Falwell Jr. Says *The New York Times* Story on Coronavirus at Liberty University is “False”

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Get up to speed here.

Here is Falwell’s statement as it appears on the website of WSET News–Channel 13 in Lynchburg:

The New York Times ambushed Liberty University to publish a false and misleading story claiming that, “students started getting sick” after the University received students back after spring break. The Times attributed the reporter’s conclusion about the scope of the COVID-19 symptoms being about a dozen students to a local doctor who has consulted with LU. The truth is a far different story. Both the numbers and the sequencing are wrong.

At about 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, a New York Times reporter emailed university spokesperson with a list of 12 questions to be answered for a story that was going to run in the paper Monday. About 20 minutes later, she wrote to say that the story would go online in a few hours. Unable to gather specific answers to all the questions, President Falwell called the reporter and gave her an interview. The story was posted at 3:00 pm and contained several errors.

The University promptly provided the reporter detailed numbers on the student cases and requested corrections. No correction has been forthcoming so this statement is being issued.

Liberty disputes the number of students with symptoms that the Times reported. Liberty is not aware of any students in its residence halls testing positive for COVID-19 or, in fact, being tested at all, much less any residence hall students having sufficient symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested.

Liberty can confirm that, following the US Surgeon General’s recommendations concerning persons who had been in the New York City metropolitan area, Liberty University asked four students who had recently been in that area and who were living in campus residence hall rooms to self-quarantine for the recommended period in single rooms at Liberty’s otherwise unoccupied housing annex (a former hotel a few miles from campus). Two did and two opted to return to their permanent residence, instead. There were three students in close contact with these individuals and they were also asked to self-quarantine in separate rooms in the annex. They did.

Liberty is providing meals and attending to their needs there. This was precautionary and not based on any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 among the eight. The health professionals did not recommend these asymptomatic students be tested and they were not.

Liberty is also aware of one off-campus student who returned from an out-of-state county with a high number of cases who was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and advised to self-isolate pending the results. He elected to return to his permanent residence instead.

Another off-campus student came in for COVID-19 testing during spring break and her results came back negative.

Liberty is also aware of a recently graduated student who is taking online classes and who lives off campus with his family. He remained in Lynchburg during spring break who was advised to self-isolate based on his reported symptoms while his test results were being processed. Despite his status as a graduate, he came through the campus clinic to see the doctors he had been seeing while a student.

Liberty University has a protocol in place for informing members of the University community as necessary in the event we confirm a student or employee on our campus tests positive for COVID-19. No such notification stands in place as of yet.

So despite the Times’ sensational headline and story lead, Liberty is only aware of three off campus student who were sufficiently symptomatic to qualify for COVID-19 testing, two of which did not leave Lynchburg for Spring Break and one of which tested negative during Spring Break.

The story also forwards a misleading narrative about how government officials were informed of Liberty University’s decision. The following statement was shared publicly on March 16 with advance copies to both the City of Lynchburg and the Governor’s office following Liberty’s decision to move most all classes to online delivery, thus allowing fewer students to need to return to Lynchburg from Spring Break to take classes, as had been the prior plan.

More coverage here.

Former Liberty University Executive on Jerry Falwell: “He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants…”

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

This article packs an even stronger punch now that we know Liberty University is probably dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus. Liberty is an unhealthy place. And now people are getting sick.

Here is Brandon Ambrosio at Politico:

Lynchburg, Virginia, isn’t a stereotypical college town. It isn’t politically liberal. It doesn’t have the crunchy affect of an Ann Arbor or even a Charlottesville.

But even here, where Liberty University drives a large part of the economy—and where school president and chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. strides across the landscape as a local grandee—anger over Falwell’s decision to bring university students back amid a coronavirus pandemic is boiling over.

“Remember when people wanted to tar and feather folks? That’s about the level it’s at in the Lynchburg community right now,” a former longtime Falwell associate told me over the phone. “You have … 16,000 petri dishes he’s inviting back to Lynchburg, who have gone out all over country for spring break—he’s inviting them back into our city, our community, knowing that at some point they’re gonna have to interact with the public.”

Throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus have led colleges to upend their plans for the semester by moving classes online, canceling commencement ceremonies and—critically, from a public-health perspective—moving students out of dorms. Virginia Tech is practically begging students to stay away, enticing them with cash rebates. The University of Virginia has shut down its dorm system, save for those few students “who have no other option.”

Liberty University, meanwhile, has invited its students to return to the dorms, whatever their circumstances might be. Falwell has said this decision was in students’ best interests—that students would be better off if they returned to campus before the coronavirus spread—but that suggestion has met with exasperation by public health experts, state and local officials, and many residents of Lynchburg.

As President Donald Trump pumps out messages that fears of the coronavirus are overblown, and Americans try to square that with their local regulations and personal worries, Liberty has become an even more intense version of the national conflict, with students and faculty left trying to weigh their own interests against a defiant leadership with a constantly pivoting message—in this case, a person who is used to having total control of the institution.

For people who’ve traveled in Falwell’s orbit, the decision is classic Jerry.

“He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants,” a former Liberty University executive told me.

“He’s very defiant,” said another longtime Falwell associate with close ties to the Falwell family. “It’s very much in his character. That’s a family trait. His father was the same way.”

Now, Falwell has maintained that people have this all wrong: Liberty simply allowed students to return to live in the dorms, if they so choose, while finishing up the semester in online courses. “We think Liberty’s practices will become the model for all colleges to follow in the fall, if Coronavirus is still an issue,” Falwell told the school’s news service in a March 23 statement.

Read the rest here.

“Nearly a dozen” Liberty University students are “sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19…”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

This was inevitable.  Here is a taste of Elizabeth Williamson’s reporting at The New York Times:

As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.

So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm, epidemiologically and otherwise. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview on Sunday when confronted with the numbers. He added that any student returning now to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“I can’t be sure what’s going on with individuals who are not being tested but who are advised to self-isolate,” said Kerry Gateley, the health director of the Central Virginia Health District, which covers Lynchburg. “I would assume that if clinicians were concerned enough about the possibility of Covid-19 disease to urge self-isolation that appropriate screening and testing would be arranged.”

Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, Mr. Falwell said more than 800 had left. But he said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.

“If I were them, I’d be more nervous,” he added, because they live in more crowded conditions.

For critical weeks in January and February, the nation’s far right dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic. Mr. Falwell derided it as an “overreaction” driven by liberal desires to damage Mr. Trump.

Read the rest here.

Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

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As some of you know, earlier this week I participated in a conversation with Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationism.  I think you can still watch the conversation here.

Today at The New York Times, Stewart has a piece titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.”

Here is a taste:

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.

Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

A couple of quick thoughts:

First, most op-ed writers do not write their own titles. The title of this piece is misleading. As Stewart noted in our conversation this week, and repeats in the Times piece, she is writing about a particular kind of evangelical, not all evangelicals.  Her focus is on the anti-science, Trump-loving parts of the Christian Right.

Second, those who are upset by Stewart’s piece should get a copy of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Stewart is essentially making the same argument about evangelical anti-intellectualism.

Here is conservative writer Rod Dreher:

 

I don’t think Stewart is scapegoating anyone. If one reads the piece carefully, it is hard to argue with the fact that people like Guillermo Maldonado, Rodney Howard Browne, Tony Spell, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have been reckless. I think it is also fair to say that the white evangelicals who empower Donald Trump bear some of the indirect blame for his bungling of this crisis. Dreher obviously has a beef with The New York Times, but Stewart’s piece, and much of her book Power Worshippers, is pretty accurate.

Liberty University is Open. Local Lynchburg Officials are Not Happy About It

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Liberty University

The students are having “quarantine parties” off campus.

Here is the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Officials in Lynchburg, Virginia, said Tuesday they were fielding complaints about the hundreds of students who have returned from their spring break to Liberty University, where President Jerry Falwell Jr. has welcomed them back amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We could not be more disappointed in the action that Jerry took in telling students they could come back and take their online classes on campus,” Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek told The Associated Press…

Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb said about 1,100 students were back on campus as of Tuesday morning. He said a former hotel the university owns is available as a quarantine site if needed and tents have been set up “preventatively” as a place to direct any student on campus who might feel ill…

Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy said in a statement that she thought the university’s decision to allow students to return was “reckless.”

“I am concerned for the students, faculty and employees at Liberty University, and I am also very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community,” she said.

Liberty’s decision also prompted an unusually critical and public dissent from a faculty member. Faculty members, most of whom do not have tenure, frequently decline interview requests from AP and other news outlets.

“It is unconscionable that the leadership of the university is fully implementing Falwell’s politically motivated and rash policy that unnecessarily risks an unmanageable outbreak here in Lynchburg,” Marybeth Davis Baggett, a professor of English, wrote in an opinion piece published by Religion News Service and The Washington Post.

Baggett wrote that faculty had been told to conduct classes from their offices, even though that instruction was being delivered virtually. And she said professors were “expected to hold office hours and welcome students for face-to-face interaction.”

The university’s news release said Liberty’s human resources department has been processing requests from employees with health problems that put them at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and “making accommodations as appropriate.”

Falwell tweeted a link to the release Monday and said, in part, “Bet the ‘Baggett’ lady is embarrassed now!”

Some Liberty students raised concerns about their classmates’ behavior. In interviews, they described “quarantine” parties happening off campus, as well as large gatherings of students, including meetups to play sports or share meals.

“I would say it’s an exception to see someone do the right thing,” said Alexa Whaley, a junior from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who said she went home over spring break and returned because of her job at a local law firm.

Read the rest here.

Is the Falwell tweet referenced in this article a play on the word “bag lady?” (See our post on Marybeth Baggett’s criticism of Liberty here).  What does it say about the state of American evangelicalism that this man leads one of the world’s largest evangelical universities? What does it say about American evangelicalism that so many evangelical young people (and their parents) choose to study at a school led by this man?

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

Despite Pressure From Some Faculty and Staff, Liberty University Remains Open

15a8d-libertyApparently this piece did not do the trick.

Here is the latest from the local Lynchburg paper:

As the coronavirus threatens to spread across the Lynchburg region, Liberty University officials are preparing to welcome back up to 5,000 students from spring break this week.

Defying a national trend of campus closures, President Jerry Falwell Jr. has invited students to return to residence halls and has directed faculty members to continue to report to campus even as most classes move online.

In an interview Sunday night, Falwell said somewhere between several hundred to more than 5,000 students are expected to live in campus dorms, where they will continue coursework online rather than in classrooms.

Meanwhile, hundreds of professors and instructors without a valid health exemption will come to campus to hold office hours.

“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell said.

Falwell’s decision leaves Liberty as an outlier among the scores of colleges and universities across the country that have shut down to help limit the spread of the disease known as COVID-19.

The threat of the coronavirus became more immediate for the region this weekend when the Virginia Department of Health announced cases in Amherst and Bedford counties. Statewide, as of Monday evening, more than 250 people have contracted the disease and seven have died.

In response to the pandemic, several nearby institutions have instructed faculty to work remotely and have limited dorms to students unable to return home. At the University of Lynchburg, 19 students continue to live in dorms while at Randolph College just five remain on campus.

In contrast with other schools, Liberty’s dorms, academic buildings, library and fitness center remain open.

The university has taken some steps to help slow the virus’ spread. Gatherings in campus buildings, including a handful of classes still holding in-person meetings, are capped at 10 people in accordance with an order by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Similarly, dining halls are only providing take-out service, and campus visits have been suspended.

On Monday, Northam directed all non-essential businesses to close by the start of Wednesday. Non-essential services were identified as all places of indoor public amusement as well as fitness centers, and salons that cannot comply with social distancing guidelines. It is unclear how that order will affect Liberty.

Falwell, who has publicly downplayed the threat of the virus in recent weeks, said he is confident the school has taken the proper steps to prepare for a campus outbreak. He said Liberty officials have identified an old hotel owned by the university as a place to quarantine students who fall ill.

“I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”

Some Liberty faculty members have questioned whether Falwell’s actions have gone far enough.

Read the entire piece at the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Liberty University English Professor: “Please Stop Jerry Falwell Jr. Before It’s Too Late!”

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If you are looking for dissenters on the campus of Liberty University, the English Department might be a good place to start. Earlier this year, the department’s most public figure, Karen Swallow Prior, announced that she is leaving Liberty University, citing, among other things, “new regulations and policies that make me less freer to practice [her] art.”

Now Marybeth Baggett, Associate Professor of English, is demanding that Falwell Jr. close the campus to protect students and employees from the coronavirus.

Last week, some of you may recall, Falwell Jr. moved nearly all Liberty instruction online, but he gave students the option of returning to campus after Spring Break ends today.

Baggett has turned to Religion News Service to make her case. A taste:

I have no animus toward Jerry Falwell Jr. He simply should not have a monopoly on this decision. I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it. For that reason, the decision must be taken out of his hands. I speak up for his benefit as well, since his current plan is courting a disaster for which he would be primarily to blame.

Yes, Liberty’s students are mostly young, at low risk for serious complications from the virus. But the administration’s decision to remain in regular operation affects many more than simply the young and healthy among us.

Many students, faculty, and staff have health conditions that would make COVID-19 difficult to fight. And of course, Liberty is not a bubble where the virus would be contained. Instead, its population comes into regular contact with those in the Lynchburg community, putting their health and lives at risk as well.

It is unconscionable that the leadership of the university is fully implementing Falwell’s politically motivated and rash policy that unnecessarily risks an unmanageable outbreak here in Lynchburg.

I have heard from many at the university who have health issues or loved ones with health issues and are distressed about the leadership’s insensitivity and profligacy with impunity. These folks can speak up only on pain of risking their careers.

This leaves me wondering what university leadership has to gain in leveraging people’s livelihoods against their speaking the truth. I simply cannot square this oppression of reasonable dissent with the biblical dicta the university professes.

I am deeply grieved that Jerry Falwell Jr’s control of Liberty University is so complete that not one person in leadership is speaking up as the loyal opposition on behalf of the vulnerable that Falwell’s impudent and imprudent decisions have put at risk, both at Liberty and in Lynchburg.

The leadership’s willingness to enable Falwell’s self-professed politically motivated decision bespeaks a spirit of fear, or worse, that shames the mission they ostensibly pursue. I beg the deans, senior leadership, and board members to think more long-term. They are compelled by what is genuinely best for the university to act, to say nothing of their altruistic obligations as Christians.

These leaders may think they are helping the institution, but in fact, they are sowing the seeds for its devastation.

Read the entire piece here.

Yesterday on Facebook, Baggett urged other members of the Liberty University community, including faculty, to speak-up.  A taste of her post:

…Yet many Liberty faculty and staff hold back from expressing their concern publicly for fear of repercussions. And so the real and valid concerns folks have about the situation are suppressed. For that reason, I am posting this thread to solicit private messages which I will post here anonymously as comments.

Those in the Liberty or Lynchburg community who will be affected by the administration’s decisions to keep the campus open, please send those to me. I will hold your name in confidence, but will share your comment here.

My sense is that there are many who would like to speak up; I hope this will provide them an opportunity to have their voice heard.

On Twitter, Baggett asked for help in amplifying her message.  In that spirit, here are some of the Facebook responses she has received:

FB message: I am actually at more risk than most to contract the illness, because of the nature of my work. My employer *can’t* close, and half my work time is spent in a room shared by entire project team that includes several consultants who fly home and back on weekends. They’re very high-risk transfer vectors, which means I’m very likely to get exposed, and from there, my wife is *also* likely to be exposed. My wife works for Liberty in her own project team for a job that could easily be done remotely, and many of the people she works with are professors who are old enough to be severely compromised by the virus. LU doesn’t seem all that concerned about the effect they’d have by transferring viruses outward, so they might benefit from knowing how vulnerable they are to viral transfers inward to their own ranks.

FB message: I think it is safe to say that the culture of fear is alive and well at LU, which may be why there has been a silence from the faculty and staff. I am a current employee and worked in various departments within LU for almost a decade now. My current role is work-from-home so I am grateful for that. However, my heart hurts and is so concerned for my friends and co-workers who are on-campus. I work with seasoned employees who are (at least in this pandemic), considered elderly or higher risk. Many more staff/faculty members take care of and even live with their elderly parents/grandparents. Those who are mothers/fathers of small children are a concern as a well. This is about safety. It is not like deciding a cancellation due to weather, but we are playing with the lives of others and risking further spread of the virus. This is scary to me that staff and faculty safety have seldom been regarded as being a priority. I have a young child as well and my parents and husband are considered high risk, so why endanger the people of Lynchburg in general (and surrounding areas) by ignoring the suggestions from the government, CDC? This is completely irresponsible and faculty/staff keep the school running. They should be a priority and feel valued, not just the students. It is shameful and those in leadership need to be willing to hear the praise AND concerns from their employees without instilling fear in the hearts of the staff for having an opinion. In this case, an opinion to close, which will save lives!

Personal message: What is most frustrating to me is the seeming lack of care for the Lynchburg community. I have seen of my local, non-Liberty friends and businesses in the past several weeks doing good work help mitigate the spread of the virus. Liberty, by contrast, is having its employees to return to work and keeping campus open. If it’s Christian, it ought to be better, right? At this point, if an outbreak happens in Lynchburg, Liberty will be if not totally at fault at least a large contributing factor. Creating a situation where students are given permission to return to campus en masse is irresponsible and unethical and does nothing to care for the least of these in our campus community and in our City.

FB Message: There’s simply no reason for faculty and staff to come to campus if we can do exactly what we need to do under these straitened circumstances via Microsoft Teams video conferencing with students. I find it completely unacceptable that we’re being asked to make the impossible choice between following the orders of the administration for the sake of our jobs and personal/family health. I’ve always loved the classroom environment, but I’m dreading having to go back Monday. Wakes me up at night with panic.

FB Message: Where is the School of Divinity in all this? Thought they were supposed to be the rudder? Those days seem to be over.  [JF: This link might provide an answer to this question].

FB message: I think allowing the person who runs the university to make such a selfish and dangerous decision is partially on the faculty. What if none of the faculty showed up on Monday but still taught their online classes and did everything else they were supposed to do? What are they going to do? They can’t fire everyone. The university can’t run without faculty. Now is the time to unify and take a stand if ever there was one. A stand that will not cause harm to the university but will show they care about the community, even if their president does not.

FB message: Liberty has always been vocally pro-life, until now. Putting faculty, staff, and students needlessly at risk is just the opposite, not to mention the physically vulnerable like the aged and sick. Falwell literally laughed at the reckless disregard of life found in young people without calling them to account and trying to inspire them to think about more than themselves. But perhaps it would be hard for him to teach such a thing when he lacks any such vision himself.

FB message: I’ve got an asthma sufferer in my home, but I haven’t asked to stay home yet. I’m working up the courage because we are supposed to reach out individually to request exemption, which means that I have to stick my neck out and maybe pop up on the administrative radar. When contracts are up for renewal, I don’t want to people to think “well, so and so didn’t want to come in.” And then, what if my course evaluations take a dip because of all of this? It’s frustrating that as faculty we are asked to be (and I’m happy to be) understanding, compassionate, extend grace and the benefit of the doubt, etc. —especially at this time—and yet we are not given the same treatment, in addition to the constant checks for compliance for things we didn’t completely understand, while migrating course content online, and training in a new technology… all of which culminated in a handful of administrators being added into faculty LMS to monitor all communication to students, also for compliance, which comes off less as “we’re going to make sure we support you so we can get through this the best we can” and more like “we’re gonna make sure you do this, now.”

FB message: The decisions the institution is making about staff and faculty are incredibly stupid. My particular job can easily transfer to work from home (as shown every time there is a snow day) and yet when I didn’t feel comfortable going in to work yesterday because I was running a low grade fever (though I felt fine in general) I was told I would have to take paid time off because current policy isn’t allowing us to work from home. My entire office has spoken about how utterly incompetent Liberty’s response has been during this time but there’s no avenue to express these complaints. I’ve never seen morale as low as this and it could so easily be fixed by just having us work from home. I’m desperately tired of working for a University that clearly cares so little about their staff and faculty.

FB message: It is positively terrifying to think about pushing back against the administration on this, as they are watching us and could punish us and our families (if we lose our job and our income, it hurts our families too) for expressing even cautious dissent. And yet, having that many people come to work (when we can do the same work at home) is potentially dangerous. The fact that students are required to move their stuff out of the dorms within a few days is also dangerous. I don’t understand why we are being asked to do this, and it is hard to know where to draw the line. I woke up last night and had to pray through anxiety on this. God, help them change their hearts.

FB message: In the 12 years that have passed since my husband and I graduated LU, we’ve been ashamed to say we’re Alum- but never as much as we are now. We need reasoning behind the decision to bring students back. We need to know how this isn’t a risk to students, faculty and the people of Lynchburg. We need to know WHY in the middle of a pandemic, Liberty University believes their dorms should be full and their faculty should put their own families at risk. The answers to these questions need to be based in statistics and science. Jerry Jr: are you using Liberty and Lynchburg as an experiment? What are you thinking?

FB message: It is time for the board of Liberty University to ask for Jerry Falwell Jrs. resignation. His latest actions, as well as, several of his actions over the past three years have not be in line with with the mission of the university or indicative Christian faithfulness. The time is now to take a stand and not allow him to do more damage to the community, Liberty, and the name of Jesus.

FB message: I’m finding it difficult to articulate the frustration and helplessness that I am feeling as a Liberty employee who is still expected to report to work. My role at the university is one in which I am constantly in contact with students, staff, and faculty members of all ages. The projected number of students returning to campus is sobering. At this point it feels as though transmission from returning students to “essential” university staff and faculty members is unavoidable. This whole situation is emotionally draining. I am being told that I should be thankful that we are remaining open because so many others have lost their jobs during this time. However, I cannot simply rejoice because our continued operations mean putting our entire community at risk.

FB message: As someone who falls squarely in the at-risk category for serious and potentially deadly health consequences should I contract the COVID-19 virus, I’m fearful of going into work on Monday with the thousands of faculty, staff and students who will be on campus. I’m also fearful, however, of not having my one-year contract renewed if I make the choice to work from home. I keep praying that the governor will issue a stay-at-home order like the governors of some other states are doing.

Liberty University is a very unhealthy place. Now it appears Jerry Falwell Jr. and his leadership team might expose the campus to the coronavirus.

ADDENDUM (Sunday, March 22, 2020 at 7:24pm) : It has come to my attention that Baggett has less to risk than most Liberty faculty members. According to a March 3, 2020 post on her Facebook page, she has accepted a new job teaching English and “literary apologetics”  at Houston Baptist University.

What is Going on in the World of (Evangelical) College Wrestling?

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Liberty University wrestling coach Jesse Castro

Dozens of matches took place between the three daily mat cleanings. No social distancing among participants and spectators. No communication with the Center for Disease Control. A Liberty University coach claiming the coronavirus is “overhyped.”

Bill Trollinger, a historian at the University of Dayton, is on the case at his blog, Righting America:

Unsurprisingly, Giunta and other tournament officials maintained no communication with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). But it is not difficult to imagine what the CDC would have had to say to them.

While the Dallas Morning News reporter failed to point this out, the NCWA is an organization with a strong evangelical flavor. One of its programs is the 6:12 Project, the name coming from Ephesians 6:12:  

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Not only does the 6:12 Project encourage wrestling teams to come up with community service projects, but it also, through a link on its website, provides member teams with BeliefMap, described as an “advanced debate simulator” that prepares Christians to successfully convince unbelievers not only that God exists, but that 

We are all guilty of sin (lying, stealing, lusting etc.) and, in virtue of His holiness, God’s wrathful final destruction of evil and evildoers is coming soon. There is only one way to be saved from it: you must throw yourself at the mercy of God, and freely accept Jesus’s cleansing of you and transformation of you into a sinless person for heavenly living.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, executive director Giunta explained that he chose not to cancel the NCWA tournament because he thinks a lot of the response to the escalating pandemic “is driven by fear,” and “we’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.” 

Then there is coach Jesse Castro, whose Liberty University wrestling team came away with top honors at the tournament. Echoing his boss (Jerry Falwell Jr.), Castro said that he thinks the coronavirus is being “overhyped” by Democrats as a way to impeach Donald Trump:

Call me a conspiratorist [sic] or whatever. Is that to minimize what’s going on? Absolutely not. But you cannot view this from a prism without being political to some degree. It’s too obvious.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Massive Backtracking” at Fox News

Fox News

Here is former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart:

Paul Farhi’s and Sarah Ellison’s piece at The Washington Post reminds us that:

  • Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham of Fox News said the news media was stirring “mass hysteria” and were “panic pushers.”
  • Hannity said downplayed the power of this pandemic.
  • Ingraham called the Democrats “the pandemic party.”
  • Ingraham told the elderly to quarantine, but suggested everyone else should go about their daily activities and “don’t take a cruise maybe.”
  • Fox Business News host Trish Regan said the media was using the coronavirus to “impeach Donald Trump.”
  • Only Tucker Carlson has taken the coronavirus seriously.
  • “Judge” Jeannine Pirro said that the idea that the coronavirus is more deadly than the flu “doesn’t reflect reality.”
  • Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, went on Fox and said that the coronavirus was sent to the United States by Kim Jong Un and the Chinese.
  • On Sunday, Devin Nunes went on Fox and told everyone who was healthy to go out to dinner.  Then he made an absolutely disingenuous effort to clean things up.

Now Hannity is referring to the coronavirus as a “crisis” and extolling Trump’s leadership.  Ingraham is calling this a “dangerous health crisis.” Fox took Regan’s program off the air. Trump said he disagreed with Nunes’s “go out to dinner” line.

Fox News has stopped downplaying this crisis.  I am glad to see this.  But we will probably never know the extent of the damage it did. There are so many senior citizens and elderly Americans who watch this network and take what they hear as gospel. I also wonder how much Fox News had to do with so many churches keeping their doors open on Sunday.

How Billy Sunday Handled the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

sunday

One of the first things I ever published was a journal article on evangelist Billy Sunday’s 1918 crusade in Chicago. The title played-off a line from a popular Frank Sinatra song about Chicago: “The Town That Billy Sunday Could Not Shut down: Prohibition and Sunday’s Chicago Crusade of 1918.” Here’s Frank:

But I digress.

Chicago was the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down.  But Providence was the town that shut Billy Sunday down, at least for three weeks.

During his Chicago crusade, which ran from March 10 to May 20, 1918, Sunday fought the city’s prohibition forces. He preached his now-famous sermon “Get on the Water Wagon.” He always began this sermon by describing a conversation he had with his wife: “Nell, when I am dead, send for the butcher and skin me and have my hide tanned and made into drum heads, and hire men to go up and down the land and beat the drums and say, ‘My husband, Bill Sunday still lives and gives the whiskey gang a run for its money.'” Sunday described the “booze interests” as a “rattlesnake that wriggled its miserable carcass out of hell, where there was a jubilee when the lager beer was invented.” When it came to the “liquor trade,” Sunday said, “I’ll fight them until freezes over than I’ll buy a pair of skates and fight ’em on ice.” For all Sunday’s sensational rhetoric, the “wet forces” in Chicago won the day, at least for the moment. Despite Sunday’s efforts, Chicago did not manage to get Prohibition on the ballot during the April 2018 election.  In the long run, however, the “dry” forces in Illinois contributed a national Prohibition amendment (the 19th), which was ratified in January of 1919.

Later in the year, Sunday conducted a revival in Providence, Rhode Island. As was his custom, Sunday (his advance men) built a temporary tabernacle in the city.  He held seventy meetings in that tabernacle between September 21 and November 17, 2018.  The Congregationalist and Advance, a religious journal of the era, noted that Sunday preached to a “quarter of a million listeners” during the course of the crusade. But he could have reached even more. Sunday only had seventy meetings in this three month period (he usually preached every night) because during the crusade the influenza epidemic hit Providence. Sunday did not preach for three weeks.

The influenza hit Providence hard. In October, 6000 people in the city got sick. 814 died of pneumonia in 1918. On October 5, the Board of Alderman closed schools, theaters, dance halls, and most religious services.  Prior to this, Providence newspapers ran stories about the death of Providence citizens alongside reports of Sunday’s crusade. The Congregationalist and Advance claimed that 10,000 people “grasped Mr. Sunday’s hand” during the crusade. Newspapers described people collapsing with the flu as Sunday preached.  As we look back today, during this time of “social distancing” during the coronavirus, one can’t help but wonder how much the Sunday crusade contributed to the spread of the epidemic.

Sunday’s foe in Providence was much stronger than the “wet forces” of Chicago, but that doesn’t mean that the evangelist did not go down without a fight. Before the Providence Board of Aldermen closed the crusade, Sunday, in his trademark style, informed his audience about the true cause of the epidemic rocking Providence and the nation:

We can meet here tonight and pray down an epidemic just as well as we can pray down a German victory. The whole thing is a part of their propaganda; it started over there in Spain, where they scattered germs around, and that’s why you ought to dig down all the deeper and buy more Liberty bonds. If they can do this to us 3000 miles away, think of what the bunch would do if they were walking our streets. There’s nothing short of hell that they haven’t stopped to do since the war began–darn their hides

The epidemic, of course, broke-out during World War I and Sunday was a master at blaming every American problem on the Germans, including German Higher Criticism of the Bible and the influenza. As historian George Marsden writes, “Although Sunday had little interest in the war until the United States joined it, he soon concluded that zeal for the Gospel and patriotic enthusiasm should go hand in hand. It apparently did not strain his principles…to conclude in 1917 that ‘Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms and hell and traitors are synonymous.”  Marsden continues:

As the war effort accelerated he used the rhetoric of Christian nativism to fan the fires of anti-German furor and was famous for sermons that ended with his jumping on the pulpit waving the flag. “If you turn hell upside down,” he said, “you will find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom.” Praying before the House of Representatives in 1918 he advised God that the Germans were a ‘great pack of wolfish Huns whose fangs drip with blood and gore.”

Today, one cannot help but think about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent suggestion that the coronavirus was a North Korean and Chinese attempt undermine Donald Trump and the various conspiracy theories we have heard on Fox News and elsewhere.

But when the Providence Board of Aldermen closed the city’s public venues in early October, Sunday submitted to its authority:

It is up to us to hope and pray. We are always willing to help anything that is for the public good and do it cheerfully. There is nothing drastic in the [Alderman’s] order, and it is issued in an attempt to stamp out this epidemic.

Eventually, the influenza faded, Providence re-opened schools and public places, and the Sunday crusade continued. The Christian Advocate, another religious paper, quipped: “We are not sure but that influenza is preaching to more people than Billy Sunday ever did….”

Liberty University Will Go Completely Online

Liberty U

It looks like Jerry Falwell Jr. has finally surrendered. Here is the press release:

Lynchburg, VA (March 16, 2020)  Liberty University announced that in light of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s emergency ban on public gatherings of 100 people, it will transition most of its residential classes to an online digital format starting Monday, March  23.

University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., said, “We originally believed it was safest to return our students following their spring break instead of having them return following greater exposure opportunities from leaving them in different parts of the country for longer periods.  But, the Governor’s recent decision to limit certain gatherings has left us no practical choice because we have so many classes of more than 100 students.  We want to provide for the continuity of our students’ education while doing what makes sense to help slow the spread of the coronavirus to our university family and local community.”

If residential students choose to return to Lynchburg, most will be able to resume their classes in the online format or they can choose to remain where they are and complete their classes online.  Most classes will be able to finish out the spring term in an online format.  Certain programs, such as aviation, osteopathic medicine and nursing, and certain types of performance classes, like labs, will not be able to be offered online, however.  Students in those programs and classes will only be able to take them in person but no classes will involve gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Students negatively impacted by these new policies or the spread of the coronavirus can seek incompletes as academic accommodations and may use the university’s standard processes to seek other accommodations based on pregnancy, other medical conditions and disabilities.

“Many of our international students are simply unable to return to their home countries and other students don’t have a place to go, so we must keep our campus residence halls and dining services staffed anyway,” Falwell said, “although we will be modifying the way meals are picked up and consumed.”

Because of the limited number of students on campus, meetings of student clubs and intramural contests are cancelled.  Practices for NCAA and club sports teams will be decided sport-by-sport.  

Liberty University is a national leader in online learning, having paved the way since the mid-1970’s.  Liberty offers state-of-the-art digital resources that allow students to connect with their classmates, as well as access the best in academic resources, including a vast digital library.

The transition of residential courses to online format will be staggered and will begin Monday, March 23, the day after spring break.  Students will be getting communications from deans and professors over the next week with details about their classes, including any clinical, experiential, performance-based, or studio learning that may require alternative arrangements.  Students should closely monitor their Liberty email and Blackboard for these important messages.   

University will not hold events with more than 100 people as long as Governor Northam’s ban is in effect.  Some will be rescheduled and others will be cancelled.  College for a Weekend on April 2-5 is cancelled but tours and smaller scale interactions will be made available.  No decision has been made yet about commencement currently scheduled for May 9.

The coronavirus outbreak worldwide has created great uncertainty.  “Please keep the elderly and the others at high risk with this virus in your prayers,” Falwell said.  “Liberty is taking into account the sometimes conflicting orders and guidance of government officials and public health experts regarding higher education and our unique population.  As this dynamic situation changes again, the university will continue to reassess.”  Updates and current information will be found on the university’s website.    

Two quick thoughts:

  1. Kudos to Jeff Brittain
  2. I am glad Falwell is submitting to Northam. For a minute there I thought he was going to appeal to the ideals of the American Revolution, pack-up the campus, and move to West Virginia in protest.

🙂

Parent Questions Falwell’s Decision to Keep Liberty University Open. Falwell Calls Him a “dummy”

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

As we have noted at this blog, Jerry Falwell Jr. had decided to keep Liberty University open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier today on Twitter, a parent of three Liberty University students questioned Falwell’s decision.

Falwell Jr. blocked me on Twitter a long time ago. Here is the rest of the exchange, compliments of Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s feed:

Falwell Jr. Corona

And then this:

 

Brittain has changed his Twitter bio to “Husband, dad to three awesome sons, insurance exec, firearms dealer and now, “dummy.” Just ask @jerryfalwelljr.”

I don’t know of any presidents of secular colleges who would treat a parent in this way.  Falwell Jr. is the president of a Christian college.

Again, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Not All Liberty University Students Are Happy With Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Decision to Keep the School Open During This Pandemic

Donald_Trump_delivers_remarks_at_the_Liberty_University (1)

Yesterday I wrote about Liberty University’s decision to stay open during the Coronavirus crisis. President Jerry Falwell Jr. recently suggested that Kim Jong Un and the Chinese plotted to spread the virus on American shores as a way to punish Donald Trump.  Read our post here.

Yesterday, Joe Heim of The Washington Post did some additional reporting on Falwell Jr.’s decision to keep Liberty University open.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Liberty has taken some steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, it canceled attendance at its weekly convocation of students that brings together about 6,000 students to listen to a speaker. The event was streamed online. Earlier this week, it announced that all of its international study programs for spring and summer were terminated and called back Liberty students studying in Rome.

By announcing that the university’s 16,000 students would return to class on campus, Liberty is an outlier among Virginia’s universities. Almost all of the commonwealth’s prominent colleges and universities have announced that classes will move online only.

Falwell’s announcement that in-person classes would resume following spring break did not sit well with some students at the Christian evangelical university in Lynchburg.

“I think it’s gross,” said Elizabeth Lake, 22, a senior math major. “We’re supposed to be taking preventative action, and he’s not doing that because of his political views.”

Lake said she didn’t have any issue with Falwell’s support of Trump but thought he was making a poor decision to keep the school operating as normal.

“Students are going to be coming back from spring break from all over and who knows if they’re going to bring this back with them,” she said. “He’s not taking into consideration all of the Liberty students and the people who live in Lynchburg.”

Scott Lamb, a spokesman for Falwell, declined an interview request.

Joe Keller, 18, a freshman sports management major, said he was “pretty upset” with the school’s decision.

“If I get coronavirus, I can probably beat it, but I don’t want to get in contact with older professors who might catch it from me. I don’t want to be in crowded dorms where it’s spreading all over,” he said. “This decision really endangers the students and staff.”

Read the rest here.

Messiah College, the Christian college where I teach, will move to online courses until Easter.

The University of Lynchburg, which is located in the same city as Liberty University, has moved all classes online.

Esau McCaulley, a professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts college in the Chicago suburbs, is the author of a New York Times piece titled “The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home.”  Here is a taste:

…the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the virus is by social distancing (avoiding large gatherings) and good personal hygiene (washing our hands). The data suggests that what the world needs now is not our physical presence, but our absence.

This does not seem like the stuff of legend. What did the church do in the year of our Lord 2020 when sickness swept our land? We met in smaller groups, washed our hands and prayed. Unglamorous as this is, it may be the shape of faithfulness in our time.

There is a lesson here for a diminished church. It is not that the church should go away forever, but that heroic virtue comes in small actions as much as in large ones. We live in an age of self-assertion, where everyone is yelling, “Pay attention to me because I am the only one who can help.” But part of the Christian message is that God comes to us in ways that defy our expectations. The all-powerful empties himself of power to become a child. Jesus as king does not conquer his enemies through violence, he converts them to his cause by meeting violence with sacrificial love.

Read the entire piece here.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.

Falwell Jr. Blames Coronavirus on Trump’s Political Opponents and Secret Collaboration Between Kim Jong Un and China

Watch court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. this morning on Fox and Friends:

Thoughts:

  1. Liberty University will stay open. Why?  I think we get some insight into Falwell Jr.’s thinking in my next points:
  2. He thinks the media’s coverage of the coronavirus is “the next attempt to get Trump.”
  3. He suggests that Kim Jong Un got together with China to deliver the coronavirus as a “Christmas present” to the United States.
  4. Let’s hope and pray that Falwell Jr.’s political loyalties and belief in conspiracy theories do not get in the way of his decisions to do the right thing for the students at Liberty and the greater community of Lynchburg.
  5. He also weighs-in on Vexit: “Washington D.C. suburbs now control every Virginia statewide election and that’s a result of a radical government enrichment. They’re passing all kinds of bills that are just contrary to what the majority of Virginians, not the majority of  Virginians, but the most Virginians as far as land mass support.”  What?

I am with Bill Kristol on this:

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

Jerry Falwell Jr. Represents Everything Wrong With Evangelical Christianity Right Now

Watch him on Fox News:

1. Please stop quoting Jesus.

2. To say that Romney should not bring his religion into politics is rich–very rich– coming from the son of Jerry Falwell and the guy who just started a “think tank” to “go on offense in the name of Judeo-Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.”

3. Someone should tell Jerry Falwell Jr. that what Trump said about Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi at the National Prayer Breakfast contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

This is just sad.

What is the Difference Between Liberty University and Messiah College?

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The covered bridge on the campus of Messiah College

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community class at Messiah College we discussed different kinds of Christian colleges. We thought about the things a Christian college requires all faculty to affirm, the issues a Christian college “privileges” (but does not necessarily require faculty to agree with), and the issues on which a Christian college does not take an official position.  (Most of our discussion built on the work of Messiah College provost Randy Basinger).

Faculty at Messiah College must be Christians.  All faculty must affirm the Apostles Creed.  We thus have Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faculty.  Other Christian colleges require faculty to affirm more than just the Apostles Creed.  For example, faculty at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan must affirm the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Wheaton College and Gordon College do not hire Catholics.

Messiah College privileges social and religious positions that line-up with the school’s historic Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist roots.  For example, as a college with Anabaptist roots, Messiah privileges pacifism. As a school with Anabaptist and Wesleyan roots, the college privileges the ordination of women.  But a faculty member does not have to be a pacifist or believe in the ordination of women to teach at the college.  We have faculty who are advocates of a “just war” position and we have faculty from denominations (traditional Catholics and Orthodox, conservative Presbyterians, and complementarian evangelical churches) that do not ordain women.

And there are all kinds of issues on which Messiah College does not have a position.  For example, the college does not take a position on political candidates or parties.

All of this makes for a vibrant and diverse Christian intellectual community.

During our conversation in class, a few students brought up Liberty University.  What does Liberty require of faculty?  What positions and issues does Liberty privilege? What are the issues on which the university does not take a position?

For example, last month we highlighted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership of VEXIT, a movement started by Virginia counties and localities who want to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia. Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is not happy with proposed legislation to restrict gun rights in Virginia.

VEXIT is getting a boost from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, a think tank created to “equip courageous champions to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, to advance his kingdom and American freedom”:

The Falkirk Center is connected to Liberty University.  In a January 20, 2020 piece at the Liberty Champion, student journalist Hattie Troutman writes: “The idea for the center was presented by [co-founder Charlie Kirk] when he pitched the idea to Falwell last year. [Executive Director Ryan] Helfenbein said Falwell received the idea well, knowing that if Liberty was to be in a partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.”

So there you have it.  The Falkirk Center is an extension of the mission of Liberty University.  The Falkirk Center promotes VEXIT.  It thus appears that Liberty University privileges VEXIT.

A quick read of the Falkirk Center Twitter feed suggests that the university also privileges gun rights, BREXIT, Donald Trump, free markets, and a pro-life position on abortion. If Messiah College is rooted in the historic Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions, Liberty University is rooted in the (very short) history of the Christian Right.

At Messiah College, we also have “centers” that support beliefs that the college privileges:

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

Because Messiah College is a Christian college informed by the history and theology of the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan movements, the college supports centers that reflect the things the college privileges.  Liberty University also has a center that supports the things Liberty University privileges.

Not all Christian colleges are the same.  High school students and their parents should be aware of this.

The Created and Called for Community course continues next week with some additional exploration of Messiah College’s Christian identity.  Follow along here.

Why Does Jerry Falwell Jr. REALLY Support VEXIT?

jerry-falwell-696x362

Get up to speed here.

Here is Matt Ford at The New Republic:

In a statement posted on Twitter, Falwell gave the most comprehensive reason for the proposal. He largely blames Virginia Democrats and their policy choices. “Democrat leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake,” he explained. “Despite a spate of scandals over the past two years, the Democrats control every statewide elected office throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as both chambers of the State Legislature—and they are using their power to strip away the God-given rights held by every person in the state, despite their due protections under the U.S. Constitution.”

What he elides is that Virginia Democrats didn’t seize control of the state government by magic but because a majority of voters in the state wanted it that way. For Falwell, democracy is part of the problem. Virginia’s changing electorate has transformed it from a reddish-purple state into a solid blue one over the past two decades. Now he sees radical solutions as the only viable path forward. “The threat from the radical left is real, and it’s spreading across the country and tearing our national family apart at the seams, but we have a rare opportunity to make history in our time by pushing back against tyranny in Washington and in Richmond,” he warned.

Unfortunately for Falwell, that “tyranny” also makes his proposal virtually impossible. The Constitution forbids the creation of new states or the transfer of one state’s land to another without each state’s consent, as well as the approval of Congress. Since Democrats currently control the House and the entire Virginia state government, that consent is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.

But Falwell’s concerns aren’t limited to tyranny and democracy. He also placed Liberty University’s revenue streams among the top reasons for what he calls “Vexit.” In last month’s budget proposal, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a list of changes he would seek to Virginia’s in-state tuition program. “For those at private institutions, we’re raising the annual amount of our Tuition Assistance Grants to $4,000 per student,” he told state lawmakers in December. “We will focus those grants on students attending brick-and-mortar classes.”

The brick-and-mortar provision would directly affect Liberty’s most lucrative source of funding. Last week, the university complained that Northam’s proposed changes would bar those grants from being used to pay for online college courses. Liberty said in a statement that the measures would affect more than 2,000 of its online students each year. Falwell and other university officials insisted they would be able to cover the grants gap through private funds, claiming that they were worried about smaller private schools in the state that might not be able to do the same.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Jerry Falwell Jr. Leading a Secession Movement?

West Virginia

Last week we published a post on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s response to legislation proposed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the state General Assembly that would place restrictions on the purchase and use of firearms in the commonwealth.  In that post I referenced a Falwell Jr. appearance on the Todd Starnes radio show in which the president of Liberty University referenced an upcoming act of “civil disobedience” that he was not yet ready to talk about.  I think Falwell was referring to his press conference today with West Virginia governor Jim Justice.

They are calling it “Vexit.”

Here is WSLS News:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said he would support efforts for Virginia counties and localities to leave the Commonwealth and join the state of West Virginia.

“We need a state government that is not elected by federal workers in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., that will protect our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and I believe West Virginia will do just that,” Falwell said.

“That’s why, while I will be campaigning for my good friends President Donald Trump and Gov. Jim Justice this election year, I’ll also be supporting any efforts to let the people decide the question of Virginia counties joining the State of West Virginia.”

West Virginia is the only state to be formed by seceding from a Confederate state.

Some Virginia border counties were given the choice to become part of the new state if their residents approved. Berkeley and Jefferson counties gave their nod, siding with the Union.

Justice said West Virginia would welcome any Virginian who joined West Virginia.

West Virginia became a state in 1863 after delegates decided to secede from Virginia and form a new state.

Watch Falwell here.  He is upset that the “liberal elites” employed by the federal government are skewing Virginia state elections.  Then he claims that the founding fathers intended federal contractors and government officials to live in the District of Columbia and not in Virginia or the neighboring states.  He wants the boundaries of the District of Columbia to extend to the entire D.C. metro area so that people living in counties close to the federal capital will not vote in Virginia.

Liberty University’s Choice of Commencement Speaker Should Not Surprise Us

Pompeo 2

Last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo berated a female reporter, cursed at her, and belittled her intelligence.  Then he issued a press-release calling her a liar and belittling her intelligence again.  And then he tweeted a scripture verse calling her a liar and suggesting that she is a fool.

One might expect that a Christian college would condemn Pompeo’s behavior in the same way I did in this post.

But at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University, this kind of behavior qualifies Pompeo as the university’s 2020 commencement speaker.

Here is the press release:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell announced Monday, Jan. 27, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the Class of 2020 during May 9’s Commencement ceremony. 

Pompeo joined the Trump Administration April 6, 2018, when he was sworn in as Secretary of State. He previously served as the Director of the CIA, CEO of Thayer Aerospace, and President of Sentry International. 

Pompeo, a former U.S. Army officer, patrolled the Iron Curtain as a cavalry officer before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The West Point and Harvard Law graduate served four terms as a congressman for Kansas’ 4th District and has one son with his wife, Susan, according to whitehouse.gov.

Falwell said Pompeo defends foundational American freedoms and understands and supports the faith community and mission of Liberty University. 

“Secretary Pompeo is a man who leads our nation with excellence and with a passion for protecting our citizens at home and abroad,” Falwell said to Liberty News. “We have been privileged to welcome many of our nation’s greatest leaders to Liberty’s stage, and we are looking forward to hearing from another as Secretary Pompeo inspires our graduates to make their own marks on the world as Champions for Christ.”

Pompeo joins the ranks of the national leaders who addressed graduates at previous Liberty Commencement ceremonies, including Vice President Mike Pence (2019), former President Jimmy Carter (2018) and President Donald Trump (2017).