Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Says “Turning the Other Cheek” is No Longer Sufficient

Liberty U

We have blogged about Liberty University’s Falkirk Center before.  The more I learn about this center the more I am convinced that it does not represent the teachings of Christianity.   Recently someone on Twitter pointed out this paragraph in the Falkirk Center mission statement:

Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed, which is why we just launched the Falkirk Center, a think tank dedicated to restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.

You read that correctly.  Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk, the leaders of the Falkirk Center, are suggesting that we should ignore Jesus’s teaching to “turn the other cheek.”  Just for the sake of clarification, Jesus said, “You  have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Mt. 5:38-40).

Any why are the words of Jesus “no longer sufficient?” Because the “soul of the nation”–the United States of America– is more important.  Later in the mission statement, Falwell and Kirk say that the Falkirk Center was created to defend “Judeo-Christian” principles.  What is more Judeo-Christian than the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me”? (Exodus 20:1-3).

ADDENDUM (8:50 pm, January 16, 2020):

Several smart people have suggested that I may have misread Liberty University’s statement.  They have said that the Falkirk Center was not denying that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individuals.  Instead, the Falkirk Center is saying that we should not “abdicate” (the key word here) our responsibilities to engage on the “culture battlefield.”

I think this is a fair criticism, and I indeed may have misread the statement.  For that I am sorry.  But I don’t think I want to back away too strongly from what I wrote above.  While several have correctly pointed out that Liberty University is not saying Jesus’s command to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individual Christians, the Falkirk Center does seem to be suggesting that it is “insufficient” for culture engagement.

A few thoughts:

First, it appears that Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk believe that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for engaging the larger culture.  If I read them correctly, they are saying that we should “turn the other cheek” in “our personal relationships with our neighbors,” but we should “not turn the other cheek” on the “cultural battlefield.” This assumes that our interaction with “neighbors” does not count as cultural engagement, as if the people we encounter everyday at our workplaces and in our communities are not part of culture.

Second, some have suggested that Falwell and Kirk are promoting a “2 Kingdoms” view of the relationship between the church and government.  Those who espouse this view might say that we cannot expect the government to act in accordance with the Sermon in the Mount.  In other words, according to this view, the idea of “turning the other cheek” is something individual Christians should do, but certainly not governments.

But even if we allow for such a 2 Kingdoms view, we must remember that such a view, which is often associated with Martin Luther, is about the relationship between Christians and GOVERNMENT.  Liberty University’s Falkirk Center IS NOT the government.  It is the product of a private Christian school–Liberty University.

Third, and finally, is it possible to engage public life in such a way that upholds the spirit of “turning the other cheek?” The statement’s use of the term “cultural battlefield” seems to champion an approach to public life–for an individual Christian or a group of Christians such as the Falkirk Center–that is antithetical to Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Don’t get me wrong–I am not making an argument here against public engagement. Instead, I am making an argument here for a kind of public engagement that might take seriously the idea of “turning the other cheek.”  (I will let the Christian political and moral philosophers wrestle with what this might look like).  I am not sure if I am willing to “abdicate” the idea of “turning the other cheek” as a useful idea for Christians engaging in public life.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: Mark Galli and *Christianity Today* Ignore “the teaching of Jesus”

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Check out Falwell Jr.’s interview with Newsmax.  For someone who says that faith has nothing to do with politics he sure sounds like it matters here.

A taste:

“It’s sort of one of those lost magazines from the past, like Newsweek, and Life and Time,” Falwell Jr. told “National Report” host Bob Sellers in an interview. “It’s sort of fallen.

“The readership’s dropped — and not many Christians I’ve talked to have ever read it.”

Falwell Jr. also ripped Mark Galli, the magazine’s editor in chief who wrote the editorial, for ignoring “the teachings of Jesus.”

“Basically, Jesus taught we’re all sinners,” Falwell Jr. told Sellers. “None of us are better than anybody else — but there’s this group of pharisaical Christians who think their sins are not as bad other people’s sins.

“So, they sit in judgment,” he added. “They’re the religious elite, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

“They think more highly of themselves. They’re self-righteous.”

Read more here.

At Liberty University, David Nasser is the Good Cop

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Back in June 2019, after Jerry Falwell told megachurch pastor David Platt to “grow a pair,” Falwell seemed to justify the comment when he told the Washington Times that he was not a spiritual leader.  When Falwell and campus spiritual director David Nasser took heat for the comment from Liberty students, alums, and parents, Nasser defended Falwell Jr. (and himself) in a rather strange series of tweets.  You can read them here.

Now Nasser is the subject of Ruth Graham’s recent piece at Slate.  Here is a taste:

Micah Protzman was a junior at Liberty University the first time he was summoned to David Nasser’s office. Protzman had tweeted a complaint about the speakers at recent Convocation services on campus, a lineup that included conservative firebrand Dinesh D’Souza and Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Attendance at “Convo” is mandatory, and Protzman was disgusted. Nasser, the school’s senior vice president for spiritual development, retweeted Protzman’s complaint to his followers, and Protzman replied by slamming the school’s “blind ideology.” Within a few hours, Protzman got an invitation from Nasser’s office to talk.

To Protzman’s eye, everything in Nasser’s sprawling office suite was perfect: industrial chic decor, fresh flowers, floor-to-ceiling windows. There was a fridge of custom Coke bottles and stacks of premium candy free for the taking. Nasser offered Protzman a cup of coffee, and he accepted, thinking it would give him something to do with his hands if he got nervous. It turned out to the best cup of coffee he’d ever had.

The conversation was less satisfying. “I felt like I was being sold a car,” Protzman, now a senior graduating this month, recalled in October. He was sitting in a plush chair in the five-year-old Jerry Falwell Library, with sunlight streaming through multistory windows. From his perch in the library, he could see the tinted glass facade of Nasser’s office across a pond where the school performs baptisms. At their meeting, Nasser had quoted a passage in the Gospel of Matthew about how a Christian should confront a community member who has sinned: Don’t air a grievance publicly until you have gone to the person privately. To Protzman, it was clear that the point was to get him to shut up. “I wasn’t asked where I was from, wasn’t asked about my major, wasn’t asked about my work. There was no discipleship,” he said. “It was, ‘Just don’t speak publicly about the university.’ At what point does ‘interaction’ turn into quietism?”

Nasser later summoned Protzman to his office again in response to two other Twitter complaints: once when he tweeted displeasure about conservative activist Candace Owens as Convo speaker, and once when he complained that Liberty had sent busloads of students to support Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate hearings. Protzman grew up in Lynchburg, where his mother worked for Falwell Jr.’s father and then for the college; he attended on a scholarship for the children of employees. Although his own politics always leaned left, Liberty felt like a family to him. But he left the first conversation with Nasser furious. Protzman said he has seen the same pattern happen with many of his friends at Liberty over the years—and often, it works. “Whenever there’s a complaint, you come in for a Coke and a coffee, and you never hear about it again.” Nasser, for his part, said of his interactions with Protzman: “He’s my [brother] in Christ and I pray blessing and honor” over him.

Read the rest here.

Jerry Falwell Jr. on Whether Faith Informs His Politics: “Not at all”

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

Last weekend I wrote a post about Jordan Ritter Conn’s article on the Liberty University football team.  Read the post here.  One reader pointed out an interesting paragraph in the article that I failed to highlight in my post.  Here it is:

Falwell is one of the bulwarks of the religious right, an heir to his father’s Moral Majority. His family has built its legacy on the intertwinement of faith and politics, fighting for prayer in schools and against gay marriage. Yet Falwell seems to be suggesting that his political activity is no longer guided by his Christian beliefs. So I ask how much his faith informs his political views.

“Not at all,” he says.

There is it folks.  “Not at all.”

Conn continues:

Without pausing, he rushes into an explanation. “I mean, I believe what I do politically because I believe it’s what’s best for the country. And I take to heart what Jesus said. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. They’re two different things.” In years past, many within the religious right have seemed to equate Christian belief with conservative politics—particularly on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Falwell, though, justifies his support for Trump by suggesting that faith and politics need not be intertwined. “I think you can be a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian, and still be a good Christian.”

I refer back to what Falwell said earlier, that he sees Trump as a “Christ-centered” man.

In its “Statement of Mission and Purpose,” Liberty University claims to “promote the synthesis of academic knowledge and a Christian worldview in order that there might be a maturing of spiritual, intellectual, social and physical value-driven behavior.”

Here is what I wrote in January 2019 in response to the aforementioned line in the Statement of Mission and Purpose:

This kind of “worldview” language suggests that students at Liberty will learn to think Christianly about all things, including the ways Christianity intersect with politics and government.  After all, wasn’t this Falwell’s father’s vision for Liberty University?  Wasn’t Liberty University directly linked to Falwell Sr.’s Moral Majority–an attempt to bring Christianity to bear on government and politics?

Falwell Jr. seems to believe that the only thing Christianity teaches Christians about their responsibility as citizens is that Christianity has no role to play in our responsibility as citizens.  If I am reading him correctly, he is arguing that the promotion of capitalism, entrepreneurship, free-markets, and the accumulation of wealth is the essence Christian citizenship.  In other words, Falwell Jr. assumes that Christianity and capitalism are virtually the same thing.  I would love to hear from a Liberty professor on this point.  Is there anything about capitalism (as defined by the accumulation of wealth, free markets, and entrepreneurship) that contradicts the teaching of Christianity?   I know some Liberty professors and I DO think that they would say there is a difference between the two, but I wonder how free they are to make that critique in public.

I also wonder if Falwell Jr. believes that there is anything within the Christian tradition that might provide a critique of government.  I don’t have the time to search, but I am sure it is pretty easy to find Falwell Jr. making some kind of theological or Christian critique of Barack Obama.

It is important to note here that Falwell is not arguing, as other court evangelicals have done, that evangelicals should support Trump because he will deliver a conservative Supreme Court or defend religious liberty.  Remember, in this interview he says that there is NOTHING Trump can do to lose his support.  NOTHING!  This, of course, means that if he would commit adultery in the oval office, appoint a radically pro-choice Supreme Court justice, call for the end of the Second Amendment, or shoot someone on 5th Avenue, Trump will not lose Falwell’s support.  I don’t know of any American–Christian or not– who would be so confident about a political candidate.

The Statement of Mission and Purpose also notes that Liberty University will “encourage a commitment to the Christian life, one of personal integrity, sensitivity to the needs of others, social responsibility and active communication of Christian faith….”  Apparently Falwell believes that all these things can be practiced without any connection to politics or government.  In other words, Falwell wants to train students to live personal lives of faith, but never apply that faith to democratic citizenship.  I am not sure his father would have agreed with this.

Which leads me to one more question:  What is taught at the Jesse Helms School of Government at Liberty?  (Yes, THAT Jesse Helms). According to its website, the Helms School of Government develops “leaders who are guided by duty, honor, and morality.  It also claims to instill “a Christian sense of justice and civic duty in our students….”  Dr. Stephen Parke, the Associate Dean of the Helms School, lists his favorite Bible verse as Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”  This is an interesting choice for a dean at a Christian school of government and politics at a university run by Jerry Falwell Jr.

Read this entire post here.

Faith, Football, and Forgiveness at Liberty University

Liberty Trump

Jordan Ritter Conn, a staff writer at The Ringertakes a deep dive into Liberty University and its football program.  (Hey Paul Putz–let me know if you want some space here to comment on this piece).

Here is a taste of “Ready, Set, Trump: Big-Money Faith, Football, and Forgiveness at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University“:

Hartsook says that after both the Politico piece and a Reuters piece that quoted emails in which Falwell called a student “retarded,” support for Falwell’s leadership has waned, even among more politically and religiously conservative students. “The rules we have to follow, he breaks them all the time,” says Hartsook. According to the school’s code of conduct, “The Liberty Way,” students can be fined for using “obscene, profane, or abusive language.” Says Hartsook: “It’s not enforced with him.”

When he ran the program, Gill seemed unbothered by Falwell’s political outspokenness. “It has never been an issue for our football team,” he said. “He’s speaking on behalf of himself, not on behalf of the university, and people can agree or disagree, and that’s OK.”

Administrators see the football program as a way to unite Liberty’s increasingly diverse student body, connecting students and alumni from across the country and even the world. They tell stories of students who never set foot on campus until arriving in Lynchburg to walk across the stage at graduation. “They’re just as much of a part of this school as the on-campus students,” says McCaw. “Athletics can give them a great way to connect to the university.”

Read the entire piece here.

Rudy Giuliani’s Spokesperson is a 20-Year-Old Ambassador for Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Falkirk Center

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Christianne Allen with “Falkirk Fellow” David J. Harris Jr.

The Falkirk Center is Liberty University’s new “think tank.”  Read more about it in these posts.

One of the Falkirk Center’s “ambassadors” is a 20-year old Liberty online student named Christianne Allen. She is also the spokesperson for Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.  I am assuming that Falwell Jr. chose Allen as an ambassador of the Falkirk Center because she has become popular as a Giuliani spokesperson. She is the kind “influencer” Falwell Jr. likes.

And how can we say that the embrace of Donald Trump by leading evangelicals is not damaging the witness of the Gospel in the world?

Here is a taste of Daniel Lippman and Tina Nguyen’s piece on Allen at Politico:

This much is undisputed: Allen soon left public high school to work for the campaign without pay, enrolling in Liberty University Online to complete her high school degree.

But she quickly gained a reputation for inflating her importance.

“I forget all the titles she told me she had. She was ‘millenials for something’ or ‘teens for this,’” one former official said. At one point, her social media accounts claimed she was an official spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. She was not, according to these officials. (In a text, Allen explained that she referred to herself as a campaign spokesperson “only because I spoke at a couple rallies.”)

“I think she made it to a point where she made [volunteering] untenable,” said one of the former Virginia campaign officials, citing Allen’s apparent disinterest in performing basic campaign tasks. “She wasn’t productive, but she was attempting to insert herself into everything. If there’s an event, she’s showing up to help whether or not she was invited to [it].”

Lee Allen described one speech she gave at a Trump rally in front of an old battleship in Norfolk with a crowd of thousands of people. “Hats off to my daughter. She has made her opportunities,” he said.

She did not elaborate further, but Allen’s Twitter bioLinkedIn, and old personal website list an array of suitable credentials: representative of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, the official joint fundraising committee for the re-election campaign; and video columnist for the Daily Caller. Spokeswoman for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Executive director of the Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition.

According to representatives of these entities, these titles are embroidered at best, and completely untrue at the most. She is, however, an “ambassador” for both Turning Point USA and Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, titles she gained this year. And there’s no question she enjoys Giuliani’s confidence.

Read the entire piece here.

How Have Things Been Going at Liberty University’s Falkirk Center?

Liberty_University_Flames_stadium,_Lynchburg,_VA_IMG_4118

In case you missed it, Liberty University recently opened a “think tank” to stop the media from converting Americans to socialism.  It is called the “Falkirk Center.”  Here is what we know so far:

  • Like any good think tank, the Falkirk Center has fellows.  But these are not scholars or public intellectuals, they are “influencers.”  The first group of fellows includes a former beauty queen and a cast member on the ABC reality show “The Bachelorette.”
  • American history will be a focus of the Falkirk Center.  According to founder Jerry Falwell Jr., the think tank will counter the teaching of American history “as some sinister, you know bourgeois, white man, taking advantage of everybody else” that is “totally opposite of what happened.
  • The Falkirk Center will also promote “History 101” because this brand of history “has not been taught in recent decades.”  (At Messiah College my U.S. survey history course is HIST 141.  Does that count?)
  • The Falkirk Center will defend religious freedom because attacks on religious freedom have caused young people “to abandon their faith in Christian roots in droves.”  (This is a new one for me.  I’d like to see evidence to support such an idea).
  • The Falkirk Center affirms the notion that those on the Left offer an “unfulfilling and outright dishonest attempt to provide a purposeful life.”

So far, it appears as if the Falkirk Center is little more than a Christian Right Twitter feed that:

Promotes Liberty University football:

Attacks those who will impeach Donald Trump:

Promotes Liberty University football (did I say that already?):

Retweets Dinesh D’Souza:

Retweets stuff from its “fellows”:

Promotes Liberty University football (oh, wait, I think I already covered that):

Will “take back the narrative”:

Endorses Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a Senate seat:

Liberty University Falkirk Center Announces “Falkirk Fellows”

Liberty U

What is the Falkirk Center?  Get up to speed with these posts.

This new center at Liberty University, which is designed to promote a Christian nationalist view of the United States, has now chosen its first group of “Falkirk Fellows.”  They are:

Erika Lane Frantzve: She was Miss Arizona USA.  I am not sure what qualifies her as a “fellow” at a think tank.

Josh Allen Murray: He apparently was a winner on the ABC reality show “The Bachelorette.”

Antonia Okafor Cover: She runs a non-profit organization that teaches women how to use guns and advocate for their Second Amendment rights.

David Harris Jr.: He is the author of a book titled Why I Couldn’t Stay Silent: One Man’s Battle as a Black Conservative

Jaco Boovens: Runs a film company

I am sure all of these people are good Christians and generally nice people with some degree of influence in their given professions, but if these are the five inaugural “fellows” of the Falkirk Center I would probably stop calling it a think tank.

The bottom line is this: no serious Christian intellectual would sign-up to work in such a think tank because it is built on a faulty view of the American founding and its implications for contemporary American life.

There will also be 60 “ambassadors” who “have joined the project to educate high school and college-age students about the “inseparable intersection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and American first freedoms and liberties.”

“Inseparable?”  I think it’s time for a third edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Learn more at the Lynchburg News & Advance.

ADDENDUM: After I published this post I came across a similar one from Adam Laats.  Read it here.

More on the Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and How It Will Approach American History

Here is Charlie Kirk and Jerry Falwell Jr. on One News:

So it looks like the Falkirk Center:

  • Will attack the work of outstanding public school history teachers, the kinds of teachers I have worked with over the years through my relationship with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and elsewhere.
  • Will attack teachers unions.
  • Will oppose an approach to American history as taught, to quote Falwell “as some sinister, you know bourgeois, white man, taking advantage of everybody else.”  (Yes, that is an exact quote). Falwell claims that this view of history is “totally opposite of what happened.”
  • Will be a center to promote Christian nationalism, the “intersection” of the Gospel with the American founding.
  • Is a culture war institution, not an educational institution.
  • Will apparently be teaching students that Alexis de Tocqueville visisted America “in the 1700s” (Toqueville visited America in 1831).

See our previous posts on the Falkirk Center here and here.

Liberty University’s “Falkirk Center” Will Focus on American History

What is the Falkirk Center? Get up to speed here.

Watch Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk talk about their new center on Fox News.

Falwell Jr. says that the center will teach “History 101” because such American history “has not been taught in recent decades.”

Perhaps David Barton, the GOP activist who uses the American past to promote his political agenda, will be the first visiting scholar at the Falkirk Center.

I also wonder what the Liberty University History Department, which recently started an online Ph.D program in history, has to say about this center?  Were they consulted? Will they be involved in any way?  How does Falwell Jr.’s comments relate to the claim that the Liberty University Ph.D program will teach students how to “apply a Christian worldview to the study of history?”  I can’t imagine that Falwell’s blabbering will help Liberty history students–undergraduate and graduate–in their attempts to find jobs in the field.

At the end of the interview, Fox host Ainsley Earhardt says, “The Atlantic says that “Christianity is in crisis” so we need you guys.”  I am assuming she is referring to Peter Wehner’s July 2019 Atlantic piece titled “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.”  Perhaps Earhardt or her producers should have read the subtitle of this piece: “Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.”  In other words, the piece she is referencing is an anti-Trump, anti-court evangelical piece.  This is just one small example of how Fox News manipulates the facts and reveals its incompetence.

Liberty University Opens a Think Tank to Stop the Media from Converting Americans to Socialism

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Falwell Jr. has teamed with conservative pundit Charlie Kirk to form “The Falkirk Center” at Liberty University. (The name comes from a combination of their names).

Here is Liberty’s rationale for the new think tank:

“The need for the Falkirk Center has grown as powerful voices and institutions are increasingly seeking to eliminate Judeo-Christian principles from American culture and society. The news media, elected officials, academic institutions and special interest groups have used their platforms to deny America’s legacy of foundational Judeo-Christian principles and replace them with the creeds of secularism, influencing upcoming generations of Americans at alarming rates.”

It’s official:  Christian nationalism now has its own think tank.  And I am sure there will be a lot of Liberty University online-education tuition money available to fund it.

Learn more at The Washington Examiner.

Does Jerry Falwell Jr. Care That He Just Lost a Star Faculty Member?

Liberty Campus

Karen Swallow Prior recently announced that she is leaving Liberty University for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.  Thus far I have heard nothing from university president Jerry Falwell Jr. about her departure.  Granted, university presidents do not usually comment on the loss of faculty members, but Falwell Jr. seems to have an opinion about everything.

Did the university president want to keep his star never-Trumper English professor?  Did he make a counter-offer?  Was he glad to see her go?  I am guessing that Falwell Jr. is not losing sleep over Prior’s departure.  This, it seems, has less to do with Prior’s quiet and understated anti-Trumpism and more to do with the fact that Falwell Jr. does not think faculty members are as important as football coaches, athletic directors, or those at his university who are engaged in the front lines of the culture wars.

What does Prior’s leaving tell us about the current state of Liberty University?  Did Southeastern Baptist Seminary lure her away?  Or was she desperately trying to get out?

ADDENDUM (1:16pm):

I just learned that Falwell Jr. tweeted about this last night.  (Falwell Jr. blocked me a long time ago).  He wrote:

“You will be greatly missed, Karen. I was hoping you’d stay until I converted you into a Trump supporter! Oh well. You always made LU proud by pouring your life into your students. Thank you for that.”

Todd Starnes, the Fox News Radio Host Who Gave a Platform to the Court Evangelicals, is Out

Starnes and Jeffress

Former Fox News radio host Todd Starnes often referred to court evangelical Robert Jeffress as the official chaplain of his Right-Wing radio program.  Just recently, Jeffress appeared on Starnes’s program and said that Democrats worship the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”  Starnes responded by saying “I believe that.”  Read all about Jeffress’s appearance here.

Starnes was fired today.  Apparently these comments were even too much for Fox News, although an article at The Wrap suggests that the firing was in the works well before the Moloch incident.   It will be interesting to see how Jeffress will respond.  How can he blame the liberal mainstream media for firing Starnes?

And here is an even more interesting question: Will Jeffress, another employee of Fox News, be next?

But before we leave this story, let’s reflect on some of the memorable Todd Starnes-Robert Jeffress-court evangelical moments that we have covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  • Jeffress tells Starnes that 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg needs to look at a rainbow and read Genesis 9.
  • Jeffress supports Donald Trump’s view that no good Jew can vote for a Democratic candidate.
  • Starnes defends Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tweet telling McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt to “grow a pair.”
  • Richard Land tells Starnes that Trump was the “lesser of two evils” in 2016 and adds that Hillary Clinton will always be the “greater evil” in any election in which she runs “unless she is running against Lucifer.”
  • Starnes describes Christians who oppose patriotic worship services “so-called evangelical Christians.”  Jeffress calls Christianity Today “fake news.”

Falwell Jr: Champion for Christ!

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

Jerry Falwell Jr. has turned to Charisma magazine to defend himself against a recent Politico article that exposed a host of questionable practices at Liberty University.  In case you have never heard of Charisma, it is the unofficial periodical of the Trump-loving Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement.  I wrote about this movement in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Liberty University and the Falwell family are not directly connected to the INC movement, but I imagine that there are some families in the movement who send their kids to the school.  Moreover, I think it’s fair to say that Charisma is one of the only major evangelical outlets that would publish a pro-Falwell piece in the wake of the Politico article.  (Christianity Today, which has been quick to cover other scandals and controversies in the evangelical world, has been silent).

Here is what we learn from Charisma‘s interview with Falwell Jr.:

  • Falwell Jr. does not believe that he has created a “culture of fear” at Liberty University.  “We have 9,500 employees,” he told Charisma, “and I’m sure it’s easy to find 10 or 12 who are upset because they didn’t get a promotion for something.”  He claims that instead of creating a climate of fear at Liberty, he has been “too merciful” and has let “people stay much longer than I should have when they were incompetent, because I felt bad for their families.”
  • Falwell claims that Liberty’s financial records are above board and the university “has nothing to hide.”
  • Falwell claims that his internal critics “couldn’t handle” the fact that he pulled Liberty up “by the bootstraps” after Jerry Falwell Sr. died.  “They were always looking for ways to enrich themselves, personally.  And I always shut them down.”
  • Falwell says that if the FBI does not prosecute the Liberty board and staff members who talked to Politico and shared e-mails with reporter Brandon Ambrosino, he will bring a civil suit.  And then the article adds: “Falwell admits that this course of action may not look like turning the other cheek to some people.  But he believes Jesus taught that His followers must do what’s in the best interest of the government or corporation they are part of.”  Interesting.  I have spent some time studying the Bible over the years and I don’t seem to remember Jesus saying anything about doing what is “in the best interest of the government or corporation they are a part of.”
  • But Falwell does not stop there: “When you deal with people personally, you have an obligation to love your neighbor as yourself…So this is not personal.  This is corporate…And I believe Jesus’ teachings to do what’s in the best interest of the corporation , just like Donald Trump has a job to do.  It’s in the best interest of the nation.  So that’s my take on it all.  And I’m glad to go to war.  I just actually enjoy it probably a little too much.”  So let me get this straight–the command to love our neighbors does not apply to the business world.  Christian ethics go out the window when you enter the boardroom.  Is Falwell Jr.’s approach to “corporations” taught at the Liberty University School of Business? I wonder what former Congressman David Brat, the Dean of the  School (who also has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary), thinks about this? The Business School’s website says: “Here, you’ll be taught from a Christian perspective, building the kind of ethics, character, and integrity that makes a difference in the marketplace.”  So should the Christian call to “love your neighbor as yourself” apply to the marketplace?  Or should Christians think about their place in the business world as “going to war,” much in the same way that many conservative evangelicals think about their relationship to the culture?
  • The Charisma piece ends with Falwell complaining about the “media backlash” that Christians who support Donald Trump are facing: “I think they can’t get to [Trump] because he’s so tough, so now they’re going after anybody who supported him.  And good luck to them, because I am going to have fun with it.” Again, Falwell seems to revel in conflict, especially when it comes to his fellow Christians.  Go get ’em Jerry!  “Champions for Christ!” 😦

I am not convinced that Jerry Falwell Jr. is running Liberty University in a Christian manner.

Jerry Falwell Jr. Has Been Sounding “a Lot Like Donald Trump” for a Long Time

jerry-falwell-696x362

Yesterday, in one of my responses to this whole Jerry Falwell Jr. mess at Liberty University, I wrote:

The threats of “mean” lawyers, FBI investigations, and attempts to attack the masculinity of reporter Brandon Ambrosino, are a mere distraction from Falwell having to address his hypocritical behavior and the culture of fear he has created at Liberty University.  Instead of coming before his community–the largest Christian college in the world– in a spirit of repentance or humility, Falwell is going to focus on how he was actually the victim in all of this.  Whatever the FBI decides to do about this “attempted coup,” or however Politico managed to get access to these e-mails, the evidence does not lie.  Falwell has some explaining to do.

Andrew Egger of The Bulwark, a website founded by conservative radio personality Charlie Sykes, makes a similar argument in a piece titled “Jerry Falwell Jr. Is Starting to Sound a Lot Like Donald Trump.”

But what’s interesting here isn’t just that Falwell seems to be an even bigger creep than we’d previously imagined. Just as noteworthy has been the response the piece prompted from Falwell. His back against the wall, deserted by former  allies, Falwell has hit back—not by leaning on his faith-leader credentials, but by diving headfirst into #MAGAsphere conspiracy-mongering.

“Our attorneys have determined that this small number of former board members and employees, they’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, are working together to steal Liberty property in the form of emails and provide them to reporters,” Falwell told The Hill in a Tuesday interview. He added that he had asked the FBI to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Falwell has beat a steady drumbeat to the tune that the Politico report is politically motivated “fake news,” insisting he is the target of an “attempted coup” and suggesting ominously that “Politico’s new CEO is a big Democratic donor.”

The first noteworthy thing about this response is that it has nothing to do with him. Falwell seems to have internalized the Trumpian lesson that the best defense is a good offense. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether he’s a terrible boss, husband, Christian, and leader, so long as he can convince a critical mass of people paying attention to this news cycle that the people gunning for him are worse.

But the more important strategy here is even more primal than that. By pursuing this particular triage strategy, Falwell seems to be trying to persuade his audience to ignore the specifics—and instead merely regard whose team each side is on.

Read the entire piece here.  My only criticism is that Falwell has been sounding like Donald Trump for a long time–there is nothing new here. Perhaps the only real difference between the “leadership” style of these two autocrats is that Trump does not use e-mail.

Falwell Seeks to Crush an “Attempted Coup” to Remove Him From Power at Liberty University

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

Let me remind readers that the American Revolution was, in one sense, a successful coup against a tryant who had too much power.  Last time I checked, Jerry Falwell Jr. and his friends see themselves as the true heirs of this LIBERTY-centered movement that founded the United States.

Like any good absolute monarch trying to consolidate his power and ward off dissent, Jerry Falwell plans to fight the “criminal conspiracy” against him.

Here is a taste of the Associated Press’s reporting:

“I’m not going to dignify the lies that were reported yesterday [at Politico] with a response, but I am going to the authorities and I am going to civil court,” Falwell said, referring to the reporter as a “little boy…”

“Liberty owns every single one of those emails. It’s our property. They were working for us when they used our server. And our policies make it clear every email sent on our server is owned by Liberty and if anybody shares it with anybody outside Liberty, it is theft. And so that’s the underlying crime,” Falwell told AP in a phone interview.D

Do you see what Falwell Jr. is doing here?

The threats of “mean” lawyers, FBI investigations, and attempts to attack the masculinity of reporter Brandon Ambrosino, are a mere distraction from Falwell having to address his hypocritical behavior and the culture of fear he has created at Liberty University.  Instead of coming before his community–the largest Christian college in the world– in a spirit of repentance or humility, Falwell is going to focus on how he was actually the victim in all of this.  Whatever the FBI decides to do about this “attempted coup,” or however Politico managed to get access to these e-mails, the evidence does not lie.  Falwell has some explaining to do.

Here is a bit more from the AP piece:

Cybercrime expert Nick Akerman said Falwell’s assertion of a criminal conspiracy is “totally insane.” Akerman said the ex-board members and employees can share emails with reporters as long as they had authorized access to them and didn’t hack into someone else’s account. He said trade secrets are also protected under the law, but Liberty wouldn’t be able to make a case there either.

“I don’t think any law enforcement agency is going to be interested in this one,” said Akerman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and former federal prosecutor.

Yes, Jerry Falwell WAS in That Miami Nightclub. He Lied About It

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

Not only was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the largest Christian university in the world, partying (with alcohol) at a Miami nightclub, but he also lied about it and got caught.

There are many things I could say here, but I think I will go with this: “never mess with the reputation of a professional photographer.”

Here is a taste of Brandon Ambrosino’s latest piece at Politico:

One day after POLITICO published a piece in which Jerry Falwell Jr. denied visiting a Miami Beach nightclub in July 2014 and alleged that any images showing such were “photo-shopped,” a new trove of photos showing Falwell at the club has been released.

Seth Browarnik, the owner of World Red Eye, a photography company that documents Miami’s bustling nightlife scene, says he was unaware how many photos he had of Falwell until Falwell alleged that his site’s images were manipulated—prompting Browarnik to explore his photo archive to prove otherwise….

For the past 21 years, Browarnik has photographed Miami nightlife. Because of his trusted reputation as a photographer, he thought it was important to quickly quash Falwell’s accusation.

“That’s why I have an archive of five million photos,” Browarnik told me. “That’s why we catalog everything.”

Read the entire article here.

Falwell Jr: There is a “Criminal Conspiracy” to Oust Me From Power at Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

It looks like there is an evangelical Christian version of the “deep state” staging a secret revolution to overthrow Jerry Falwell Jr. at Liberty University.  Here is The Hill:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. told Hill.TV on Tuesday that he has begun sharing information with the FBI in what he alleged was a criminal conspiracy against him by former board members at the school.

Falwell said in an exclusive interview that in the coming days the FBI will review university documents at the Lynchburg, Va., campus. He accused former colleagues of stealing school property in the form of emails and then sharing them with reporters in an effort to damage his reputation.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our attorneys have determined that this small group of former board members and employees, they’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, are working together to steal Liberty property in the form of emails and provided them to reporters,” Falwell Jr. said.

The accusation follows a Politico story published Monday that detailed a “culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.” The story cited internal Liberty University emails, which Falwell Jr. and his attorney’s allege were stolen in a coordinated effort.

Read the rest here.

We have covered the Falwell Jr. story here and here.  I think we should start calling Falwell Jr. the “evangelical Donald Trump.”  I think he would enjoy such a name.  🙂

Why the Recent *Politico” Piece Will Not Hurt Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Standing Among Many Conservative Evangelicals

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Yesterday I posted about Brandon Ambrosino’s Politico piece exposing Jerry Falwell’s lies, shady business deals, sex life, and the tyrannical power he holds over his employees at Liberty University.  One of Falwell’s employees called the president a dictator who propagates a culture of fear at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Two things are worth noting about this story.

First, anyone who has studied the history of American fundamentalism will be familiar with the kind of power Falwell Jr. wields.  Falwell Jr. inherited Liberty from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of the school.  Falwell Sr. was the product of the separatist fundamentalist movement, an approach to conservative Protestantism that continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism” long after other mid-twentieth-century conservative Protestants had abandoned it in favor of the term “evangelical.”  Liberty University (originally Lynchburg Baptist College) was born out of this movement.

Falwell Sr.’s brand of fundamentalism not only opposed secular humanism and liberal Protestantism, but it also refused to fellowship or cooperate with conservative Christians willing to participate in religious services and events with liberal Protestants.  This was known as “second-degree separation” and, as I argued in several essays in the 1990s, it was a defining characteristic of the fundamentalist movement in the years following the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s.

When so-called “neo-evangelicals” such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and others sought to forge a more irenic brand of conservative Protestantism after World War II known as “neo-evangelicalism,” other alumni of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies such as John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr. continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism.” (Falwell Sr. was a disciple of Rice, a Wheaton, Illinois and later Murfreesboro, Tennessee -based evangelist who parted ways with Graham over the latter’s willingness to allow liberal clergy to pray at his crusades).

These separatist fundamentalists were known for empire building.  Rice built his empire around his newspaper The Sword of the Lord, a weekly publication that had over 100,000 subscribers in the 1950s.  McIntire’s built an empire around his popular radio broadcast, his Collingswood, New Jersey-based weekly newspaper The Christian Beacon, his conference-center properties in Cape May, New Jersey, and Shelton College (first in Ringwood, NJ and later Cape May) and Faith Theological Seminary (Elkins Park, PA).  Ketcham was a leader of the General Association of Regular Baptists, a denomination formed in the wake of the modernist takeover of the Northern Baptist Church.  Bob Jones Jr. presided over Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.  All of these men were autocratic leaders who wielded immense power among their followers.  They spent much of their time railing against their many enemies–modernism, mainline Protestantism, communism, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the counter-culture.  And they became experts at sniffing-out those in their ranks who they believed to be compromising their faith by working with Graham or other neo-evangelicals.

When Jerry Falwell Sr. formed the Moral Majority in 1979, many self-identified fundamentalists rejected him.  Falwell Sr.’s willingness to work with like-minded Catholics and Mormons  on moral issues was just too much for separatists such as Bob Jones Jr.   Yet Falwell Sr. never really joined the neo-evangelical fold.  Since the 1980s, Falwell Sr and the empire he created in Lynchburg has remained in a kind of no-man’s land–situated somewhere between the culturally-engaged evangelicals and the old separatists.

Though Falwell Sr. eventually parted ways with his separatist fundamentalist roots, he never abandoned the empire-building mentality of the religious culture in which he came of age as a minister.  Falwell Sr. ran Liberty University like a dictator.  So does his son.  In this sense, there is more continuity between father and son than Ambrosino allows.

Second, I am afraid that Ambrosino’s Politico article will do little to damage Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation among his followers.  Falwell Jr. will just claim that Ambrosino is a disgruntled former student and Politico is part of the mainstream media out to get him because of his support of Donald Trump.  Yes, there may be some evangelical parents and high school students who will take Liberty University off their short list because of this article and others like it, but I imagine that many students and alumni at Liberty will see Falwell Jr. and Liberty as victims of the liberal media and other forces trying to undermine evangelical Christianity, religious freedom, and Christian nationalism in America.  Liberty will remain a safe place for these parents and students.

Falwell Jr. is no dummy.  He knows that his administrative staff and faculty are expendable. In his mind, they are interchangeable parts.  He once said that he has “tamed” them.  Someone, after all, has to teach the classes.  In the end, Falwell Jr. is betting that as long as he takes his cultural war vision for Liberty University directly to the people through social media, conservative political outlets like Fox News (where Liberty advertises), and court evangelical appearances with Trump, and as long he suppressed dissent among his staff and the student body, he will continue to fill seats in the Liberty University classrooms and online venues. Many evangelicals will overlook his indiscretions in the same way they have overlooked Trump’s indiscretions.