Par for the Course: Liberty University Hires Hugh Freeze

Freeze

Liberty University, the second largest Christian college in the world, just hired the former disgraced University of Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze to run its football program.  Freeze coached at Ole Miss from 2011-2017.  During his tenure he posted a 39-25 record, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and got his team to a few prominent bowl games.  The NCAA investigated Freeze and the program for recruiting violations, but from what I can tell the violations were not the primary reason Freeze left the program in July 2017.

Freeze left Ole Miss after the administration learned that he had made a dozen calls to escort services during recruiting trips and he did so from his university phone.  He resigned in disgrace.

Since his resignation, Freeze, a born-again Christian who attends Pine Lake Church, an evangelical megachurch in Oxford, Mississippi, has been trying to rehabilitate his reputation.

In January 2018, Freeze began what some have described as his “redemption tour” on the campus of Liberty.  You can watch his speech (and his wife’s speech) to the students here:

Freeze must have made an impression on Jerry Falwell Jr. that day.

It seems that Falwell Jr. has become the university president of forgiveness and second chances.   In November 2016 he hired Ian McGaw as the university’s athletic director.  Some of you may recall that McGaw lost his athletic director job at Baylor University when he failed to report a a gang rape by Baylor football players.

And let’s not forget that Jerry Falwell Jr is one of the strongest evangelical supporters of Donald Trump, a man who, unlike Freeze, will not ask for forgiveness for his moral indiscretion and infidelity.

Here is a taste of Jason Kirk’s piece at SBNation:

It remains to be seen how Freeze can recruit at Liberty with multiple, interweaving scandals in his background. Lots of coaches have a scandal or even two, but how many have scandals that directly contrast with the entire public image those coaches presented of themselves?

Then again, it’s Liberty, where the school president once said the ex-Baylor AD “fits perfectly.” I don’t think the image that the rest of us see from the outside matters at all, compared to the image the school chooses to see of itself.

Read the entire piece here.

If You Attend Liberty University, Your E-Mail Address Was Sent to a Republican Candidate

Liberty U

Liberty University is selling student e-mail addresses to Republican political candidates.  Here is a taste of an article at The News & Advance:

Liberty University leased an expansive list of university-owned student email addresses to Republican Corey Stewart’s campaign for U.S. Senate in a pair of rare transactions that campaign experts said represents a new front in the growing world of digital electioneering in federal races.

The Stewart campaign paid the university a total of $9,754.80 in two separate payments, according to publicly available campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

It is unclear exactly how many email addresses are included in Liberty’s list but in a telephone interview University President Jerry Falwell Jr. hinted it could be in the tens of thousands.

Here is more:

Christian Griffith, a Liberty University junior, said he first noticed the campaign messages in June. Since then, his inbox has been flooded with Stewart for Senate emails.

“I got so many that they now go to my spam box,” Griffith said. “I have a piling of them sitting in my junk mail and they’re all unnecessarily aggressive.”

Griffith said the sale amounted to a one-sided endorsement of a partisan political campaign.

Read the rest here.

Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Interview with *The Guardian*

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

Here are some highlights from Falwell Jr.’s interview with the British newspaper:

  • Donald Trump is a “good moral person.”
  • Donald Trump is “Ronald Reagan on steroids”
  • Democrats are “fascists” and “Brownshirts”
  • If we were living in the 18th-century, the U.S. would be engaged in a “civil war” right now.
  • Falwell Jr. talks to Trump “all the time.”
  • Falwell Jr. says that he and Trump “think alike.”
  • Enrollment is down at Liberty University

Read the entire piece here.

Tara Isabella Burton Reviews *The Trump Prophecy*

 

Trump Prophecy

Some of you may recall our posts about The Trump Prophecy, an evangelical movie about a fireman who prophesied the election of Donald Trump.  Students at Liberty University produced the film.

VOX reporter Tara Isabella Burton saw the movie.  Here is a taste of her review:

But The Trump Prophecy is more than a feel-good, low-budget movie. It’s the purest distillation of pro-Trump Christian nationalism: the insidious doctrine that implicitly links American patriotism and American exceptionalism with (white) evangelical Christianity.

Everything about The Trump Prophecy— from its subject matter, to the way it’s shot, to the little details scattered through the movie’s (often interminable) scenes of domestic life — is designed not just to legitimize Donald Trump as a evangelical-approved president but to promulgate an even more wide-ranging — and dangerous — idea.

The Trump Prophecy doesn’t just want you to believe that God approves of Donald Trump. It wants you to believe that submission to (conservative) political authority and submission to God are one and the same. In the film’s theology, resisting the authority of a sitting president — or, at least, this sitting president — is conflated with resisting God himself.

David Barton, the Christian Right GOP activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda, also appears in the movie. Here is Burton again:

An inexplicable 30-odd minute “interview” segment at the end of the film features interviews with controversial evangelical historian David Barton (whose books champion the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation), Wallnau, former US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and other prominent evangelical figures.

Read the rest of the review here.

Liberty University Students Came to the U.S. Senate on Thursday to Support Kavanaugh

Liberty U Kavanaugh

Liberty University staged a rally for Kavanaugh (Huffington Post photo)

And their president, court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., was with them.

The Lynchburg News & Advance reports:

About 300 Liberty University students traveled to Washington, D.C. Thursday to support Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is under fire with two accusers alleging sexual assault and another claiming to have witnessed such behavior.

While the marathon Senate Judiciary Committee hearing unfolded on Capitol Hill, Liberty students attending a Concerned Women for America and Women for Kavanaugh rally. They also visited the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to show their support for the Judiciary Committee chairman.

“We wanted [Kavanaugh’s] voice to be heard … and to support him and his family,” said Victoria Belk, an LU student and president of LU’s Young Women for America, a college chapter of CWA. “True equality is hearing from both sides; hearing him out was important to us.”

Read the rest here.  The Huffington Post has posted a video of the rally here.

Over at Religion News Service, Jason Lupfer argues that conservative evangelical support for Kavanaugh will cost them.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Politically,  white conservative Christians have been invaluable to the country club wing of the Republican Party, which put their zeal to work to end an era of social progress on civil rights, economic equality and fiscal health. The old guard used its newfound clout to enact deficit-financed tax cuts, decimate the labor movement and shift an ever higher percentage of the national income to those at the very top.

Meanwhile, their own principles suffered.

Few white evangelicals or conservative Catholics were put off by the party’s embrace of leaders who demonized Islam, disparaged undocumented immigrants and rolled back voting rights. They helped ensure that the Republicans ended up abandoning morality altogether and nominating for president a vulgar, spiteful man who boasted of his own sexual assaults.

Now it seems that president has nominated a judge who shares the political values of conservative evangelicals but may have violated many of their morals. Drunken parties and sexual assault are the kinds of things that Liberty University — and Concerned Women for America — have abhorred in the past.

But they no longer seem to give these conservative evangelicals pause.

So often when religion and politics mix, religion is sullied. As the evangelicals have risen in prominence, we have heard less and less about the Old, Old Story, and wondered if they even believed it at all.

The country has suffered under this partnership as well.

Read the entire piece here.  Much of what Lupfer writes here meshes well with my own work in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

Will Liberty University Dump Nike?

Liberty Nike

Court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is thinking about joining the ranks of the College of the Ozarks and Truett McConnell University.

Here is a taste of Josh Moody’s piece at the Lynchburg (VA) News and Advance:

“If the company really has animus toward police officers, or if they’re intentionally disrespecting our flag, our veterans, our national anthem, as part of some mission of the company and using their resources to do it, then why deal with them when there are plenty of other good athletic companies out there?

“On the other hand, if they are just trying to make money off the attention that former quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been receiving then we understand that that’s just marketing and we’ll probably overlook it,” Falwell said Friday afternoon.

He added he has not yet spoken with Liberty’s legal department or Nike about the matter. Falwell said he plans to inquire about contract termination clauses, and the athletic department will contact Nike to see “what they are trying to accomplish” through the ad campaign.

In other words, if Nike is making a political and cultural statement with the Kaepernick ad, Liberty will try to back-out of its contract with the sportswear company.  But if Nike is trying to exploit Kaepernick and the whole national anthem controversy in order to make money, Liberty has no problem with the company.

Another well-played public relations move by the second largest CHRISTIAN university in the world.  😉

Not All Liberty University Students are Happy about the “Trump Prophecies” Film

Trump prophecies

You are a film program at a university that aspires to be the “evangelical Notre Dame.”  You want to show that evangelical Christians can make high-quality films on subjects that will reach a wide audience or perhaps serve the common good.  You want your program to be respected in the film industry.

What do you do to advance these aspirations and goals?

You make a film about a guy who prophesied the election of Donald Trump?

Liberty University film students and alumni are speaking out again.  Here is a taste of Tyler O-Neil’s piece at the conservative PJ Media:

“Who wants to go to a school that glorifies such a controversial man?” the anonymous film student asked. “Additionally — politics aside — it’s a terrible story! The whole year they harp on telling a good story, but I have yet to see why this is a good story and one that needs to be told.”

“For the university, by stamping our name on this film, we are telling the world that this is what we believe: radical prophecies about a controversial man make him a Godsend,” the film student concluded.

Indeed, marketing for The Trump Prophecy seems rather explicit in suggesting that not only was the fireman’s “word from God” legitimate, but that Trump’s election was some kind of divine miracle, guaranteed by the prayers of the faithful.

“My view is that The Trump Prophecy film is poorly conceived, poorly timed, and (based on the promotional materials) executed with a total absence of craft,” Doug Stephens IV, a Liberty grad who now attends Harvard Law School, told PJ Media.

Read the entire piece here.  And court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. says that his personal support of Donald Trump does not effect the life of his university.

Remembering John McCain

McCain Falwell

McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace

Falwell Jr. Blames Cohen-Manafort Debacle on Jeff Sessions

Of course he is.  Anything to protect the president.  This is what court evangelicals do.

Note:  Falwell Jr. blocked me a long time ago so I need to read his tweets through the tweets of others.  Thanks Jack Jenkins.

 

“Falwell the Lesser”

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

Conservative pundit and former radio talk-show host Charlie Sykes says that “Trump’s most prominent evangelical supporter displays an incredible mix of historical ignorance mixed with moral vacuity.”

Here is his piece on Falwell Jr. at the conservative Weekly Standard:

One of the inestimable blessings of social media is that one does not have to be a student at Liberty University to have the benefit of the historical or moral insights of the institution’s president.

On a regular basis, Jerry Falwell Jr. dispenses his evangelical wisdom to his tens of thousands of Twitter followers, and provides an invaluable guide to the moral and political shapeshifting among evangelical leaders as they struggle to rationalize their support for Trumpism.

Even in an era of marked by exquisite self-humiliations, Falwell has distinguished himself. Along with his wife, Falwell Jr. famously posed for a thumbs-up picture with Donald Trump in front of a wall of Trump memorabilia—including a cover of Playboy magazine featuring a younger Trump with a provocatively posed model. 

(At the time the picture was taken, the model in the picture was “in prison for participating in a scheme to transport cocaine from Los Angeles to Sydney—by hiding the drug in airplane toilets.”)

Read the rest here.

I have my own thoughts on Falwell Jr. and the rest of the court evangelicals.  I published them in a book titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

Censorship and the Liberty University Student Newspaper

Liberty Champ

Check out World magazine’s reporting on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s control of the student newspaper at Liberty University.  We have blogged about this before, but this is the first extended piece I have seen.

Here is a taste of “Papered Over“:

Two days later, April 18, Falwell addressed the current and incoming Champion staff in a hastily arranged conference call. A dozen students pulled their rolling desk chairs around the news editor’s desk to wait for the phone to ring. Staffers prayed that God would help them be respectful and everything would be resolved soon. Kirk and Huff were also in the room.

Falwell then called and told them the newspaper had been “established to champion the interests of the university, disseminate information about happenings on Liberty’s campus, as well as the positive impacts of Liberty in the community and beyond. And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Champion personnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content. … We’re going to have to be stricter in the future if these protocols aren’t followed.”

He asked if there were any questions. The students were silent. Huff said, “I’m looking around the room. … I don’t see anybody with a hand up.” After Falwell hung up, Kirk said, “If you don’t know, I’m Dean Kirk. … In the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.”

Later, Kirk spoke of the story about Red Letter Christians: “I think everybody here is intelligent enough to understand that that story has got some real negative overtones, undertones, potentials. … You have to consider that as a starting point and say, ‘OK, what’s the benefit for this? What’s going to happen that is positive for Liberty?’”

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts:

  1. Administrative control of student newspapers is not unusual at Christian colleges.  It happens all the time.  I am not a fan of this, but it happens.  The more conservative the college, the more one should expect this.
  2. Though administrative control of Christian college student newspapers is common, the Liberty University case is unique because Falwell Jr. limited the staff’s freedom to criticize the university president’s personal political position.  In my experience, Christian colleges rarely censor newspaper reporters and opinion writers for expressing political views, especially if those views are grounded in Christian faith.
  3. If you read the entire article you will get a glimpse of how Jerry Falwell Jr. and his staff understand the identity of Liberty University.  To them, Liberty is a corporation run by the Falwell family.  If the boss doesn’t like your views, you will be fired.  The paper’s editor-in-chief learned this the hard way, and lost his scholarship in the process.

Historian Nathan Hatch is the Highest Paid College President in the U.S.

f53b9-hatchWhat can you do with a history major?  Earn $4 million a year as a college president.

Many readers of this blog know Nathan Hatch for his award-winning The Democratization of American Christianity.  But did you know that he was pulling in $4,004,617 as president of Wake Forest University? Wow!

Learn more here.

It’s also worth noting that Jerry Falwell Jr. makes $958,021 as president of Liberty University.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Lynchburg, Virgnia

Lynchburg 3Thanks to the good people at Givens Books for hosting the Lynchburg wing of the Believe Me book tour.  This is a great independent bookstore!

About thirty people came out for the event.  The group included Liberty University faculty and alumni, area school teachers, and The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog readers.  A few folks even drove-in from Charlottesville!

Givens Books

Let me address some of the questions I am sure you are asking about this leg of the tour:

Did court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. come to the event?  No.

Did I talk about Jerry Falwell Jr. at the event?  No.  (Although I did mention his father several times).

Were there pro-Trump evangelicals in the room?  Yes.

Did things get ugly?  No.  It remained very civil.

I spent time chatting with several Liberty University faculty and I am happy to report that in many cases (most cases?) there is a clear disconnect between the political sensibilities of the Liberty University faculty and the political sensibilities of the Liberty University president.

We are heading to Raleigh this afternoon. I hope to see you at 2:00pm at Quail Ridge Books.

P.S.  There is still much work to do.  On my drive from Lynchburg to Raleigh on Route 29 in southern Virginia I saw this:

Lynchburg 1

 

Liberty University Students Call for School to Cancel the “Trump Prophecies” Film Project

Trump prophecies

Liberty University students have created an online petition calling for the school’s Cinematic Arts program to cancel work on a feature film based on an ex-firefighter who claims God told him Donald Trump would be president.  We did a post on this back in May.

Here is the petition:

This semester, Liberty’s Cinematic Arts program will create another feature film, utilizing many of the program’s teachers, all of the junior students, and lots of resources. (The program’s last movie, Extraordinary, had a $2 million budget according to IMDB.)

The feature film chosen to be made will be based on a true story about an ex-firefighter, Mark Taylor, who claims that God told him in 2011 that Donald Trump would become president. Below is an excerpt from an article on Taylor’s prophecies.

“In explaining why Barack Obama was in office for eight years, Taylor has said that this was also part of God’s plan. Americans needed to “build a righteous anger” necessary to elect Trump and thereby save the world, Taylor has said.

https://forward.com/news/377097/the-firefighter-prophet-who-says-he-predicted-trumps-rise/

This movie could reflect very poorly on all Liberty students and Liberty University as a whole. Mark Taylor claims to have received prophecies directly from God that do not align with the Bible’s message. Please support this petition if you think Liberty University should focus on reflecting God’s message rather than Mark Taylor’s message.

1) Liberty’s mission statement and purpose is to be a light on a hill and to train champions for Christ. Openly supporting both a modern-day “prophet” and Trump as a school does not convey this mission.

2) Some Cinematic Arts students have expressed that they are disheartened by being forced to be apart of promoting a man that they don’t agree with. They were originally told that they would be doing very different projects and were only told about this new film project at the beginning of the spring semester. Many do not want this movie on their resume and some are even considering using aliases on IMDB or dropping out. (This is after 11% of the juniors in the program switched their major last semester, many due to similar reasons.)

3) Liberty was already ranked the most conservative college in America by niche.com. Further actions such as this will only hurt student’s chances of finding jobs in more liberal work environments.

4) In 1 John 4:1 it says  “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We should be very wary of modern-day prophets. Mark Taylor has claimed God told him that electing Trump will save the world which is unbiblical at best and heretical at worst.

Production for this project will begin in a few weeks.  Please sign this petition to show your support for changing the film idea! 

You can sign the petition here.

I discuss some of the so-called Trump prophecies in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I will actually be talking about the book in Lynchburg next week.

Jerry Falwell Jr. wants Liberty University to be an evangelical Notre Dame.  I wonder if this film project is part of his efforts to meet that goal.

My Piece at *Religion Dispatches* on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to Liberty University

Liberty-Ben-Carson-Jimmy-Carter-Jerry-FalwellHere is a taste:

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the university, said that Trump’s speech “will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever.”

This year’s speaker was Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. On Saturday the Liberty University community heard a commencement address from an evangelical Christian who disagrees with Trump and Falwell Jr. on almost every major policy issue of the age.

Carter and the Falwell family have had an uneasy relationship over the years. Both Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. (the founder of Liberty University and the father of the current university president) claim(ed) to be born-again Christians. But during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr. was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues. Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Falwell Sr. did not. Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally). Falwell Sr. championed both issues. Carter believed that government had a major role to play in promoting justice. Falwell thought government was an intrusion on individual liberties.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the Georgia governor and presidential candidate confessed that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

9780190665623Adam Laats is a professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. This interview is based on his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

AL: Over the years, as I researched the history of conservatism and evangelicalism in American education, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous influence of the network of conservative-evangelical colleges and universities. Back in the 1920s, the parlous state of higher education was one of the first concerns of conservative-evangelical intellectuals and activists. Back then, the linchpin of fundamentalist culture-war strategy was the notion of establishing their own, independent, interdenominational, fundamentalist colleges and universities. I wanted to know how the network of these evangelical institutions developed over the course of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fundamentalist U?

AL: Evangelicalism stubbornly resists definition. In order to understand it, we should look at the dynamics of its institutions, not only at the statements of its leaders.

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

AL: Anyone who hopes to understand American evangelicalism should study its institutions, and colleges, seminaries, institutes, and universities have been among the most influential evangelical institutions. Why did “fundamentalists” separate from “evangelicals?” How has creationism evolved? What does it mean to be a good, godly spouse or parent? How can white evangelicals confront the legacy of white Christian racism? These issues roiled evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century, and institutions of higher education were often the stages on which the debates played out.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

AL: I fell into it backwards. I taught high-school history and English and became fascinated with the weird ways schools function as social institutions. I wanted to understand schools, so I began studying their history. I’m still hoping to figure it out.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’ve moved back in time to the early 1800s. Back then, a British reformer named Joseph Lancaster promised he had found the solution to urban poverty. By implementing his “system,” cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston hoped to develop schools that would teach low-income children how to read, write, cipher, and show up on time for work. It didn’t work. I’m trying to figure out why so many prominent leaders, including Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and philanthropist Roberts [sic] Vaux of Philadelphia believed in what one early historian called Lancaster’s “delusion” of school reform.

JF: Thanks, Adam!

What Jimmy Carter Said Today at Liberty University

 

Yesterday I wrote a post on what I thought Jimmy Carter could teach Jerry Falwell Jr. at today’s Liberty University commencement.

Today Carter delivered his address.  In his introduction of Carter, Falwell Jr. could not help but try to compare the former president to Donald Trump.  Falwell Jr. politicizes everything.  Hey Jerry, Liberty University’s commencement is for the graduates, it is not about your court evangelicalism.  Here is what Falwell Jr. said:

Becky and I attended the opening of the Billy Graham Library in 2007 about one month after my father’s death.  And I remember commenting to Becky then, that of the four former presidents speaking that day, Jimmy Carter sounded more like one of us than the rest…President Trump has called me and spoken to me about his appreciation for the former president’s friendship and support…Both Presidents Carter and Trump entered the White House as outsiders to the Washington establishment, and I hope that many more outsiders will follow.  The longer I live the more I want to…give my political support to a person.  Policies are important, but candidates lie about their policies all the time in order to get elected.  The same elite establishment that Jesus condemned remains the real enemy today.

After this, Falwell Jr. praised Carter for his 1976 Playboy interview because Carter followed the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to list for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Of course Falwell Jr.’s father, Jerry Falwell Sr., was one of the strongest critics of Carter’s Playboy interview.  This is why it is kind of shocking that Falwell Jr. would go on to say: “It saddens me today to think that so many conservative Christians attacked and demeaned Jimmy Carter in the 1970s for quoting Jesus Christ to a secular magazine.”

So what did Jimmy Carter say to the Liberty University graduates?

  • Carter began with a jab at Trump: “This is a wonderful crowd.  Jerry told me before we came here that it’s even bigger, I hate to say this, than it was last year. I don’t know if President Trump will admit that or not.”
  • Carter admits that “he was surprised he was invited to Liberty to speak.” He recalls that he received a lot of negative letters from Liberty students when he was in the White House.  “Most of them were about my giving away the Panama Canal or forming what they believed to be an unnecessary Department of Education or normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist government of China.”  (I am sure some of these letters looked like this).  Carter adds: “Those critical letters…ended with the 1980 election which brought my involuntary retirement from the White House. After that I didn’t get very many letters from Liberty.”  .
  • While Falwell tried to paint Carter as a politician who is on Liberty’s side in the culture wars, Carter told a slightly different story about his life.  Carter did not define his life in terms of politics.  Instead, he talked about his work at sharing the Gospel (“winning souls to Christ”) as a young man, his Sunday School teaching, his championing of peace and human rights, his efforts to end global disease, and his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity.
  • Carter reminds the Liberty graduates and their families about the great disparities of wealth around the world.  Here he sounds like Bernie Sanders (who he supported for POTUS in the 2016 election).
  • Carter said that he believes the greatest moral challenge we face right now is “discrimination against women and girls in the world.”
  • Carter talked about his attempt in the early 1980s to bring leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention together to prevent a split in the denomination.  He said the meeting failed largely because many of the leaders present, some of them who would go on to become presidents of the denomination, were unwilling to compromise on the status of women in the church.  (One can’t think about these comments without reflecting on the recent controversial remarks of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson).
  • Carter wants to unify Christians in the world, especially Southern Baptists.  (Falwell Jr.  nods in agreement).
  • Carter makes a subtle and indirect jab at Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement: “America has abandoned its leadership…as a champion of a clean and healthy environment.”
  • Carter identifies himself as an “evangelical Christian.”  He is not yet willing to abandon the label.
  • Carter quotes Reinhold Niebuhr: “the sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.”  He asks Liberty students to go beyond mere justice and promote “agape love, self-sacrificial love among people.”
  • Carter tells the Liberty graduates that Americans have always had a hard time embracing equality.  He adds: “even now, some of us our still struggling to accept the fact that all people are equal in the eyes of God.”  (Here Carter gets some tepid applause from the crowd).  He adds, “our nation should be known as a champion of peace, our nation should be known as a champion of equality, our nation should be known as a champion of human rights.”
  • He challenges the students “to live a completely successful life as judged by God.”
  • Carter adds: “We decide whether we tell the truth, or benefit from telling lies. We decide, do I hate, or am I filled with love? We’re the ones who decide: do I think only about myself or do I care for others?”

Indeed, Jimmy Carter is an evangelical.

Compare Carter’s speech with last year’s speech by Donald Trump:

What Jimmy Carter Can Teach Jerry Falwell Jr. Tomorrow

81e2e-carter

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University. This year’s speaker is Jimmy Carter.

Carter and the Falwell family—the late Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the university in 1978 and Jerry Falwell Jr. is the current president—have not always seen eye-to-eye about how evangelicals should engage with public life.

Both Jimmy Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. claimed to be born-again Christians, but during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr., the host of the popular “Old-Time Gospel Hour” television program, was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues.  Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment.  Falwell Sr. did not.  Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally).  Falwell Sr. championed both issues.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the presidential candidate confessed that he has “committed adultery in my heart many times.”  Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

By 1980, Falwell Sr. was leading a contingency of conservative evangelical ministers, a group that included Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, James Robison, and Tim LaHaye, who rejected Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was fond of talking about the Christian roots of American freedom, often mentioning the seventeenth-century Puritan belief that the United States was a “city upon a hill.”  Reagan opposed abortion, promised to fight moral decay, and said he would keep the federal government from intruding on the lives and schools of ordinary evangelicals.

Even after Reagan defeated Carter in the 1980 presidential election, Falwell Sr. did not stop his criticism of the former president.  When the Lynchburg minister questioned Carter’s faith, Carter fired back: “There is nothing any television evangelist can do to shake my faith…Jerry Falwell can–in a very Christian way–as far as I’m concerned, he can go to hell.”

Fast forward to 2016.  When Donald Trump made a campaign stop at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., who would shortly thereafter endorse his candidacy, took his own shot at Carter: “My father was criticized in the early 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter…because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor who’d been divorced and remarried and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher….Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency.  Sorry.”

So why is Jimmy Carter giving the commencement address tomorrow at Liberty University?

Because Carter is a grace-filled Christian.  After Falwell Jr. read a Bible passage at a prayer service on the morning of the Trump inauguration, Carter, who was also in attendance, approached the Liberty University president and thanked him.  As Falwell Jr. put it in a Liberty press release: “He stopped me afterward and told me he thought I did a good job…He said he saw my name on the program before I spoke, and he thought it was great that I’d be here to read Scripture.  He was very kind.”

Carter did not need to do this, but his evangelical faith no doubt compelled him. He has a lot to teach Falwell Jr. and the students at Liberty University.  Consider:

  • Carter confessed his sin on the pages of Playboy magazine.  Jerry Falwell Jr. supports a president who has been on the cover of Playboy multiple times and claims to have never had the need to confess his sins.  In fact, Trump’s Playboy cover is prominently displayed in this picture of Trump and Falwell Jr.
  • Jimmy Carter practices a Christianity defined by hope, not fear.
  • Jimmy Carter is an advocate for peace in the Middle East and has long shown his solidarity with Palestinian Christians.  Jerry Falwell Jr. supports the president responsible for this.
  • Jimmy Carter understands that the Christian life is a life of humility, compassion, service, and self-sacrificial love, not a life in pursuit of political power.
  • Jimmy Carter calls Christians to “work together in harmony and to forget about political differences and to pursue the principles of Jesus Christ.”  Falwell Jr. seems more concerned about dividing the Christian church.
  • Jimmy Carter called the nation to self-sacrifice and a sense of limits.  He understood that American freedom also required a sense of duty and a commitment to the needs of others.  Falwell Sr. chose a presidential candidate who defended a political philosophy that offered “the right to dream ‘heroic dreams’ without sacrifice.”  Reagan promised “a combination of guttural self-interest mixed with a utopian vision of the future,” a vision “that Carter could never offer….”

I look forward to hearing Carter’s speech.

Falwell Jr. Gets Some Blowback from the Fundamentalist Faithful for Inviting Jimmy Carter to Campus

Liberty U

Jerry Falwell Jr. has chosen former president Jimmy Carter to deliver the 2018 commencement address at Liberty University.  Read about it here.

Falwell Jr. and Carter do not see eye-to-eye politically, but Falwell Jr., despite his rabid support of Donald Trump, wants to show the world that he can tolerate those who differ with him on political matters.  It is a shrewd move.  I am sure Falwell Jr. will remind everyone about Carter’s commencement address the next time someone criticizes him for hosting one of Trump’s surrogates.

But at least one Liberty University graduate is not very happy about Falwell Jr.’s decision to invite Carter.  Here is a taste of Randall Braley’s recent letter to the Lynchburg News & Advance:

As an alumnus of Liberty University, I am appalled that Jerry Falwell Jr. has chosen former President Jimmy Carter as commencement speaker. He recently called Carter a “true Christian,” but according to the Bible this is not possible. Rather Carter is an apostate, a false teacher and a deceiver because he denies fundamental teachings of the Word of God.

There’s a glaring contradiction between Carter and much of what LU and Thomas Road Baptist Church have stood for. Carter has no real godliness or wisdom to share with graduates, and in violation of scriptural admonitions like 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Liberty is about to foolishly entangle and tarnish itself with his false and perverse version of the faith.

I have warned Falwell Jr. of how serious a mistake this is, but he has not even acknowledged my emails.

No real Christian is deceived about homosexuality, because the Holy Spirit leads us in truth (1 John 2, John 17) and the New Testament is very clear about homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:24-32, 1 Timothy 1:8-11 etc). Carter is so deceived, he claimed in 2015 that Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage and even said America should elect an openly homosexual president.

It is blasphemous to suggest Jesus would endorse wicked behavior and a perversion of marriage. Jesus defined marriage as heterosexual-only, between one man and one woman, in his teaching about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:1-12. He reaffirmed God’s plan from the beginning of creation in Genesis, and there is no other option given. The exception Jesus made for divorce condemns homosexuality — in the usage of those days, the Greek word “porneia” (commonly translated “sexual immorality” by modern translators) referred to all sexual sins outside of traditional marriage, including homosexuality.

Carter worships a different Jesus, not the real one.

Even on a secular level, Carter was a failure as president, and as a result was soundly beaten by Ronald Reagan. Carter said he championed human rights, but was quite the hypocrite. He allowed communism to overrun many countries, and the Muslim extremists to overthrow Iran and then hold our people hostage. The U.S. economy was in shambles, and he did not have an answer to that either.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University Still Claims to be World’s Largest Christian University

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon University in Phoenix is the world’s largest Christian university

Over the weekend Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service reported that Liberty University can no longer be considered the “world’s largest Christian university.”  That designation now belongs to Christian for-profit powerhouse Grand Canyon University (GCU).  We covered this here.  (Grand Canyon is trying to return to its original non-profit status).

Apparently the folks at Liberty were not very happy about the story.  Liberty president and prominent court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. contacted Religion News Service “questioning whether GCU meets Liberty’s definition of a Christian school.”

Apparently GCU does not meet the Falwell Jr. standard of doctrinal purity.

Jenkins has written a follow-up piece to his story.  I was happy to contribute.  Here is a taste:

“Our definition of a Christian university only includes universities who hire faculty who adhere to fundamental Christian doctrine. GCU does not. Liberty does,” Falwell said in a statement provided to RNS.

GCU officials said they do require faculty to sign a statement saying they understand the school’s Christian values.

When told of Falwell’s statement, GCU officials said they have the “utmost respect for Liberty and its mission as a Christian university,” but disputed Falwell’s characterization of their school.

“As a Christian institution, GCU is committed to distinctively Christian approaches toward education that are grounded in theological conviction, development of sound character, and the capacity to live in ways that honor God, benefit others and contribute significantly to the common good,” reads a statement from GCU.

Falwell said his definition of “fundamental Christian doctrine” was based on his own school’s doctrine of faith, and he “may not understand GCU’s hiring policies.”

He also said “Liberty’s definition of a ‘Christian’ university for identification purposes refers to evangelical Christian universities.”

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College and an expert on American evangelicalism, said Falwell’s reaction reflects broader debates over the definition of “Christian,” including some evangelicals who “do not see Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or even mainline Protestantism as true Christians.”

“Why would you argue over such semantics?” Fea continued. “Why would it be important to claim that you are the largest Christian university in the world other than to use this as a platform for your own theological and, in Falwell’s case, political agenda?”

Read the entire piece here.