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

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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).

Cornel West and Robert George Will Be Speaking at Liberty University

Cornel West and Princeton professor Robert George will be speaking at an event on civil discourse at Liberty University.  If I am reading the schedule correctly, it looks like the event will take place on August 30, 2019.

West

West and George regularly travel to college campuses and other places to talk about civility and the importance of the liberal arts.  Here is a post we did on a recent discussion at the American Enterprise Institute.

Civil discourse is one thing, but I can’t imagine that Cornel West will not speak truth to power in Lynchburg.  As many of you know, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is a leading court evangelical who has called Donald Trump the “dream president” of evangelicals.

George, on the other hand, will be on something close to home turf at Liberty despite the fact that many Liberty students probably don’t think he is truly saved because he is a Roman Catholic.

The Church as the “GOP Farm Team”

Liberty U

Over at The Week, Bonnie Kristian has a brief piece chronicling the role that evangelicals are playing in propping-up the Republican Party.  She writes in the wake of this event at Liberty University.  Here is a taste:

That such an event would exist, and that it would be hosted at Liberty, is hardly surprising. But, as I feel I am constantly saying about the intersection of religion and politics in America these days, what does not surprise still should shock. Pastors and Pews may be the natural evolution of the religious right, the logical next step in Republican politicians’ use of church infrastructure for political ends, but that makes it no less worthy of protest.

This is not the point of church.

This is not why we gather together. This is not how we grow the kingdom of heaven. This is not how we incarnate the new reality started at the cross. This is not a way to spread the hope of Christ.

The Republican Party platform is not the Gospel. No politician of any party can, in that sense, offer good news. Seeking political power is not a pastor’s job. And to thus subvert church into a partisan political resource is to make it cease to be the church, to take that third temptation — “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” — where Jesus turned it down. It makes Christianity a means to a far lower end.

Read the entire piece here.

Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

Black Robe

400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-))

The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here.

Here is a taste of Brody’s article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website:

“The Pastor and Pews events have been extremely valuable in mobilizing church-going voters and illuminating critical issues for elections,” said former presidential candidate and Fox News Contributor Mike Huckabee. 

Huckabee, a former pastor himself, has spoken at these events many times before and understands their value. 

“I am convinced that the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump and has been instrumental in numerous statewide elections for congressional, US Senate and gubernatorial races.”

President Trump won 81 percent of the white conservative evangelical vote in 2016 and during it all, the American Renewal Project was on the ground and extremely active. In the 60 days before the General Election, ARP spent $9 million in six battleground states, including some big prizes like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  Now they’re back at it looking for a repeat. 

“It is the single, largest, most cohesive voter bloc in the last election,” said Doug Wead, a noted historian, and best-selling author and advisor to two U.S. Presidents. “Now its all about voter ID and turnout.”

With all the extra vitriol, animosity and energy aimed at Trump this time around, the president will need a similar showing or even better to win in 2020.  

Read the rest here.

Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776.

The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

At the heart of all this is the belief that the American Revolution was ordained by God.  If this is true, then any attempt at promoting this significant moment in providential history–whether it be carried out by preachers or patriots–must be good. The Black Robe Brigade mixed religion and politics and so should we.  There is very little deep thinking about how the mixing of religion and nationalism in the church–whether it happened in 1776 or 2019–harms the witness of the Gospel.  Perhaps this explains why church attendance was at an all-time low during the American Revolution.

Court Evangelicals Jerry Falwell Jr. and Jack Graham Attack Southern Baptist Russell Moore on Immigration

Detention

Over the past year or so I have been calling attention to  the ways the Trump administration has exposed a deepening divide in white American evangelicalism.

Back in July 17, 2017, in the Washington Post piece that introduced the phrase “court evangelicals” to a national audience, I wrote:

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

And this:

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

This division in white evangelicalism was on display again during Franklin Graham’s June 2 call to prayer for Donald Trump.  I wrote about that here.

Today we see yet another illustration of how nasty things are getting within white evangelicalism.  Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a staunch anti-Trumper, tweeted a response to an Associated Press story about the horrendous treatment of children on the Mexican-Texas border:

By all reports, the Associated Press, and by extension Moore, are correct about the moral problems on the border and the failure of the Trump administration to do anything about it.  As I posted yesterday, a Trump administration lawyer even tried to make a case that these children did not need soap, toothbrushes, or blankets.

But this did not stop the court evangelicals from pouncing.  Here is Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church:

He followed-up with this:

Just for the record, Moore retweeted a report from the Associated Press, not CNN.

Another court evangelical who got into the mix was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian school that claims it is the largest Christian university in the world.  (Actually, it is not, but we won’t go down that road right now).   I cannot embed Falwell Jr.’s tweet because he blocked me a long time ago, but I can quote it:

Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll?  Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch?  What give you authority to speak on any issue?  I’m being serious.  You’re nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat.

Wow!  There are so many things we could say about this single tweet. It not only captures the divide within white evangelicalism, but it also speaks volumes about Jerry Falwell Jr. as a Christian leader and educator.  Here are few comments:

  • Did Falwell Jr.? “build” Liberty University “from scratch?”  I think that honor belongs to his father.
  • Falwell Jr. appears to equate one’s validity to speak with moral authority with one’s business acumen.
  • Similarly, Falwell believes that people who are “employees” or “bureaucrats” have no moral authority to speak on social issues.  Is this how he treats his faculty members at Liberty University?  Like Moore, some of them have Ph.Ds and have earned the right to speak publicly on matters of expertise and social concern.  Is this the kind of culture Falwell Jr. has created at Liberty?
  • Perhaps it is comments like this that contribute to what I understand to be the recent decline in applications and enrollment at Liberty University.  And it would make perfect sense for a Christian university that has a leader who values only business skills to fire a dozen divinity school faculty.

And here is writer Jeet Heer:

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Did Jerry Falwell Jr. Just Admit That He Is Not Involved in the Spiritual or Christian Dimensions of Liberty University?

falwell-jr

We covered Falwell’s “grow a pair” tweet here.  And then we did a post on his decision to delete the tweet.  But amid all the discussion, I missed an important part of this story.  Here is a taste of a Washington Times piece on the controversy:

Mr. Falwell deleted the tweet after people complained about its crudeness. He later responded to critics by clarifying that he is not a spiritual leader.

“You’re putting your ignorance on display. I have never been a minister. UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs,” he wrote. “Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years

“The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world,” he added. “While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”

Interesting.  It almost seems like Falwell is not interested in the links between Christianity and the academic, financial, and athletic “success” of Liberty University.  It sounds like he is excusing his crude tweet by claiming that he is not a minister and thus not  responsible for the Christian culture of Liberty.  If you are a Liberty University faculty member, parent, student, or alumnus, this might be a good thing! 🙂

Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Deletes Crude Tweet About David Platt

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

Relevant magazine has it covered:

It appears that the president of Liberty University has deleted a crude tweet he sent to pastor and author David Platt.

Yesterday, he sent a tweet that read,  “Sorry to be crude but pastors like [David Platt] need to grow a pair. Just saying.” That tweet no longer appears on his timeline.

Context

I am guessing there were economic considerations at work here.  Falwell must have come to the conclusion that the tweet was not good for Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr., President of a Christian University, Tells David Platt to “Grow a Pair”

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The president of the second largest Christian university in the world is at it again.

Falwell Jr. has blocked me on Twitter, so I cannot embed his recent tweet.  But this is what he wrote:

“Sorry to be crude but pastors like @plattdavid need to grow a pair.  Just saying.”

Falwell was responding to this tweet from Fox News radio host Todd Starnes:

Apparently Falwell was not happy with pastor David Platt’s letter to his congregation that explained how he handled the Trump’s visit to McLean Bible Church on Sunday.  Falwell’s tweet suggests that Platt’s decision to explain himself to his congregation made him appear weak and not manly enough.

Several comments:

  1. First, a word about his language.  Falwell begins by “apologizing” for his crudeness.  It is worth noting that he is the president of a university.  Most university presidents are able to communicate their ideas without being crude.  In other words, they have civil language at their disposal.  But Falwell knows that his base–conservative evangelical Christians–love this kind of language.  In some ways, Falwell’s use of language says less about him and more about the kind of evangelicals that gravitate toward him.  I would not be surprised if there was a small spike in donations to Liberty University today.
  2. This tweet reveals that Falwell views the world primarily through politics, not Christian reconciliation or unity.   Remember, Platt wrote this letter as a way of dealing with conflict in his congregation–McLean Bible Church.  It was a pastoral epistle.  Platt was trying to heal wounds and keep his church body together after a difficult day.  He knew there was some division in his church after Trump’ showed- up unannounced and he wanted to explain why he handled the president’s visit in the way he did.  For Falwell to criticize Platt for trying to maintain unity in his congregation suggests that the divisive rhetoric of Trumpian politics (or any politics for that matter) is more important than unity in the body of Christ.  But this is nothing new.
  3. It is also worth noting how Falwell responded to one of his critics on Twitter.  Winfield Bevins, a professor a Asbury Theological Seminary, called Falwell out in a tweet: “What an unbelievable statement from someone who calls themselves a minister of the gospel.  @LibertyU should call on you to repent.”  Falwell responded on twitter with this: “You’re putting your ignorance on display.  I have never been a minister.  UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 years.  Univ president for last 12-years–student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6 new construction in those 12 years.”  Trump couldn’t have said it any better.

Sad.

“Dear Mike Pence: The real persecution of Christians isn’t here in America”

Pence Liberty

This was just published at the Washington Post.  Thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey for asking me to write it today:

Vice President Pence on Saturday warned the graduating class of Liberty University to be prepared to suffer for their faith. “The truth is,” he told an audience of over 40,000 attending the commencement ceremony, “we live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault.”

Pence said that Liberty graduates should expect to be “ridiculed” for their biblical beliefs, much in the same way that his wife, Karen Pence, was criticized for taking a job teaching art at a Christian school that opposed same-sex marriage.

Pence needs some perspective.

According to one estimate, in 2016, a Christian was killed for his or her faith every six minutes. Today, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is rampant, especially in the Middle East. The Islamic State has forced nearly 5 million Syrian Christians to flee for their lives.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University Took Some of the Old Southwestern Seminary Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass

Watch this video.

Last month I wrote a post titled “Big Changes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”  I wrote about the Fort Worth, Texas seminary’s decision to remove stained glass windows devoted to two architects of of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention: Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.  Both men were accused of sexual misconduct last year and Patterson was ousted as president of the seminary.   Jacob Lupfer wrote about this here.

In addition to Patterson and Pressler, there were also stained-glass windows removed with images of Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of the conservative resurgence.  Jerry Falwell Jr. now has the Falwell Sr. and Vines windows.  They are on display at Liberty University.

In the video, Falwell Jr. praises the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist convention and mocks the “new regime” at Southwestern Theological Seminary who removed the windows.  He even calls the new administration a Southern Baptist “deep state.”

As Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary tries to move beyond a horrendous year in which multiple cases of sexual harassment were revealed, the authoritarian leadership of Paige Patterson was exposed, and financial difficulties rocked the school, Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to keep that legacy–the darkest parts of the conservative resurgence in the SBC– alive and well at Liberty University.  Is it only a matter of time before the Patterson and Pressler stained glass window make their way to Lynchburg?

Here is a taste of a Liberty University press release:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

 In a SWBTS press release from 2015, the seminary stated: “In order to pass along the story of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, Southwestern has dedicated stained-glass windows in MacGorman Chapel to those who played a major role in turning the convention back to a high view of Scripture.”

But on Friday, just moments before black drapes were removed, revealing the two large windows behind him on the stage, President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

Falwell demanded that SWBTS return the money donated for the windows and sent a plane to Fort Worth, Texas, this week to retrieve them. They will go on display in the Jerry Falwell Museum on campus.

Commencement at Liberty University

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Liberty University, a school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Court evangelical and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. was the master of ceremonies (Why didn’t he wear a robe like most college presidents?)  At one point in the ceremony he made his wife stand up to model the black and orange flame (as in Liberty Flames)-patterned dress she was wearing.  Falwell convinced her to wear it because she was the “hottest first lady at any college in the country.” Again, context is everything here.

Surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson also spoke. He urged the graduates not to conform to the “forces of political correctness” that “want you to shut up and not express what you believe.”  He extolled the apparent Judeo-Christian founding of the country and told the graduating class that they were our best hope to “save America.”

When Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Mike Pence, he praised the Vice-President for doing such a great job despite constant attacks from a “hostile press.”  He described him as one of the greatest Vice Presidents of all time.

Early in Pence’s speech some folks in the crowd starting chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.” This is an odd thing to chant at a Christian college graduation, but there seems to be no big difference between Christian education and patriotism at Liberty University.

Pence wasted no time turning his commencement address into a Trump rally.  He praised the Trump economy, reminded the audience that “America stands with Israel,” talked about abortion, and attacked Barack Obama for his supposed threats to religious liberty.  Like Carson’s brief speech, Pence’s speech was filled with the typical victimization rhetoric and fear-mongering that one often hears from conservative evangelicals these days.  Pence cannot seem to move  beyond the culture wars–this is how he sees the world.  It is “us” vs. “them.”  The crowd loved it.

At one point in the speech, Pence gave a moving testimony about his conversion experience. I appreciated it.  But in the context–both in terms of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s politicization of Liberty University and Pence’s connection to the Trump administration–he seemed to suggest that an evangelical conversion will naturally lead to Christian Right politics and the unrelenting support of an immoral president.  It does not.

A commencement address should be a celebration of the graduates.  A commencement speaker must put down the self and offer words of encouragement and some wise advice about life after graduation.  To his credit, Pence did some of this. But even his words of exhortation to the graduates sounded like a Trump stump speech for 2020 and a warning to watch out for the progressives lurking in the shadows ready to undermine Christian America.  This was a message of fear, not hope.  But that is how they do things at Liberty University.

I am sure we will hear similar things from Pence next week at Taylor University.