairness for All.” In her piece at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey quotes University of Virginia Law School professor Douglas Laycock: “This will end all legislative bargaining over religious liberty in the gay-rights context…There is no longer a deal to be had in which Congress passes a gay-rights law with religious exemptions; the religious side has nothing to offer.”

And here is the National Association of Evangelicals:

The Supreme Court’s decision in three Title VII cases today redefines the word “sex” in a longstanding civil rights law. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that employers are legally prohibited from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring and other terms and conditions of employment. The decision provides significant protections for LGBT people, but leaves unanswered how the right for people and organizations to exercise their religion — to live according to their deeply held convictions — will be safeguarded.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. When Congress included the word “sex” in Title VII, Americans thought their representatives were creating a level playing field for women in the workplace. These recent cases before the Supreme Court argued that, whatever members of Congress were thinking back in 1964, the law they passed also covers employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, the Supreme Court created a law that Congress has repeatedly considered since the 1990s and declined to adopt.

By reading into a venerable civil rights law newly discovered protected classes, the Supreme Court has teed up years of social conflict. Judicial decisions by their nature are blunt instruments between two parties that do not allow for nuanced distinctions between types of employers, such as religious employers, and types of employment decisions.

In Title VII, Congress recognized that a blanket application of a nondiscrimination policy based on sex would create a conflict for some churches, religious colleges and other faith-based organizations in which theological convictions mandate differentiated roles. Accordingly, Title VII, as amended in 1972, includes a robust religious employer exemption that allows faith communities to structure their communal life according to their religious beliefs. With the Supreme Court’s expanded definition of sex, this exemption will be more important than ever, as a wider range of employment practices come under legal restrictions.

As a matter of church-state relations, the government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious employers. The 1972 exemption has enabled all Americans of goodwill to coexist in a spirit of mutual respect. The National Association of Evangelicals is grateful that Justice Gorsuch’s opinion includes a reaffirmation of the ministerial exception, Title VII religious employer exemption, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections.

Since questions about religious freedom remain unanswered, the NAE will work in the courts and Congress to safeguard the freedom of religious organizations and individuals to follow their conscience and beliefs. We urge lower courts to respect and uphold this right in cases that come before them in the years ahead. Ultimately Congress should pass legislation that will ground in the act itself — not just a court decision — protection of the rights of all employers and employees to live according to their deepest convictions.

I will try to keep writing on this in the next few days. Stay tuned.

When evangelicals put their faith and trust in presidents and Supreme Court justices

Gorsuch Trump

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion. So did Trump-appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically, the story centers on Gorsuch. Let’s remember that many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because they believed he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade and protect their religious liberties. When white evangelicals talk about religious liberties, the right to uphold views of traditional marriage and sexuality at their institutions, and still maintain their tax-exempt status and have access to federal funding programs, are at or near the top of the list.

For example, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote:

Court evangelicals, for example, believe that a Trump administration will protect Christian colleges and universities from losing their religious exemptions, exemptions that allow them to receive federal money despite their religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage. One school that would have a lot to lose if these exemptions were to disappear is Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s school does not allow faculty members who are gay, and it has taken strong stances against gay marriage and other related matters of sexual ethics. In 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr. no doubt has his eye on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California legislature that would remove Title IX religious exemptions for private liberal arts colleges that are opposed to gay marraige or refuse to hire gay faculty. The sponsors of the bill believed that such rules represented a form of discrimination against LGBTQ students attending those schools. Biola University, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, along with several other California Christian colleges and universities, argued that the bill, if passed, would not only violate their religious liberties but would prevent low-income students in need of financial aid from attending their institutions.

The California bill had no bearing on federal funding or institutions outside California, but it still raised much fear among Christian colleges throughout the country. Liberty University students received $445 million in federal student loans, the highest today of any four-year university in Virginia and the eighth-highest in the nation. (The high ranking in both categories is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Liberty student body.) 

Many white evangelicals hoped that Trump would end these problems by appointing Supreme Court justices who would make sure that schools like Liberty, Biola, and dozens more Christian colleges, including my own institution, Messiah College, would get religious exemptions.

Again, here is Believe Me:

When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear  that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said, “and if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republicans voters that the United States was “one justice away” from “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

“One justice away.” That  one justice was Neil Gorsuch.

Cruz, of course, did not get the nomination. But as a I argued in Believe Me, Trump watched him (along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Christian Right favorites) carefully in order to learn how to tap the white evangelical vote. Here is more from the book:

…Trump pulled out his most important move to win over conservative evangelicals who were still skeptical about his candidacy on May 18[,2020]. On that day, the soon-to-be-GOP nominee released the names of eleven judges whom he said he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. It was a move straight out of the playbook. The list was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank known for defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and fighting for the right of religious institutions to avoid government interference. On July 13, 2016, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that evangelicals were rallying to Trump, and it predicted that 78 percent of white evangelical voters would support him in November.

Neil Gorsuch was on that list.

Many court evangelicals are not happy with Gorsuch’s majority opinion:

Franklin Graham has responded here.

We will see how this all plays out politically, but there are still some serious religious liberty questions that need to be addressed in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned. In my next post on this subject, I will address the way other evangelicals and faith-based institutions are responding to this decision, particularly as it relates to religious liberty.

The Liberty University Underground Railroad

Quan

LeeQuan McLaurin

After Jerry Falwell Jr. posted a racist tweet, LeeQuan McLaurin, a director of diversity retention at Liberty, resigned in protest. Now, according to a piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, McLaurin has created an “LUnderground Railroad” to “raise money for Liberty University employees who want to leave but can’t afford to.” Here is a taste of The Chronicle piece:

In an interview Tuesday, McLaurin, a 2015 graduate of Liberty, said he’s worked in three offices there and that microaggressions are common. He said a supervisor in a student-advising office advised one of McLaurin’s colleagues not to get his hair styled in dreadlocks “because it doesn’t look professional.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the “LUnderground Railroad” GoFundMe page had raised more than $5,300 toward its $30,000 goal. McLaurin said he’s heard from many employees who want to leave but are afraid they won’t be able to support their families, given Lynchburg’s shortage of available housing and high poverty rates.

Liberty, a private evangelical college, is a major employer in Lynchburg. It has around 46,000 undergraduates and an enrollment of more than 100,000 when online students are included.

“What weighs most heavily on me is not that I don’t have a job — I know God will provide for me — but hearing colleagues tear up because they want to leave, but they can’t afford to,” McLaurin said.

As director of diversity retention, he was a staff member in Liberty’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, and oversaw efforts to keep minority and other underrepresented students enrolled. He said that between 2007 and 2018, Liberty’s residential undergraduate African American population dropped from 10 percent to 4 percent. A Liberty spokesman declined to confirm or refute those figures.

Among the employees who have left recently is Keyvon Scott, a 2019 Liberty graduate who had been working as an admissions counselor for the university’s sprawling online program.

“The mask was just the tipping point,” he said on Tuesday. “As an admissions officer, I’m supposed to be promoting Liberty, especially when an African American calls and asks about diversity.” Scott, who said he was often the only African American person in his classes, said he could no longer do that.

Scott said some people lashed out at him for leaving and not sticking around and fighting back. “The thing is, I had to leave,” he said. “That’s how I take a stand.”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is the official statement from the LUnderground website:

Help staff and faculty at LU suffering from racial trauma and unable to leave due to financial restraints. 

No one should be subject to racial and workplace trauma (https://bit.ly/RacialTrauma  ) in order to earn a living. Liberty University, while for many is a beacon for believers, for others, it may be just a source of stable income within the Lynchburg area. Lynchburg is a city that is well known for its struggle with poverty. Economic issues include a lack of affordable housing, lack of significant economic growth, and a poverty rate that is nearly 7 percentage points higher than other Virginia cities (with the poverty rate of Black people being nearly double that of white people in the city) (https://bit.ly/LYHPoverty  ). 

With Liberty University as one of the major employers of the city, it naturally has attracted many employees, a fair portion of whom are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). While there is a lot to be said and debated about Liberty’s ‘economic impact’ on Lynchburg, and the surrounding areas, that is a discussion for another time. And trust me, there will be another time. While at the university many employees have experienced incidents of discrimination, prejudice, and general racial trauma. This institution has yet to grapple with its long-standing issues relating to racism and has consistently placed the burden of coping with the effects stemming from such on their BIPOC employees. 

The institution will often trust in, and has ultimately abused, their financial influence on the Lynchburg area in order to ignore their responsibility for racial and workplace trauma that is inflicted on BIPOC employees. A common statement that is heard around the university is “If you don’t like it here, then leave.” Most people in Lynchburg know that with the city’s economic state, the solution is not always as simple as leaving. Rather than work to make the university a healthier and safer work environment for its employees, the institution would rather ask people to either endure the racial and workplace trauma or leave.

Due to a strong culture of fear that exists within the university, many employees are afraid to speak out and share their experiences (https://bit.ly/FearCulture  ). Even more are afraid to leave due to fear that they would be unable to financially support their families. Several employees have attempted to file reports, but since the university often refuses to acknowledge the existence of very real things such as systemic racism, they have either been ignored or faced retaliatory consequences. 

As I explained when I turned in my letter of resignation, no one at LU understands what it is like to be a Black man working at a conservative evangelical predominantly white institution, and to then be faced with constant instances of racism (big and small alike), as you’re also fighting to change campus culture, while simultaneously hearing of yet another one of our brothers or sisters who have been murdered, and will not see justice, AND on top of all of that to deal with our own institutional issues only to have my hands completely tied. *breathe, I know that was a lot* 

Since announcing my resignation, so many colleagues, peers, students, alumni, and strangers have reached out to me. Most of these interactions have been pretty positive. However, the ones that haven’t been, have made the biggest impact on me. Several Black colleagues have shared that they wished they could leave as well, but they have families and/or financial responsibilities that force them to remain at LU. A few with tears in their eyes. Hurting. They know that they just have to swallow this hurt and pain, while also grieving with the rest of their community because their livelihoods rely on it. Some have already left, and have shared they have no idea how they are going to pay their rent come July, let alone other basic life necessities. Let’s not even talk about how the reputation of the university has hindered their prospects with future employers. 

This isn’t right. Since I left, so many people have chosen to graciously donate their hard-earned dollars (in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession, mind you) to me. This overwhelming display of the good to be found in humanity has confirmed for me that God is in the midst of this. He is tired of his children being oppressed. Furthermore, He is tired of people using His name to accomplish this. 

This fund is being set up for all the LU employees that would like to leave, but are afraid of how it will affect them financially. Those conflicted with their identity as BIPOC, but also need to make a living through a tough economic situation. Not a penny of this money will go to me. God has already been more than gracious to me. It will be divided amongst the BIPOC employees who have already left, or need to leave, but are unable to leave due to financial issues. The goal is to assist at least 15 former LU employees (although there are many more) with $2,000 each ($30,000) which can help many through at least a month of basic expenses–a month where they can focus their efforts on searching for a workplace that will provide a safe, supportive environment where they can thrive as BIPOC, and leave behind a toxic, unhealthy workplace that never did. Any amount that you give will be greatly appreciated.

To be eligible for the emergency relief funds, employees must have experienced racial trauma at the hands of the university and resigned from their positions due to it. Those wishing to apply for the funds should email lundergroundrailroad@gmail.com. I will be posting updates about employees able to be helped and served by these funds.

*The New York Times* Covers Falwell’s Apology for His Racist Tweet

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

Elizabeth Williamson of The New York Times, the same reporter who got into a kerfluffle with Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. over her supposed “trespassing” on the university campus during the height of the coronavirus, is now covering the story behind Falwell’s recent apology for a racist tweet.

Not familiar with this story? Get up to speed here and here and here and here.

Here is the tweet that started this mess:

FalwellTweetMasks-796x1024

What do we learn from Williamson’s reporting that we did not already know?

  1. Here is a quote from Keyvon Scott, an online admissions counselor who resigned after Falwell’s blackface tweet: “Your actions have shown you really don’t care about the black community, and that’s sad…You can’t say this is a Christian university, but then everything that comes out your mouth is about Trump?”
  2. While Falwell was defending his original tweet, members of the Liberty football and basketball teams were having “fraught meetings with coaches and staff to discuss George Floyd….” But basketball coach Ritchie McKay said, “I feel really good about what he’s [Falwell’s] done on our campus. Leadership styles are different. This is a great place to work, and our guys are having I think a life-shaping experience.”
  3. Keyvon Scott wonders if he will ever be employed again in his field because he has “Liberty University” on his vita. He said, “people take one look at Liberty University on my resume, and I always get asked the same question: Why would you go there?”
  4. After Falwell issued published the tweet and defended it, a regional broadcaster refused to run Liberty University advertising or content.
  5. The owner of a Lynchburg restaurant praised Falwell’s idea for a blackface coronavirus mask, saying “We would offer them to our staff as a mask option.” Protesters vandalized his restaurant and the man issued an apology.
  6. Prior to Monday, Falwell showed no remorse for the tweet and even promoted his blackface mask on a conservative television program. On the same program, Falwell’s wife Becki said that she did not approve of the mask or the tweet. Falwell laughed.
  7. One African-American pastor and Liberty graduate defended Falwell’s apology. He believes Falwell did not succumb to the pressure, but rather “his heart got right.”
  8. The African-American authors of a Change.Org petition want a face-to-face meeting with Falwell.

African-American Alumni of Liberty University: “Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships”

Last week Jerry Falwell Jr. designed his own blackface COVID-19 mask. Read about it here. One African-American professor has resigned.

Here was his tweet:

FalwellTweetMasks-796x1024

Falwell defended himself and refused to apologize. Last night he tweeted:

People have asked why I won’t apologize for reminding people of @vagovernor racist past in a recent tweet. It’s because that same Gov just ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American! Put your $ where your mouth is Gov. Sad.

And now, 35 African-American pastors, ministry leaders, and former athletes who graduated from Liberty University (I’ve linked to as many as possible below) have rebuked Falwell Jr. for his racism. Liberty University students, alumni, staff, and parents are encouraged to endorse the letter by adding their signatures.

Here is the letter:

Dear President Jerry Falwell Jr, 

We are all African-American Evangelical pastors, ministry leaders, and former athletes who are alumni of Liberty University, and we are grateful for our college experiences. These experiences have shaped us in deep and profound ways and have equipped us to engage our local context with the Gospel of Jesus, both thoughtfully and unashamedly. The school’s mission is to educate and train champions for Christ to impact the culture, and we believe the objective has been achieved for many years. While we rejoice in God’s grace in advancing this mission, we, however,  have been disappointed and deeply grieved by your incendiary rhetoric over the past several years. 

The latest example is your May 27 tweet of a face mask with an image of two people, one in a KKK robe and hood and one appearing in blackface. While your tweet may have been in-jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism. It is what we’re called to reject as followers of Christ – “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place…” (Ephesians 5:4, ESV). The reckless nature of this tweet is a microcosm of the past several years of divisive rhetoric that does not display the kind of Christian witness that the Gospel demands of us, nor does it represent the Christlike leadership that Liberty University deserves. It has brought further disgrace to Jesus Christ and Liberty University.

For several years, you have said and defended inappropriate statements that represent Liberty and our faith very poorly. You have belittled staff, students and parents, you have defended inappropriate behaviors of politicians, encouraged violence, and disrespected people of other faiths. We were all taught at Liberty about the sanctity of life (Jeremiah 1:5) and the dignity of every human – made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and yet, you have repeatedly violated and misrepresented core Christian principles (Romans 12:9-21) through brash tweets and statements that harm our Christian witness. 

While students, professors, and alumni have urged you to alter your rhetoric and repent, sadly nothing has changed. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that Liberty University is a family-owned organization and you are the sole authority. The Board of Trustees has no power to influence your behavior or hold you accountable. So, the objective of this letter is to appeal to you and your spiritual conviction. 

We are writing to urge you to stop this infantile behavior and lead our alma mater with dignity as your father did. Jerry Falwell Sr was more focused on preparing the next generation to courageously engage the culture as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He wasn’t perfect, but he was humble enough to confess ungracious and unbiblical comments, and apologize when he was wrong. The KKK robe and hood and blackface face mask tweet may seem funny to you, but this tweet is the action of a political commentator or activist and is not fitting nor acceptable for the leader of one of the largest Evangelical Christian schools in the world. A review of your social media and statements during your presidency would lead many to believe that you care much more about politics than Jesus Christ, Evangelism, and the discipleship of students. It has become obvious to many that your heart is in politics more than Christian academia or ministry, so we would encourage you to leave the position of school president and pursue politics full-time. 

Your statements hurt the ability of Liberty alumni to obtain jobs and have a voice in the culture. Having the school’s name on a resume can be a liability to many of our graduates. As much as you say that your statements and activism do not reflect the mission, values, faculty, staff, students and alumni of the Liberty University as a whole, this is a misguided position because everything you do and say is a reflection of Liberty University, whether you want it to be or not. You are the president of a Christian university with a platform of great influence and you have the unique responsibility to steward that role in a way that honors God first and foremost. 

Lastly, we leave you with this. Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships. There are many Christians of color who worship in our churches and communities; we will not recommend their attendance at L.U. as long as you continue the unChristlike rhetoric. We will no longer donate funds to the university. We will also actively encourage Christian leaders to decline the invitation to speak at Liberty if you continue to insist on making unChristlike and inappropriate statements that are misrepresentative of Biblical Christianity. 

In closing, we ask you to withdraw your racist tweet immediately and make a public apology. If you decide to stay at Liberty, this coalition stands ready to meet with you in order to provide counsel on ways for L.U. to best move forward in these racially-charged and divisive times. Liberty University deeply impacted us as students and we hope that you can return to a focus of training “young champions for Christ” with Biblical conviction and Christlike character and humility. Our ultimate goal is for Jesus to be glorified in all that we say and do. We pray that is your desire as well.

The letter is signed by:

Dr. Chris Williamson (Strong Tower Bible Church, TN), Class of ‘90 & ‘92

Pastor Eric Carroll (The Ascension Church RVA, VA), Class of ‘91

Eric Green (former NFL player, Liberty University Hall of Fame), Class of ’90

Pastor Eric Saunders (McLean Bible Church, VA), Class of ‘07

Walt Aikens (NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’14

Latasha Morrison (Founder, Be The Bridge), Class of ‘13

Minister Myles “Mac” Lawhorn (Epiphany Fellowship Church, PA), Class of ‘00

Obehi Idiake (Christian speaker, podcaster), Class of ‘14

Minister Maina Mwaura (author, speaker), Class of ‘97

Pastor Marcell Howard (Woodhaven Bible Church, MI) Class of ‘03 & ‘10

Lezlyn Parker (author, speaker), Class of ‘89

Richard Shelton (former NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’89

Khambrel “Kham” Rembert (Christian musician), Class of ‘17

Pastor Gavin Davis (McLean Bible Church, VA), Class of ‘06

Dorena McFarland Williamson (author, speaker), Class of ’91

Rev. Dr. Johnny Parker (author, speaker), graduate student ‘05

Dr. Joy Hervey (author, speaker), Class of ‘18

Johnny T. White (H.S. Coach, football student-athlete),Class of ‘93

Shomari Dixon (ministry leader), Class of ‘19

Wayne Haddix (former NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’88

Rev. Brian D. Woolfolk (First Mt. Zion Baptist Church, VA), Class of ‘92

Minister Tiffany Croom, Class of ‘13

Patrick Nelson (former NFL player), Class of ‘92

Shelton Lewis, (football student-athlete) Class of ’93

Carroll L. Ward (football student-athlete), Class of 90

Pastor James Hobson Jr.(Hill City Community Church, VA), Class of ‘11 & ‘17

Curtis Artis (Christian nonprofit leader), Class of ‘91

Keith Vinson (football student-athlete), Class of ’91

LaTasha Washington (Christian counselor), Class of ‘16

Allan Louder (Basketball Student-Athlete), Class of ’91

Dr. Andre Sims (Christ the King Bible Fellowship, WA), Class of ’88 & ’91

Pastor Jua Robinson (Charles River Baptist Church, MA), Class of ’04 & ’05

Joshua McMillion (Christian musician), Class of ‘17

Pastor Marion Mason (former LU Assistant Track Coach), Class of ‘06

Corey Rice (football student-athlete), Class of ‘93

 

YOU CAN SIGN IT HERE

Here is the Associated Press story.

What is (Still) Happening at Cedarville University?

Cedarville

Bill Trollinger of the Righting America blog and the University of Dayton has been closely following what is going on at Cedarville, a conservative Christian university in Ohio. Get up to speed herehere, and here.

But their is apparently a lot more to this story.

Here is Trollinger:

Of course, Cedarville desperately wants to get past the scandal, wants to get back to the place of being seen as a school that is “safe” for its fundamentalist constituency. Toward that end it has hired public relations “guru” Mark DeMoss, who in the past has worked to refurbish tainted evangelical “brands’ such as Willow Creek Community Church, Franklin Graham, and Mark Driscoll.  More than this, they have also hired Husch Blackwell LLP to conduct its “internal” and “independent” investigation into the hiring of Anthony Moore, an investigation that will culminate in a report to the Board of Trustees. 

As this scandal unfolds, more and more people affiliated with Cedarville have been telling their stories.  Here is one:

In 2018 Paige Patterson – one of the leaders of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention – was fired as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (TX). Among the reasons he was fired is that it had come out that – as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (NC) – he had advised at least one rape victim (Megan Lively) not to report the assault to the police, but, instead, forgive the assailant.  But Lively has now come forward to report that Thomas White – who at the time was director of student life at Southeastern, and who is a Patterson protégé – was directly involved in the effort to keep her quiet about the rape. More than this, she was required to meet with Joy White – Thomas White’s wife, Southeastern graduate student, and now Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Cedarville – as part of the “disciplinary plan” imposed on her after she reported the rape.

Read Trollinger’s entire post here.

Yet another reminder that not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jerry Falwell Jr: *The Chronicle of Higher Education* Interview

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, just gave an interview to Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first part of the interview covers ground we have already covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. The second part of the interview is pretty revealing. Stripling annotates some of Falwell Jr.’s answers in brackets.

Here is a taste:

Are you going in to your office?

I don’t have as many meetings as I used to, but whenever I do need to have one, yes, I’ll go in and have one.

Do you wear a mask?

No.

Do you ever wear one?

No.

Why not?

I don’t get close enough to anybody to need one. I got the antibody test, and I have not had Covid-19.

[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”]

You got the antibody test because you felt you had symptoms, or you were just wondering if you’d won the Covid lottery and might be immune?

I was just curious. I kept hearing so much hype about it; I just wanted to see how real the threat was.

The fact that you didn’t have the antibodies, does that make you think that the threat is exaggerated?

No, I’m just glad to see it wasn’t bad enough around here that I’d caught it.

[Of 31,140 reported coronavirus cases in Virginia, 74 are in Lynchburg, where Liberty’s main campus is.]…

When do you think you will have to make a decision about the fall?

Whenever I want to. Whenever I decide that the powers-that-be have concluded that it’s safe to open, then I’ll make the call. But not until then; I don’t have to. There’s no pressure.

We’re giving faculty their contracts, but we are making them contingent on enrollment levels. And there’s a chance a lot of kids won’t come back because parents are scared to send them back. So we’re going to keep our options open.

[Liberty professors do not have tenure, except in the law school, where accreditation requires it. The university has a $1.6 billion endowment, and it boasts an enrollment of 100,000 online students.]…

Have you had any direct conversations with President Trump since this pandemic began?

Yeah, he called yesterday. I was sitting in the car, and the phone number popped up and I didn’t recognize it and I answered it: “Jerry,” the president said.

I can’t tell you what he said, but it was just a friendly conversation.

I told him about what we were planning to do with The New York Times about the trespassing charges, and he said, “I hear that people are dying at Liberty. Now I hear there’s zero cases. He said, “Why don’t they correct it?” I said, “Good question.”

What did he think of how you were handling The New York Times?

I never say what the president says to me.

You just did!

Not really.

Fair enough. In your Fox interview, you were floating the idea that North Korea and China might have created the virus. There’s been criticism that there’s just no evidence for this, that this is conspiratorial thinking. Was it appropriate to voice that out loud?

Afterward, everybody else started saying the same thing. I was ahead of the game on that one.

It’s funny: A lot of Ivy League schools have connections to that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard that. I don’t know if they’re working over there. I just read last week there’s some connection between Ivy League schools and that Wuhan lab. I don’t know if that means anything.

If I didn’t know better, I would think you were planting a seed that Ivy League universities are part of some conspiracy to release the coronavirus. Is that what you’re saying?

No, no, no. I was just surprised to read that they were involved with that lab.

This is the exact kind of stuff that people complain about with you: Just floating the ‘isn’t this curious?’ type of thing. Now you’ve added Ivy League universities to the list, as if they’re part of some problem.

That was published in the mainstream media. They did it to raise suspicion. I didn’t. I was just telling you what they said.

[Scientists have said they doubt the new coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan. But the theory remains resonant in political circles. In response to follow-up questions about Ivy League connections to the Wuhan lab, Falwell provided an article from Bloomberg about a Harvard University chemistry professor who had been arrested in a crackdown on intellectual-property theft sponsored by China. There is no evidence that Charles M. Leiber, the professor, had anything to do with the novel coronavirus, despite social-media posts suggesting otherwise, FactCheck.org reported in FebruaryThe Chronicle provided Falwell with a link to FactCheck.org’s reporting on Leiber. “Interesting,” Falwell replied].

How would you feel if you opened Liberty and you had a student or faculty member who got really sick, or even died? Would you feel tremendous guilt?

That’s why I said I’m going to exercise extreme caution before making decisions. You weigh all the factors, and you make the risk known, and it’s their choice whether to come. I don’t see how that’s any different than going on a ski slope in the state of Virginia.

But I wouldn’t open school and say we recommend you come if this thing’s still going like it is now. You’re welcome to come, but please realize that we can’t control what we can’t control.

I wouldn’t care how many showed up and how many didn’t. A lot of schools would.

Because you have so much money.

If you want to put it that way [laughing]. I didn’t say that; you did.

You’ve kind of been saying it.

We don’t have the financial pressures that a lot of schools have.

Read the entire interview here. It may be behind a paywall.

A Liberty University Divinity School Professor Responds to the Closing of the Philosophy Department

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David Baggett taught philosophy and theology at Liberty University for fourteen years. In Fall 2020, he will join the faculty at Houston Baptist University. In a recent piece at “The Worldview Bulletin Newsletter,” Baggett responds to Liberty’s recent decision to eliminate its philosophy department.

Here is a taste:

So let’s get back to eliminating the philosophy department. Business lingo was used in Liberty’s decision—specters of efficiency, adding value, and negative enrollment trends—but it all raises prior questions that ought to be asked. If a program isn’t a money-maker for the university, how relevant is that to its value? Is its value reducible to monetary terms? If the university overall wants to be financially solvent—and what university doesn’t?—does that rightly suggest that each department has to pull its own weight financially? What if history and English eventually suffer the same fate? Can a school legitimately claim to be a university at all without a philosophy program? Or an English or history department? This is no unprincipled slippery slope concern; the parity in reasoning seems inescapable. At what point does the intrinsic value of studying poetry or history, philosophy or literature, simply demand that a university privilege something other than the bottom line?

Liberty’s rationale also includes mention of other Christian colleges streamlining their humanities programs, and it is probably true that this was a financial necessity for some or many of those colleges. But what about Liberty? It has an endowment of over 1.5 billion dollars. Wouldn’t this have been an ideal time to be countercultural and lead the way, rather than capitulating and following the lead of institutions far less financially blessed? The argument that this was a financial duty bears critical scrutiny only by revealing some troubling value commitments on which the decision was based. It was apparently deemed more valuable to safeguard and keep growing those hefty resources than use them to preserve a philosophy department. Actions reveal character and values.   

Read the entire piece here.

 

Liberty University’s Statement on the Elimination of Its Philosophy Department

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Get up to speed here.

Here is the official press release from Liberty University:

Liberty University is pleased that it is very efficient and effective in the delivery of education in a God-honoring way and in a way that adds value to our students. In 2012, Liberty made a deliberate decision to appropriately align our B.A. in Philosophy program, moving it from our School of Divinity to our College of Arts & Sciences. Upon moving the program, we began to evaluate declining trends in degree-seeking philosophy students across the United States. We also evaluated trends of other Christian colleges that were streamlining their humanities programs and others that completely dissolved philosophy programs due to these negative enrollment trends. 

As a result, in 2015, we dissolved our M.A. in Philosophy program due to waning enrollment. At that time, we began evaluating our B.A. in Philosophy Program and working hard to achieve increased enrollments. This effort did not bear fruit.  Due to the lack of interest, over several years, in a B.A. in Philosophy, we began in the fall of 2019 to collapse the program and to stop accepting new students as we had less than 20 students enrolled and five faculty to service them. 

Despite the anxieties associated with the tough decision to collapse the B.A. in Philosophy program, we work hard at Liberty to take care of our people. As such, the professors impacted by the collapse of the program have been offered generous severance packages and are immediately eligible for rehire in any area that they are qualified for at the university, as well. And those teaching in online modalities maintain the opportunity to continue their service in good faith. 

In parallel to this academic decision, President Jerry Falwell wisely decided to solidify the tenets of basic Christian life and thought within Liberty’s general education curriculum to ensure Liberty in no way moved from its sound focus on theology, apologetics, and philosophy. To that end, a team of some of Liberty’s best theologians, apologists and philosophers convened to ensure that Liberty continued to integrate and expound upon its curriculum with a deeper focus on theology, apologetics and philosophy. It is vitally important that our students clearly understand the deity of Christ. The end result, according to Dr. Gary Habermas, renowned philosopher and apologist, was “one of the most exciting developments he has been involved in during his time at Liberty.”

This decision should lead to greater interest in theology, apologetics, and philosophy, thereby creating the potential for the launch of a future B.S. in Philosophy. 

Liberty University Dumps Its Philosophy Department

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Here is Liberty University philosophy professor Mark Foreman at his Facebook page:

Liberty University has chosen to completely dissolve the philosophy department. As of June 30 I am unemployed.

After several of his FB friends offered consolation, Foreman wrote:

Thanks for your comments folks. No, we had no notice that this was coming. We all got letters telling us we were nonrenewed the last couple of days. There is no retirement program…And I don’t know what my plans are yet. Still reeling from the news.

Foreman says that the entire department (7 faculty members) has been “laid off.” (All of them appear to be full professors).  Liberty does not have tenure.

This speaks volumes about Liberty University’s commitment to Christian thinking and the liberal arts. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Last year Insider Higher Ed reported that Liberty has been losing students.  It made multiple faculty cuts in June, including the termination of eleven divinity school faculty. Read all about that here.

One of the members of the philosophy department, Gary Habermas, is a leading Christian apologist known widely in conservative evangelical circles. He is 69-years old.

ADDENDUM (May 12, 10:45am):

According to Mark Foreman’s Facebook page, it appears that Gary Habermas has a primary appointment in the John Rawlings School of Divinity.  I assume this means he will be staying at Liberty. Foreman also noted that Sean Turchin, who handles the online philosophy programs at Liberty, has been retained. This means that five professors have lost jobs.

Also, upon closer examination, it appears Turchin is an assistant professor.

This post from a Liberty University student summarizes things well:

ADDENDUM #2 (May 12, 1:55pm):

This comes from Foreman’s FB page:

I believe a follow up is necessary to my announcement yesterday concering [sic] my seperation [sic] form Liberty University and I need to make sure everyone understands this. A number of folks have made some sharp and critical statements about LU. That has not come from me. I am saddened about the decsion [sic] the university has made but I hold no ill-feelings or grudges against the university. My 30 years on the faculty have been rewarding and satisfying. I have loved my students and colleagues and have been treated well by the administration. I only wish for continued success for the school. Nobody should read anything negative about the university or its administration from my comments.

In addition, Foreman declined a request to talk with a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter who reached out on his FB page.