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

Liberty U

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A taste:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here.

At Liberty University, David Nasser is the Good Cop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

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

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

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

“Not at all,” he says.

There is it folks.  “Not at all.”

Conn continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this entire post here.

Faith, Football, and Forgiveness at Liberty University

Liberty Trump

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

I’ll End This Debate Right Here: Jesus Was Not a Socialist

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It looks like Liberty University’s Falkirk Center wants to stage a debate between Charlie Kirk and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove over whether Jesus was a socialist.  Here is a taste of Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service:

Charlie Kirk says no. But the Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says Jesus is more complicated than that.

Kirk and Wilson-Hartgrove may square off soon at a proposed debate to be hosted by the new Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty at Liberty University. 

On Thursday (Dec. 12), the Twitter account of the newly created conservative think tank posted a challenge to Wilson-Hartgrove, a progressive faith leader in North Carolina, offering to host a debate over whether Jesus was a socialist.

The tweet stipulated that the debate would be conducted between Wilson-Hartgrove and Kirk, the 26-year-old co-founder of the Falkirk Center and head of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

The tweet said both parties would also include one other participant of their choosing.

Wilson-Hartgrove, a pastor and author of “Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good,” responded by accepting the challenge and offering up prominent progressive activist the Rev. William Barber II as his partner.

However, he also appeared to reject the premise of the debate.

“Socialism emerged in the 19th (century) as a critique of capitalism, which didn’t exist in 1st century Palestine,” he tweeted. “But if (Charlie Kirk) & Falwell are up for a public conversation about what the Lord requires of us in public life, (the Rev. William Barber) & I are ready.”

Read the entire piece here.

Was Jesus a socialist?  No. Socialism did not exist until the 19th century.  I thus agree with Wilson-Hartgrove.  The entire premise of the debate is flawed.  It looks like the Falkirk’s Center’s attempt to re-educate Americans about United States history is off to a good start.

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

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

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

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

Promotes Liberty University football:

Attacks those who will impeach Donald Trump:

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

Retweets Dinesh D’Souza:

Retweets stuff from its “fellows”:

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

Will “take back the narrative”:

Endorses Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a Senate seat:

Liberty University Falkirk Center Announces “Falkirk Fellows”

Liberty U

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaco Boovens: Runs a film company

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

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

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

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

Learn more at the Lynchburg News & Advance.

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

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

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

So it looks like the Falkirk Center:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

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

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

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

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

Learn more at The Washington Examiner.

Donald Trump Jr. Will Speak at Liberty University This Week

Trump Jr.

Here is WSLS news:

Donald Trump Jr. will speak at Liberty University’s convocation on Wednesday to discuss his new book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us.”

The convocation starts at 10:30 a.m. and will be livestreamed from the university’s Facebook page.

Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., said the book “exposes the schemes the left uses to silence conservatives and push socialist dogma. Liberty University students have a great opportunity to hear from a major force in American politics, and a personal friend.” 

A “major force in American politics?” Glad to know that the world’s largest evangelical university is bringing in such deep Christian thinkers about Christianity and politics.  Of course what would a court evangelical invitation to Don Jr. be without a reference to the fact that the president’s son is a “personal friend?”  🙂

Here is Another Piece on Today’s BYU-Liberty Football Game

Liberty Trump

Earlier this morning I wrote about the matchup between these two faith-based football programs.  Here is a much better piece than the one to which I linked.  Deseret News writer Ethan Bauer talked to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., controversial Liberty University athletic director Ian McGaw, Bentley University historian Clifford Putney, and Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz, among others.

Here is a taste:

…since Falwell Jr. became Liberty’s president in 2007 following his father’s death, he’s labored to elevate the program. Thanks to an influx of money from online adult education, he’s invested $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects, many related to athletics. They include a $32 million athletic administration building, new swimming and indoor track and field complexes, and a $29 million indoor football practice facility. Critics say Liberty is tilting too much toward athletics, but Falwell dismisses those comments.

It’s kind of comical to me when people say Liberty has left its original mission to go big-time in sports, because that was the original mission,” he said.

In 2017, when Liberty finally started moving to the FBS level, the top tier of college football, BYU was among the first calls athletic director Ian McCaw made.

Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor are all religious schools that have thrived on the gridiron, but BYU — along with Notre Dame — was Liberty’s role model. In fact, Falwell Jr. said the “LU” that decorates Liberty Mountain in Lynchburg was inspired by a trip to Utah some 15 years ago, when he saw the Y.

“BYU is very much a program that we aspire towards as a faith-based school that’s had tremendous success,” McCaw said, “including winning the national championship.”

Saturday the Flames arrive with firepower. Liberty (6-3) ranks 19th in the nation in passing offense. Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert’s 293 yards passing per game rank 13th, and senior wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden ranks third among receivers in yards per game.

Nevertheless, Liberty’s weak schedule means it hasn’t been tested much, and BYU (4-4) is favored by 17 points. The significance of conquering those long odds can’t be overstated, and Falwell decided to attend the game this week on the off chance it happens (which would also make Liberty bowl eligible for the first time).

“It’d be more than just an upset,” he said. “It’d be the culmination of 48 years of planning and a 48-year vision for Liberty.”

Either way, Falwell has several things in common with the Cougar faithful, notably their belief in God and shared enthusiasm for what some may see as an unholy act: Men battering each other in secular cathedrals in pursuit of victory, trophies and SportsCenter highlights.

Read the entire piece here.

ADDENDUM: BYU 31 Liberty 24

Brigham Young University vs. Liberty University

 

BYU

It should be an interesting Saturday in the world of sports.

# 10 Hope College plays # 3 Calvin University in the championship game of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, which starts next weekend.

#2 Louisiana State plays #3 Alabama in college football.  Donald Trump will be in Tuscaloosa for the game.

In the Big Ten, I am intrigued by the matchup between two undefeated teams as #4 Penn States goes to #17 Minnesota.  I want to see if Minnesota is for real.

Finally, it will be a very interesting match-up between two very religious Division I college football teams when Liberty heads to Provo to play BYU.  BYU is 4-4, but they are a dangerous and unpredictable team.   They lost to Toledo, but beat Southern California and Boise State.  Liberty has been beating-up on a lot of bad teams, but they lost to Charleston Southern, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisiana-Lafayette.

As we have noted here on several occasions, Liberty wants to be a school that takes its religious identity seriously and still maintains a strong football power.   They aspire to be the an evangelical BYU (Mormon) or Notre Dame (Catholic).

Over at the KSL Sports blog, Mitch Harper explores this game from a religious perspective.  Here is taste:

Saturday’s game in Provo might be one of the rare times BYU lines up against a program that has as strict of an honor code as the Cougars. Just a decade ago, Liberty required it’s students as part of their honor code to wear polos and slacks.

Students at both BYU and Liberty are prohibited from premarital sex, alcohol, and tobacco usage. So it makes for a unique matchup in terms of the backgrounds for both schools.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities. I know that they have an honor code as well. It’s going to be a fun game,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “I know they’re new to the Independent stage and this division. They’ve played some really tough teams. I think they played Syracuse and Rutgers right away … I think we’re going to have to be ready for this and our guys have to keep improving….”

“Not only does Liberty get a chance to expand its brand and put its name out there for Evangelical Christians but it also has an opportunity to become bowl eligible and get a chance to go to a bowl game for the first time in program history,” said Liberty beat writer Damien Sordelett of The News & Advance on KSL’s Cougar Tracks Podcast.

Read the entire piece here.

Karen Swallow Prior Says More About Why She Left Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Background here and here.

Here is a taste of Richard Chumney’s piece at the Lynchburg News & Advance:

Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime English professor at Liberty University and a high-profile voice in the evangelical movement, will leave the school next year due to mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.

“For me, teaching is an art and I need the freedom to express that art,” Prior, who has accepted a position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said in an interview this week.

“A smaller school like Southeastern — that’s even more traditional in its curriculum and in its classroom methods — is a better fit for me now and my teaching style,” she added.

At the heart of Prior’s concern is what she called Liberty’s growing emphasis on “a business model of education,” in which university administrators have demanded greater standardization and an increasing level of oversight of instructors.

“A lot of these changes, especially as they trickle down, end up requiring me to check more boxes, to teach different classes outside my expertise and to follow along with new regulations and policies that make me less freer to practice this art,” she said.

Scott Lamb, Liberty’s senior vice president for communications and public engagement, declined to discuss Prior’s resignation, calling it is a personnel matter. He did, however, say that recent academic changes have been made with an eye toward cultivating student success. 

“In a system this big, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the student experience,” Lamb said. “We’re focused on student success and the professors, I think, understand that. We haven’t gotten complaints from the professors.”

Read the entire piece here.

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

Liberty Campus

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

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

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

ADDENDUM (1:16pm):

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

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

Karen Swallow Prior Leaves Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Photo courtesy of Religion News Service

I am glad to see that schools like the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina have research professors and I am happy that Karen Swallow Prior will be holding one of these positions beginning in the Fall of 2020. This is book news in evangelical circles.

According to Kate Shellnut’s piece at Christianity Today, she will be one of the only female faculty members at the Southern Baptist school.

Here is the press release from Southeastern:

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is excited to announce that Karen Swallow Prior will be joining the faculty as full-time research professor of English and Christianity & Culture beginning in the fall semester of 2020. She will be the first research professor in the history of The College at Southeastern.

“I am delighted to have Karen join our faculty,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “She is a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the gospel and the Great Commission. Our students will be blessed to sit under her instruction. She is a wonderful addition to the outstanding faculty of Southeastern.”

Prior has served for more than two decades as professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she is also a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement. She received both her M.A. and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and she earned a B.A. from Daemen College. Prior and her husband, Roy, are members of Thomas Road Baptist Church. 

Prior is an accomplished author and speaker with an expertise in 18th century British literature. She has published three books: “On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books”, which was named a Top Religion Book of 2018 by Publisher’s Weekly, and a literary and spiritual memoir, “Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.” Her book, “Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist” was chosen for a Christianity Today Book Award in 2015. Likewise, she has written numerous articles in publications such as Christianity Today, The Washington Post, Books & Culture, The Atlantic and The Gospel Coalition.

“I could not be more excited about this announcement,” said Scott Pace, dean of The College at Southeastern and Johnny Hunt chair of biblical preaching. “Karen Prior is a welcomed addition to our already stellar faculty at The College of Southeastern. As a conservative evangelical and cultural ambassador, Karen brings a unique combination of skills and expertise that will help train our students through a Christian liberal arts education and equip them to give their lives for the cause of Christ in the church, among the nations, and in every aspect of society.”

While Prior will primarily teach undergraduates at The College at Southeastern, she will also regularly teach at the graduate and doctoral level.

Prior has also served as a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is currently a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

“I’m looking forward to being able to join with Southeastern in its exciting mission of sending students, future pastors and future scholars across the globe according to God’s calling on their lives and the Great Commission,” said Prior.

“At Liberty, I have been privileged to disciple Christian young people for 21 years, primarily in my discipline of English,” she said. “My mission in teaching has always been to have students leaving my classroom loving life, literature and God more than when they came in. I look forward to continuing in that mission as I move into this new assignment at Southeastern.” 

Falwell Jr: Champion for Christ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jerry-falwell-696x362

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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