Message to court evangelical Charlie Kirk: Land can’t vote

I logged on to Twitter today and found Charlie Kirk trending. Kirk is the court evangelical who co-founded (with Jerry Falwell Jr.) Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. In the last six weeks, the Falkirk Center has established itself as the leading evangelical voice for Trump voter fraud conspiracy theories. Its “fellows” include Kirk, Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, and Salem Radio hosts Eric Metaxas and Sebastian Gorka.

Today Kirk tweeted this:

Kirk, who never attended college and has probably never taken a course in American history, American government, or political science, does not seem to understand how American elections work. I will let middle school history teach Matt Lakemacher explain:

For example, Trump won King County, Texas 151-8. He won Kenedy County, Texas 127-65. Biden won Harris County (Houston), Texas by over 200,000 votes. Trump wins in counties were very few people live.

I actually think Charlie Kirk does understand this, but he is banking on the fact that most Americans do not. In other words, this evangelical Christian who preaches in megachurches on the weekends, is being deliberately deceptive.

I like the way this math teacher puts it:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center has “pumped millions” of dollars into the promotion of Donald Trump

In September 2020, I wrote a piece at Religion News Service titled, “Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center.” Earlier today, I pointed out that the Falkirk Center is now leading efforts to change the results of the 2020 presidential election. Most institutions of higher learning would be embarrassed by the fact that they host a center on campus devoted to spreading false claims of voter fraud, but Liberty seems to wear it as a badge of honor. I would love to hear how the administration of the university reconciles its support of Trump conspiracy theories with its commitment to the pursuit of higher learning.

We are starting to learn a lot more about what Liberty University and the Falkirk Center have been doing lately. According to Maggie Stevens at Politico:

  • Liberty has “Blurred the line between education and politics.”
  • The Falkirk Center claims to be a “think tank” but it has produced no peer-reviewed academic work.
  • The Falkirk Center is paying Jenna Ellis and Sebastian Gorka as “fellows.”
  • The Falkirk Center bought $50,000 worth of Trump and GOP campaign ads on Facebook.
  • Some Liberty University board members want to shut down the Falkirk Center, but they are in the minority.
  • Karen Swallow Prior, a former Liberty English professor, believes that “The Falkirk Center…represents everything that was wrong with Liberty when Jerry [Falwell] was there…It is brazenly partisan.”
  • Liberty spokesperson Scott Lamb claims that Liberty University and the Falkirk Center have “received hundreds of supportive e-mails.”
  • A Liberty University professor, Phillip Kline, appeared on the Falkirk Center podcast and “encouraged state legislatures to ignore the vote and appoint their own electors to the Electoral College, or consider blowing of the mid-December Electoral College meeting for another date.”
  • As a nonprofit organization, Liberty University is “pushing the boundaries” of its status under Section 501c(3) of the federal tax code, which forbids spending money on political campaigns.
  • In 2018, Liberty gave $2.2. million to court evangelical Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, The Heritage Foundation, and Citizens United. These payments were approved by the seven members of Liberty’s “executive board.” The rest of the board did not know about the payments.
  • The Falkirk Center took center stage on the Liberty University at the same time the university started cutting programs in the liberal arts, humanities, and divinity.

Read Stevens’s entire piece here.

Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center celebrates one year of divisive, culture war politics

After Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned in disgrace as president of Liberty University, I wrote a piece at Religion News Service titled “Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center.” Here is a taste of that piece:

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.

Founded in November 2019, the Falkirk Center is the brainchild of Jerry Falwell Jr. and pro-Donald Trump activist Charlie Kirk. (Its name is a portmanteau of the two men’s names.) The center operates with a “moral mission” to “go on the offensive in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional God-given American liberties,” according to its website. Those commissioned to speak on behalf of the center — these men and women bear the title “Falkirk fellows”— are described as “bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum.”

In a Jan. 20, 2020, article in the Liberty Champion, the university’s newspaper, Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein told student writer Hattie Troutman that “if Liberty was to be in partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.” Indeed, the Falkirk Center has quickly become Liberty University’s voice in the public sphere. 

If you want to understand what the Falkirk Center means by “going on the offensive” or speaking “truth” in every “public forum,” you need to look no further than Falwell’s well-documented public statements over the last four years. He has tweeted an image of a blackface coronavirus mask as part of his criticism of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Falwell claimed that COVID-19 is the result of a secret collaboration between North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un and China for the purpose of undermining the Trump presidency.

Falwell praised Trump’s comments in defense of white supremacists during the August 2017 racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, and defended Trump’s boasting of sexual assault on a tape released by the entertainment show Access Hollywood. Falwell threatened a New York Times reporter in a late-night voicemail. He defended U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama after Moore was accused of molesting teenage girls.

During the Democratic National Convention, meanwhile, Kirk published tweets saying that Michelle and Barack Obama “hate America,” Bernie Sanders is a “communist,” and the Democrat Party is the party of “white liberal racists.” Two weeks ago, Kirk tweeted to his 1.8 million Twitter followers that NBA players protesting the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting of Jacob Blake are “morons” and the league is “a national joke and disgrace.”

Falkirk Center fellow Eric Metaxas, an author and radio host who has compared Hillary Clinton to Hitler, has suggested that those who oppose Trump are “demonic.” In 2016, Metaxas wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed claiming that if evangelicals did not vote for Trump “God will not hold us guiltless.” More recently, Metaxas said that Jesus was white,  and on the final night of the Republican National Convention, in Washington, D.C., Metaxas was caught on camera throwing a punch at an anti-Trump protester.

Sebastian Gorka, a radio host and former Trump foreign policy strategist with dubious academic credentials, also serves as a Falkirk fellow. In the last few weeks, Gorka claimed that Joe Biden was senile, downplayed the threat of COVID-19 and retweeted a conservative pundit who described the victims of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse as “scumbags.”

Read the entire piece here.

Today Liberty University’s website is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Falkirk Center. Read the press release here.

As you read, remember that all Christian universities are not the same.

I also want to point you to Peter Montgomery’s piece at Right Wing Watch. Here is a taste:

Among the first-year accomplishments cited by the Falkirk Center was its day-long “faith summit” called “Get Louder,” which featured Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar as a speaker on a panel moderated by Metaxas.

The celebratory post, written by Liberty communications staffer Logan Smith, mentioned that “Falkirk Podcast” guests have included Trump lawyer and national punchline Giuliani and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, who teaches that genuine Christians must adhere to a belief in a literal six-day Creation and a universe that is thousands of years old.

It also placed the Falkirk Center firmly on the side of right-wing evangelicals who believe that conversations about social justice and racism within the church are dangerous, evil, and enemies of the Gospel. The article quotes a Liberty University parent praising Falkirk for “drawing attention to leftist thinking that is attacking the Church.”

“The Falkirk Center fills a need deeply felt during this time of increasing wokeness and social justice inside the church, calling Christians and pastors to return to the true doctrine of God’s Word,” said Grant May, one of a growing number of Falkirk Center ambassadors from across the country, according to the Liberty blog post. “The center has inspired and encouraged me during the rising fad of cultural Christianity to truly dive into the Word and remember what Christ’s commands for the Church were, not modern-day pastors’ advice on how to be culturally relevant.”

The post also celebrates that the Falkirk Center “has consistently encouraged churches and pastors to defy” pandemic “lockdown orders.”

The anniversary blog post included no mention of the Falkirk Center’s co-founder Jerry Falwell, Jr., the university’s disgraced former president. The Falkirk moniker is a fusion of Falwell’s name and that of cofounder Charlie Kirk, who heads the right-wing youth organizing project Turning Point USA, as well as a reference to the battle of Falkirk, memorialized in the movie Braveheart.

Read Montgomery’s entire piece here.

Liberty University is now the bastion of evangelical Trumpism.

What happened to the Trump youth vote? Is court evangelical and Liberty University spokesperson Charlie Kirk to blame?

As Gabby Orr at Politico writes, “Nobody involved in Donald Trump’s reelection thought the president would win the youth vote in 2020. But they didn’t think it would be this bad.” Orr interviewed more than 20 people from the Trump campaign. Here is a taste of her piece:

Others faulted the Trump campaign, accusing the president’s top aides of “outsourcing” his youth outreach program to Turning Point Action, the political action arm of the conservative campus group Turning Point USA.

Led by its 26-year-old founder, Charlie Kirk, the group oversaw myriad door-knocking and grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts this cycle, in addition to working with top White House aides like senior adviser Jared Kushner to plan events that put the president and his surrogates in front of young audiences. People involved with Kirk’s operation claimed his “herculean” efforts to boost Trump’s reelection were done without input or resources from the Trump campaign — much to their chagrin in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election.

But two Trump campaign aides who have worked closely with Kirk said the campaign had its own youth outreach efforts that went beyond voters who are still in college. These aides described Turning Point’s messaging as too sycophantic to bring in young voters who might align more closely with conservatism but remain apprehensive about Trump himself. Kirk was afforded a primetime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in August and has a close relationship with the president and some of his adult children.

“It’s a mistake to think that groups operating on college campuses alone are going to reach young voters outside of college,” said one of the aides.

Another Trump ally described Turning Point Action as ill-equipped to handle youth outreach for a major party presidential campaign “because it’s a relatively new organization without deeper community ties.”

People close to Kirk rejected these claims, suggesting the young activist and his group did what they could to help the president, and accused the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee of lacking the organizational skills and resources needed to reach broad swaths of young voters in the critical 2020 battlegrounds.

Read the entire piece here.

Liberty University removes John Piper’s convocation address from all its social media sites

On October 21, 2020, evangelical pastor John Piper spoke to students at Liberty University. The following day he published a piece condemning Donald Trump (without mentioning his name). In that piece he said he was “baffled” that so many Christians support the president.

Pro-Trump evangelicals responded to Piper’s post with outrage. I chronicled some of that outrage here. One court evangelical, 27-year-old Charlie Kirk, called Piper a “fool.” Some of you may recall that Kirk is the co-founder of the Falkirk Center, the pro-Trump culture-war wing of Liberty University.

It thus makes perfect sense that Liberty University refuses to share Piper’s convocation appearance with Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear.

Kate Shellnut of Christianity Today has it covered. Here is a taste of her piece:

Two videos of a discussion with Piper and Southern Baptist Convention president J. D. Greear were removed from Liberty’s social media and its convocation page at the direction of interim president Jerry Prevo. Prevo cited negative feedback and the controversy surrounding Piper’s article, Lamb said.

The now-pulled convocation session was not politically themed. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Piper’s famous sermon “Don’t Waste Your Life” (also known as the seashells message). He teamed up with Greear, whose new book asks What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?, to challenge a new generation with a message about living faithful and missional lives.

The pair recorded the session with pastor David Nasser, the senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty, on October 12. The two-part discussion aired October 21 and 23.

Comments on Facebook posts promoting the Piper-Greear convocation appeared to be directed at both speakers. One Trump supporter called out “Calvinist heresy!” while several commenters decried “wokeness” and a “social justice agenda.”

Lamb said the feedback over Piper was “a controversy we did not seek out or desire” and came from “both those who would praise us for having him [and] those who would critique us from having him.” He said that it is possible the clips will be restored once the heat of the election season has died down.

Read the rest here.

Don’t expect anything to change at Liberty University under the temporary leadership of Prevo. He is a Jerry Falwell Sr. loyalist and worked for the Trump campaign in 2016.

When you cancel John Piper, it says a lot about the identity of Liberty University. Falwell Jr. may be gone, but little has changed at the school.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is suing Liberty University for damaging his reputation

I don’t think it was Liberty that damaged his reputation.

Here is a taste of Justine Coleman’s piece at The Hill:

Former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. filed a lawsuit against the school on Wednesday, accusing it of damaging his reputation after being pressured to resign following a series of scandals. 

Falwell, who left his position that he held for 13 years in August, is accusing the evangelical university founded by his father of defamation and breach of contract.

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Lynchburg, Va., and obtained by local ABC affiliate WSET, says the university violated “legal, contractual, and moral obligations not to defame” Falwell after he said he saved the university from “financial collapse” and made it “the world’s leading evangelical university.”

press release issued Thursday by Quinn Emanuel, a firm representing Falwell, said the former Liberty president is claiming that the university “needlessly injured and damaged his reputation through a series of statements.”

Falwell accuses Liberty University of accepting claims from former family friend and business partner Giancarlo Granda that Granda had an affair with Falwell’s wife between 2012 and 2018 and that Falwell would watch.

Read the rest here.

A former Liberty University faculty member weighs-in on her former school in the post-Falwell Jr. era

Last week we posted on Bob Moser’s Rolling Stone piece on Liberty University. Read that post here.

Mary Beth Baggett was one of the former Liberty University professors Moser interviewed for the piece. This year she joined the faculty of Houston Baptist University. (Some of you may remember Baggett’s Religion News Service piece on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak).

Baggett recently wrote a revealing Twitter thread in response to Moser’s article:

As Baggett notes, if Liberty University is serious about reforms the administration will close the Falkirk Center. I made that case here. I doubt that will happen since interim president Jerry Prevo is a Falwell family loyalist.

When the culture-war wing of your Christian university is named after a disgraced president and an internet troll…

How long will the administration of Liberty University allow its culture warrior wing, aka the Falkirk Center, to exist?

The Falkirk Center is named for two pro-Trump culture warriors: Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk.

We now know that Jerry Falwell Jr. has resigned from the presidency of Liberty in the midst of a sex scandal.

Charlie Kirk’s marketing firm was banned from Facebook after the social media site concluded that he is running a political “troll farm.” Twitter has locked his account for tweeting false political information about the election in Pennsylvania.

Samuel Avery-Quinn gets it right:

How long can Liberty claim to be a Christian university and still have a center named after these men?

*Rolling Stone* on Liberty University in the age of Trump

Check out Bob Moser’s comprehensive piece at Rolling Stone on Liberty University and its disgraced president former president Jerry Falwell Jr. Those who have followed this story won’t find much that is new in the piece, but it is the most comprehensive article I have seen on Liberty and Falwell in the age of Trump.

Here is a taste:

Most people I interviewed recalled a particular time when it became totally, irrefutably clear to them that Falwell was morphing into a very different character and that the climate at Liberty was changing along with him. This convo was the one for Sauskojus. “It was the clearest before-and-after moment,” she says. “All of campus was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ And from there on, all through that next election year, it was just one political convo after another. By the time Trump came on MLK Day, a lot of us were like, ‘Oh, OK, some of the things Jerry says aren’t just because he’s bad at public speaking. It’s because he’s espousing what is just an ugly and racist brand of evangelicalism.’ ”

Read the entire piece here.

The court evangelicals and hotel Trump

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reveals all the court evangelicals who have stayed at the $650 a night Trump hotel in Washington D.C. Here is a taste:

Jerry Falwell Jr., former president of Liberty University, said he stayed there for a gala for the opening of the Museum of the Bible in 2017 and has eaten in the lobby’s restaurant several times because he is fond of seafood as well as the establishment’s owner. “It’s like supporting a friend,” said Falwell, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters. When he was president of Liberty, the university would pay for his travel, he said. “It’s not like they’re giving us better rates. We pay full price.”

Robert Jeffress, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, a prominent Southern Baptist Church in Dallas, said he has stayed at the hotel about a dozen times since it opened and gets a discount because he is a regular customer. He said his choice of hotel, which his church pays for, has nothing to do with his support for the president and comes down to one factor: Its proximity to the White House. “It’s ridiculous to think that the president could be swayed … by where guests stay,” he said.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stayed in the hotel for one night in August 2018 when he was in town for a White House dinner for religious leaders, a trip that was paid for by his North Carolina church The Summit. Greear’s spokesman Todd Unzicker said Greear had booked an Airbnb but decided to switch to the Trump hotel because he could meet with other pastors staying there, and because he thought it had a good space to record a video for his ministry. “It’s like the convention hotel,” Unzicker said. “It’s convenient.”

Read the entire piece here.

Falwell Jr. wrap-up at *The Washington Post*

While I was on a short blogging vacation, The Washington Post published an informative overview of the fall of Jerry Falwell Jr. at Liberty University. Here is a taste of Michael Miller’s and Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece:

For 2½ years, Giancarlo Granda had been telling his family about the generosity of his business partners. The wealthy couple from out of town had taken him under their wing, he said, rewarding the Miami pool attendant’s ambition with a stake in a multimillion-dollar real estate project. Now he wanted them to meet.

In a trendy Italian restaurant inside the South Beach property where he’d become a part owner, Granda introduced his parents and sister to his unlikely benefactors: Jerry and Becki Falwell.

Over wine and pasta, the president of Liberty University and his wife praised the square-jawed 22-year-old, saying he was like an adopted son, Granda and his sister recalled.

“Oh, my God. They’re so nice,” Granda’s mother said of the Falwells afterward. “They’re so charming.”

“You see?” Granda recalled replying. “They just want to help me out.”

Read the rest here.

Where is Jeh Johnson’s speech on the Liberty University website?

On Friday, former Obama cabinet member Jeh Johnson spoke at Liberty University. Though he did not mention Donald Trump, his speech on leadership could only be interpreted as a criticism of the president. If you want a sense of what Johnson said, you can read my blog post here.

Today, the video of Johnson’s speech is no longer on the Liberty University website or YouTube page. The Liberty University News Service article on Johnson’s visit is gone. It’s as if this speech never happened. But it did.

UPDATE: The article about Jeh Johnson’s visit can be viewed on the Wayback Machine Internet Archive.

I have no idea why this is the only Liberty University convocation of the 2020-2021 academic year that has been removed. Maybe Jeh Johnson did not want it shared.

Or maybe some things at Liberty never change.

Let’s remember that interim president Jerry Prevo is a Jerry Falwell Sr. loyalist and was the honorary co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alaska. Perhaps the Falkirk Center does indeed represent the spirit of Liberty University as it moves into the post-Falwell era.

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.

Slacktivist is on fire today!

Thurston Howell III

Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist, packed a lot of stuff in a post today titled “Some say he was an outlaw.” Here are some highlights:

On the difference between Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Falwell Jr.: “But look a little deeper and you’ll find only differences in degree, not in kind.” I made the same argument today at Religion News Service.

On today’s story about disgraced Southern Baptist minister and seminary president Paige Patterson: “But this long-time general in the culture wars also seems to be just another white-collar grifter fighting the class wars on the side of the 1 percent.”

On Eric Metaxas’s punch: “Metaxas, for some reason dressed like a cross between Thurston Howell and James Spader in Pretty in Pink….” Correction, Fred. That should be Thurston Howell III! 🙂

Read the entire post here.

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.

Michael Cohen links the “killing” of racy photos to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Trump endorsement in 2016

Here is Aram Roston at Reuters:

In his book released today, Michael Cohen, the former fixer for U.S. President Donald Trump, ties for the first time the 2016 presidential endorsement of Trump by American evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr to Cohen’s own role in helping to keep racy “personal” photographs of the Falwells from becoming public.

As Reuters reported last year, the Falwells enlisted Cohen to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen said in a recording, made surreptitiously by comedian Tom Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he said, without going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”

In “Disloyal: The Memoir,” Cohen describes thinking that his involvement in the Falwell photo matter would be a “catch and kill” — the practice of American tabloids to obtain and then suppress unfavorable stories about celebrities — “but in this case it was just going to be kill.”

He later writes: “In good time, I would call in this favor, not for me, but for the Boss, at a crucial moment on his journey to the presidency.”

Cohen has said that he helped persuade Falwell to endorse Trump just before Republican voters gathered in Iowa in February 2016 to nominate a presidential candidate. Falwell not only publicly vouched for Trump’s Christian virtues but also barnstormed with the candidate. His backing of Trump — a twice-divorced candidate who had talked about grabbing women’s genitals and engaged in extramarital affairs — was one of the major surprises of the 2016 campaign.

In the book, Cohen doesn’t explicitly say that the endorsement was the favor he sought in return for his help in having kept the Falwell photos from getting out. But his account marks the first time he has linked the two issues.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

Jerry and Becki vs. Jim and Tammy

Over at Religion News Service, University of Missouri historian John Wigger compares two evangelical sex scandals separated by 33 years. Wigger is the author of PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire. Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

Is there a road back for Jerry and Becki Falwell?

The second acts of Jim and Tammy Bakker suggest that there is. Irrepressible and unfiltered, with big hair and outrageous lashes, Tammy’s focus was never solely on the church, so it was easier for her to branch out. While she never lost her faith, after the collapse of PTL and her divorce from Jim, she ventured beyond the borders of evangelicalism, becoming an icon of the gay community, the Judy Garland of televangelism.

After prison, Jim initially rejected the prosperity gospel that had been so much a part of his success and downfall at PTL. But it was not long before he returned to his roots. He and his second wife, Lori Bakker, have built a new ministry called Morningside on 700 acres near Branson, Missouri. There Bakker has exchanged the prosperity gospel for doomsday apocalypticism, finding a way to turn a profit by selling freeze-dried survival food and gear to preppers. He has also turned to conservative politics, aligning with Donald Trump. It is brilliant, in a way, connecting to current trends and a new base of support.

Whichever path the Falwells choose, they will not be the last of their kind.

Much of American evangelicalism’s success rests on its close connection to American popular culture. But appropriating cultural expectations is risky business. Lines blur and compromises are ignored until scandal erupts.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University’s board of trustees will investigate “financial, real estate, and legal matters” while Falwell Jr. was president

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Ruth Graham, now at The New York Times, has the story. Here is a taste:

The board of trustees of Liberty University announced on Monday that it had retained an independent forensic firm to conduct an investigation into the school’s operations under Jerry Falwell Jr., who resigned last week in the wake of a sex scandal after serving as its president and chancellor since 2007.

The statement from the board of trustees said the firm would “conduct a thorough investigation into all facets of Liberty University operations during Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure as president, including but not limited to financial, real estate and legal matters.”

Read the rest here.

There is nothing new about what happened to conservative evangelicals this week. But how will they respond?

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It was a rough week for conservative evangelicals in the United States. The president of the largest Christian university in the country resigned after a sex scandal. A popular evangelical radio host and author was caught on tape punching an anti-Trump protester. The vice-president of the United States gave a speech in which he replaced the words of the New Testament with references to American nationalism. The president of the United States, in an attempt to appeal to his evangelical base, gave a speech that celebrated Christian participation in Manifest Destiny.

None of this is new. Evangelical leaders have been part of sex-scandals before. Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, and Bill Hybels come immediately to mind. Fundamentalist churches have a history of sexual abuse. In the early 1970s, Billy James Hargis was accused of having sex with male and female students at his American Christian College.

Evangelicals and their fundamentalist heirs have acted violently toward their enemies before. Texas fundamentalist J. Frank Norris was charged with murder when he shot and killed a lumber worker who came to his office to complain about something Norris wrote in his religious newspaper.

Ministers and politicians have been twisting scripture to serve political ends since the American Revolution. I wrote an entire chapter about this in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Finally, presidential candidates have often blown racist dog-whistles, sometime disguised as history, to rally their white supporters. Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon all come to mind.

How will conservative evangelicals, especially those who support Donald Trump, respond to all this? Rather than seeing what happened this week with Jerry Falwell Jr., Eric Metaxas, Mike Pence, and Trump as part of a long history of hypocrisy and moral failure,  I am afraid most conservative evangelicals will ignore these issues, fail to see the continuity between past and present, and reject any claim that these events reflect deeper, more systemic problems within evangelical Christianity.  Instead, they will continue to believe that another four years of Donald Trump, a president who has exacerbated and exposed the darkest parts of American evangelical history, will somehow bring revival to the church and restore America to a golden age that probably never existed in the first place.