The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

For many American evangelicals, Christian witness in the political sphere comes down to overturning Roe v. Wade. This is why the court evangelicals are so gleeful about Trump getting another Supreme Court nomination. This is also why they say virtually nothing about the president’s mishandling of COVID-19 (nearly 200,000 dead), his separation of families at the Mexican border, his environmental policies that will one day make the planet incapable of sustaining life, and his racism. Look for yourself. The silence is deafening. Start your research with these names:

Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jenetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Jack Hibbs, Harry Jackson Jr., Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Jim Bakker, David Barton, Steve Strang, Samuel Rodriguez, Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, and Jenna Ellis.

I imagine (again, I only imagine) that some of these people were on a conference call the moment Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. They no doubt started the session with prayer for the Ginsburg’s family and perhaps even threw-out a prayer or two for those suffering through COVID-19. And then, when the pleasantries were done, they got down to strategizing about how to best support the president’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination and the most effective ways of spinning their 2016 claims that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee–Merrick Garland–did not deserve a hearing in the Senate because it was an election year.

As I wrote yesterday, Robert Jeffress said that COVID-19 is mere “background noise” now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and Trump can appoint another conservative justice. Background noise? Tell that to the families who lost lives from COVID. What kind of world do we live in where a Christian pastor can say that the loss of 200,000 lives is unimportant and get virtually no push-back from his followers, all men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ?

Here is what the court evangelicals have been saying about the Supreme Court story:

Let’s start with Franklin Graham. Let’s remember that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland about eight months before the 2016 election:

And now Graham says the country is at a “boiling point” and needs prayer. He has no clue that he is partly responsible for the divisions in the nation and the church.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler tries to defend Mitch McConnell’s decision to reject Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016. There is no reference to the Constitution or its interpretation. Mohler’s argument is weak, especially coming from a self-professed Constitutional originalist. I would like to see him defend this argument through a close reading of the Constitution as opposed to the weak reference to 1880 that he offers here. Mohler, who prides himself as an intellectual driven by logic, begins with the assumption that we need another conservative justice and then searches for an argument–any argument–to justify his political desires.

There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Interesting choice of verse by Tony Perkins:

Here is Gary Bauer. It’s all about the Christian Right playbook. He actually believes that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion in the United States. As long as he keeps sticking to this playbook, the lives of unborn babies will remain a political football.

Hey Ralph Reed, why weren’t you making this argument in 2016?

Charlie Kirk of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University does not even want hearings for Trump’s new justice:

Kirk criticizes Ilhan Omar for being a “starter of fires” fueled by religion and skin color. Hmm…

For many evangelicals the 2020 election represents a simple choice: Trump will defend the pro-life movement, Joe Biden is pro-choice; Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will challenge–perhaps even overturn —Roe v. Wade, and Joe Biden will not. When it comes to dealing with the problem of abortion, the court evangelicals have been reading from the same political playbook for more than four decades. It teaches them that the best way to bring an end to abortion in America is to elect the right president, who, in turn, will support the right justices. Thus far, things seem to be going well: not only has Trump appointed pro-life justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh, but he has appointed dozens of conservative judges to federal district courts across the country. Now, he will most likely get to appoint another conservative justice.

Still, it is not exactly clear how this strategy will bring an end to abortion in America. Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a devout Catholic, has called Roe v. Wade “settled as the law of the land.” Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be Trump’s top pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has said publicly that it is likely Roe v. Wade will not be overturned.

And even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the issue will be sent back to the states. Abortion is very likely to remain legal in the so-called blue states, including California and New York, and illegal in many of the so-called red states, especially in the deep South.

State legislatures will need to decide how they will handle the abortion issue in the remaining states, but a significant number of them will probably allow abortion in some form. To put it simply, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. It may curtail the number of abortions, but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.

The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice. Modern technology shows us that a baby in the womb, especially in the last trimester, is alive. Christians should be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.

But we have been under Roe v. Wade for long enough that several generations of Americans now believe that they have a right to an abortion. Such a belief is not going to change anytime soon. Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society. Yet, most of these conservatives oppose “big government” and want to address social concerns through churches and other institutions of civil society. Imagine if all the money spent to support pro-life candidates was poured into these institutions.

How did we get to this place. Learn more here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe some things at Liberty never change.

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

Jeh Johnson speaks at Liberty University

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

Watch:

Good leaders, Johnson argued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

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

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

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

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

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

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

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

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

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

Trump is having a rough week. What are the court evangelicals saying?

If you are following the news (or this blog), you know that:

  1. Multiple outlets, including Fox News, have confirmed that Trump disparaged American veterans. He called them “losers” and “suckers.”
  2. Trump knew about the “deadly” nature of the coronavirus as early as February 7, 2020 and did nothing about it. (And I am sure there will be more revelations in Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book).
  3. According to Michael Cohen, Trump disparaged evangelicals, calling their beliefs “bulls–t.”

So what are Trump’s evangelical supporters–the men and women I call the “court evangelicals”–saying?

Some of the court evangelicals will be gathering at a Liberty University Falkirk Center event today. I will try to keep an eye on this.

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis is not going to read Woodward’s book. But I don’t think Woodward’s reporting will be something she can ignore. If I were her, I would jump off the Trump train right now:

Ms. Ellis will not be able to change the subject much longer:

When Donald Trump candidate is in trouble, court evangelicals start talking about abortion and the Supreme Court:

If abortion and the Supreme Court don’t work, court evangelicals can always retweet stuff about truth and ethics:

But let’s not pick-on Jenna Ellis too much. Let’s see what Liberty University’s Falkirk Center co-founder Charlie Kirk is up to.

Again, pivot to abortion:

If abortion doesn’t work, say something about Nancy Pelosi:

Or this:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody is always ready to tweet favorable things about Trump, but all he has for us today is a story about Biden and a Washington football team hat. Maybe he is on vacation. 🙂

There is a reason Trump released his Supreme Court list today. Ralph Reed is more than willing to help the president in his attempt at misirection:

The same goes for Johnnie Moore, the guy who touts himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

Gary Bauer refuses to believe the reporting:

Tony Perkins, as expected, focuses on the Supreme Court:

Jack Graham too:

Graham also seems to reject the reporting on Trump’s disparaging marks about the military. He retweeted this:

This is what court evangelicals do. When every major news outlet (including Fox News) confirms a story that they don’t like about Donald Trump, they desperately search for a source from a Trump loyalist to prove them wrong.

Jentezen Franklin is distracting his followers with a different story:

I think it is fair to say that the court evangelicals, with a few notable exceptions, have been relatively silent this week. They don’t have much to say about Trump’s remarks on military veterans, Cohen’s allegations, and the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

falwell-jr

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

metaxas-at-party

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pool boy speaks to ABC News and offers more disturbing details about his relationship with the Falwells

George Stephanpaolous interviews Giancarlo Granda:

Here is the Politico article referenced in the ABC piece. A taste:

Former Liberty University student says Becki Falwell, the wife of the university’s then-President Jerry Falwell Jr., jumped into bed with him and performed oral sex on him while he stayed over at the Falwell home after a band practice with her eldest son in 2008.

The student was 22 at the time of the encounter, near the start of Liberty’s fall semester. He said she initiated the act, and he went along with it. But despite his rejection of further advances, he said, Falwell continued pursuing him, offering him gifts and engaging in banter through Facebook messages.

Read the rest here.

Court evangelicals on night 3 of the GOP convention

Court evangelicals prayer

Here is what the Bible-believing, born-again Christians who support Donald Trump are saying today:

Let’s start with the Liberty University Falkirk Center crowd:

Charlie Kirk believes that the Democrat concern over racial unrest and racial justice is politically motivated:

He is still denying the existence of systemic racism. How many more incidents have to happen before he sees a pattern?:

The NBA players boycotting for racial justice are morons:

And this:

Can Jenna Ellis point to one “God-given right” enshrined in the Constitution? The Constitution never mentions God:

As I wrote earlier today, Pence actually “stands firm” on the heretical fusion of Christianity and American nationalism:

Here is Sebastian Gorka of the Falkirk Center:

And this:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody has a partial list of court evangelicals who will be at Trump’s acceptance speech tonight:

The list includes Johnnie Moore, Jenetzen Franklin,Paula White-Cain, Tim Clinton, Greg Laurie, Samuel Rodriguez, Eric Metaxas, Gary Bauer, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Cissie Graham Lynch, and Ralph Reed.

Trump hasn’t even given his speech yet and Robert Jeffress is already calling it “historic”:

As expected, Jeffress was pretty excited about Mike Pence’s speech last night:

Johnnie Moore, the court evangelical who describes himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” wrote a piece at Religion News Service in defense of Trump.

Mike Pence tried to quote the New Testament Book of Hebrews last night. He replaced “Jesus” with “Old Glory. Pastor Jack Graham loved the VP’s manipulation of the Bible for political gain:

Ironically, earlier in the day Graham tweeted this:

Yes, but is Franklin Graham proud of his niece Jerushah?

Night four of the RNC convention begins very soon.

The last fundamentalist empire died yesterday in Lynchburg, Virginia

Falwell and Falwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr. was the last fundamentalist emperor.

Liberty University accepts Jerry Falwell Jr.’s resignation

Liberty Campus

Get up to speed with these posts. I think it is finally over.

Here is the Liberty University press release:

Lynchburg, VA—The Liberty University Board of Trustees acted today to accept the resignation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. as its President and Chancellor and also accepted his resignation from its Board of Directors. All were effective immediately.

After agreeing yesterday to immediately resign then reversing course, Falwell, through an attorney, sent the resignation letter late last night to members of the Board’s Executive Committee pursuant to the terms of his contract of employment. The Executive Committee met this morning and voted to accept all the resignations immediately and recommend ratification to the full Board. Later this morning, the full Board gathered via conference call and unanimously voted to affirm the decision of the Executive Committee. Falwell’s severance compensation was dictated by the terms of his pre-existing employment agreement without any adjustment by the University or its Board.

The Board, composed of a mix of alumni, pastors and business executives, active and retired, used most of its meeting to focus forward on the university’s future and steps that could be taken to ensure it remained true to its mission. The Board set its next meeting in Lynchburg to select a search committee for its new President.

Acting Board Chairman Dr. Allen McFarland, said, “I am so encouraged by the unity of Christ that I saw exemplified by our Board today. Liberty University’s future is very bright and in capable hands of leaders who are committed to being good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted!”

Jerry Prevo, who will stay on as Acting President, said, “Our students are ready to be world changers as Champions for Christ.  Their spirit is strong as they look to the future. I intend to do all I can to nurture their spiritual side as they grow academically and enjoy all our campus has to offer.”

Falwell was the fourth president of Liberty University, assuming the role after his father, Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr., passed away in 2007. He previously served as the university’s general counsel. During his time as president, Falwell Jr. oversaw more than $1 billion of ongoing or planned construction as the campus was almost entirely transformed with new world-class academic buildings and athletics facilities. He worked with university leadership to achieve record enrollment in residential and online programs, which now stands at over 100,000 students. The university’s heartfelt prayers are with him and his family as he steps away from his life’s work.

I am now watching three things:

  1. What will happen to the Falkirk Center at Liberty University? This is the culture- war arm of  Liberty University and the place on campus most associated with Falwell’s divisive pro-Trump rhetoric. Falwell is no longer listed on the website.
  2. Will Liberty University conduct a national search for a new president? Or will someone be chosen from the inside?
  3. What is the relationship between the Falwell pool boy tryst and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign? I still think Michael Cohen may have something to say about this.

How did the court evangelicals respond to the first night of the Republican National Convention?

Short answer: They loved it.

Jack Graham retweeted several speeches. In the end, he summed it up this way:

I don’t think I was watching the same convention as Tony Perkins. (I will, however, say that much of Maximo Alvarez’s speech was moving):

Gary Bauer thought it was “powerful”:

Many of the court evangelicals really liked Natalie Harp’s speech:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody has some interesting things to say:

This tweet seems to suggest that the Democrats need to be fact-checked to the same degree as Trump. The only reason “fact-checking” during political convention has become popular is because Trump lies so much. There is no moral equivalence here.

Brody is also pushing this piece from The Spectator:

Brody is right about this:

But let’s admit that both Haley and Scott are among the few pro-Trump speakers who hold the president at arms length. They both have political ambitions.

Brody also seemed to like this line from Matt Gaetz:

I am not sure what to make of the following tweet. One could argue that Fox’s decision to keep Tucker on air during the convention may have been MORE helpful to the Trump cause:

Charlie Kirk spoke last night. He also had some time to tweet this:

Kirk’s colleague at the Liberty University Falkirk Center was in usual form:

Here Ellis tries to dance around the Falkirk Center’s connection to Jerry Falwell Jr.:

And here, the Christian spokesperson for Liberty’s Falkirk Center, calls AOC an ass:

Another Falkirk Center fellow is attacking CNN and Chris Cuomo:

It’s a big week for the court evangelicals!

OK, I think it is official now. Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns from Liberty University

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Again, here is Ian Lovett from The Wall Street Journal:

Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned as president of Liberty University late Monday night, following a tumultuous day during which he tussled with the university’s board of trustees over his future at the school.

In a phone call to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Falwell said he had just sent his resignation letter to the board of the Christian school in Virginia. Mr. Falwell was placed on an indefinite leave of absence two weeks ago, following criticism about a photo he posted on social media showing him with his pants unbuttoned, a cup of dark liquid in one hand and his other arm draped around a woman. The woman, who Mr. Falwell said was his wife’s assistant, also had her pants open.

Read the rest here.

In a late night call to the *Wall Street Journal*, Jerry Falwell Jr. says he was placed on “indefinite leave” by “self-righteous people”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

If you can break through the paywall, check out Ian Lovett’s piece on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s on-again, off-again resignation from Liberty University. It was last updated at 1:03 this morning. Lovett talked to Falwell (it appears Falwell initiated the call) about his “indefinite leave” from Liberty and the negotiations surrounding his inevitable resignation.  Here is a taste:

“The board put me on leave, took away my duties as prez, and that’s not permitted by my contract,” Mr. Falwell said Monday night. “And they put me on leave because of pressure from self-righteous people.”

He said he was still due his full compensation.

Read the rest here.

Falwell’s description of his indefinite leave in this piece seems to contradict what he said in an earlier interview he did last night with Virginia Business in which he called the leave a “sabbatical” and an opportunity for him to “take a three-month break” from his Liberty duties.

It is also strange that Falwell doesn’t say anything in this Wall Street Journal story about the Reuters story about his wife’s affair with Giancarlo Grande and his involvement in the tryst. At one point he claims that he has done nothing wrong apart from the “stupid” Instagram photo he posted earlier month. This, of course, contradicts his Sunday night statement confession to the Washington Examiner.

Falwell Jr. seems defiant. Says the pool boy’s story is “90% false” and claims he took an “indefinite leave” because he “needed a short break from work”

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Now this is the Jerry Falwell we have come to know.

According to The New York Times, Liberty University will make an official announcement about Jerry Falwell’s future tomorrow. (This is an ever changing story. The posts at this blog are in chronological order). But Falwell seems defiant. He has denied interviews to several news outlets, but he seems to trust a website called Virginia Business. Tonight he told reporter Kate Andrews that the pool boy’s Giancarlo Granda’s account of his affair with Becki Falwell is “90& false.” He also seems to think his “indefinite leave” is something akin to a sabbatical.

Here is the Virginia Insider piece:

Although other news outlets have reported that Jerry Falwell Jr. has agreed to resign as president and chancellor of Liberty University, Falwell said in an interview Monday evening with Virginia Business that such reports are “completely false.”

He said that he has not agreed to leave the post permanently, nor does he plan to, although he is on an indefinite leave of absence following a series of controversies this summer. Falwell added that Reuters’ report released Monday that a former business associate, Giancarlo Granda, had a years-long affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, with his full knowledge was “90% false.”

Falwell said in a brief phone interview Monday that he had told the Liberty Board of Trustees earlier in the summer that he needed a short break from work.

After he posted what he called a “stupid picture” on Instagram — a photo he says his wife took of him and her assistant, both of whom had their pants unzipped and bellies sticking out — the board said it would be better to call the sabbatical a “leave of absence,” Falwell said. “I don’t care what you call it. I’ve been at this for so many years and under so much stress, I decided I needed a three-month break.”

He said he’s “enjoying it, except for the press.”

Read the entire piece here.