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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see what Falwell Jr. is doing here?

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

Here is a bit more from the AP piece:

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

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

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

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire article here.

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

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

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

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

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

Two things are worth noting about this story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Politico* Exposes Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

“It’s a dictatorship…everyone is scared for their life.  Everybody walks around in fear.”  These are just a few of the things high-level Liberty University employees have said about Jerry Falwell Jr.  Check out Brandon Ambrosino’s longform piece, “‘Somebody’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence.”

In this piece we learn

  • Liberty University is more real estate hedge fund than university.
  • Falwell Jr.’s wife Becki wields a lot of power
  • The employees live in a culture of constant fear
  • Falwell Jr. like to party and talk about his sex life
  • Falwell Jr. has an uneasy relationship with the truth
  • Falwell Jr. has been involved in a lot of shady business deals

Not to mention all the court evangelical stuff with Trump.

Here is a taste:

More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.

In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering that makes uneasy even those who fondly remember the heyday of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and Falwell Jr.’s father, and his Moral Majority.

Read the entire piece here.

Cornel West and Robert George at Liberty University

I spent a little time last night watching Cornel West and Robert George at Liberty University.  I have learned a lot from both of these men and I love watching them talk with one another.  This conversation is no different.  These kinds of conversations give me hope.

A few comments:

  • The first minute of this video speaks volumes.  The Liberty University convocation, which is touted  in the video as the “largest gathering of Christian young people in the world,” begins with Liberty University football highlights.
  • I would like to know more about how West balances his prophetic voice with his  commitment to civility.  West comes across as gracious and civil here, but he has spent much of his career railing against the kind of conservative, politically-oriented Christianity that the Liberty University leadership represents.
  • This leads me to ask:  Where is Jerry Falwell Jr.?  Doesn’t he usually host these events?  This is a great conversation about ideas, the pursuit of learning, and intellectual humility.  I am glad that the Liberty University students could experience it.  But the things West and George are talking about here seem to be the antithesis of how Jerry Falwell Jr. engages public life from his perch in the Liberty president’s office.
  • Things get good around the 1:04:30 mark when they West and George start debating public schools.
  • The quiz at the end is hilarious.

Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

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These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).