“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online polls”

Liberty U

Inside Higher Ed is running a follow-up story on the Liberty University Chief Information Officer who accepted a bag of cash from Michael Cohen in exchange for rigging online polls to make Donald Trump look like a successful businessman.  We covered this here.

Here is a taste of Lindsay McKenzie’s piece:

Gauger did not respond to request for comments, but Liberty University released a written statement last week supporting him.

“Liberty University, like many other educational institutions, has permitted its employees for many years to engage in business, consulting and other side work that does not interfere with their employment obligations to the University,” it states. “Also, like other organizations, Liberty recognizes the strong demand for highly skilled IT professionals creates special challenges in recruiting and retaining talented employees with those skills and experience. The opportunity for Liberty’s IT employees to develop businesses and products is particularly important to attracting and maintaining Liberty’s IT talent. John Gauger is one example among many outstanding LU employees who have made great contributions in their official roles and also enjoyed success as independent entrepreneurs, allowing them to enhance their capabilities and generate more revenue for their families while allowing the University to retain them on our team.”

The university’s response surprised outside observers.

“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online opinion polls,” said Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, Mass. “But Liberty University seems to me not a typical university in many respects — it is mostly an advocacy organization for evangelical conservatives and, more recently, Donald Trump.”

Davenport described the incident as “highly irregular on many fronts,” not only because of Liberty’s response but because Gauger was running a business on the side.

“That the CIO had a separate company is unusual in my experience, said Davenport. “Most CIOs in universities and elsewhere are plenty busy with their primary jobs and don’t have time to freelance even if their employers would allow it.”

Read the entire piece here.

This article contains quotes from several Chief Information Officers at secular institutions who say that what Gauger did was unethical.  Why doesn’t the leadership of a Christian institution understand this? When it comes to ethics, shouldn’t a Christian institution be setting the bar?

I also wonder if Falwell Jr. would have defended Gauger if he was working for Barack Obama or another Democrat? Is this just another example of situational ethics at Liberty University?

In most eras, the behavior of Gauger and Falwell Jr. would be embarrassing for Liberty University.  But not in the age of Trump.

Hey Liberty University, This is What Happens When You Get Into Bed with Donald Trump and “All the Best People” Who Work for Him

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

A top-level administrator at one of the largest universities in the world rigged online polls to promote Donald Trump as a great businessman.  These polls were used to puff Trump in preparation for his presidential run.  Cohen paid John Gauger, Liberty University’s Chief Information Officer, to manipulate the polls in Trump’s favor.  Gauger claims that Cohen paid him between $12K and $13K in a blue Walmart bag.  (Cohen claims he paid with a check, but that’s not really the point here).  Cohen says that Donald Trump directed him to find someone who could rig the polls.

Lindsay Ellis of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Gauger told the Journal he had been paid by Cohen with a blue Walmart bag filled with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash, as well as a boxing glove once used by a Brazilian athlete. Cohen disputed that characterization, telling the Journal that Gauger had been paid by check, not cash.

Those previously unreported connections are the latest in a longstanding series of ties between Trump and Liberty. Trump has delivered multiple speeches at Liberty in recent years, including at a 2017 commencement. An administrator and Liberty students also produced a film about a former firefighter who said he had heard God say that Trump would be the next president.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and a prominent court evangelical, said that he knew Gauger was working for Trump, but claims he did not know the nature of the work.  Frankly, I find the latter claim hard to believe.  When it comes to Trump, Falwell seems to know just about everything that happens on his campus.  He refused to allow the student newspaper to run an anti-Trump story. He prevented anti-Trumper Shane Claiborne and others from coming on campus to pray.  And he forced an anti-Trump member of the Board of Trustees (and longtime Falwell family friend) to resign.  Falwell is thorough.  How could he have missed the fact that one of his administrators was rigging polls to try to manipulate the American public on behalf of the man who Falwell has described as the evangelical “dream president.”

When I read this story I decided to take a look at Gauger’s @womenforcohen Twitter account.  The tweets reveal that this Liberty University employee got into political bed with Michael Cohen and, by extension, Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is what happens when you get too close to political power  As you read these tweets, please recall that Cohen is going to jail for violation of campaign finance laws and the person responsible for the tweets is a senior administrator at Liberty.

 

Jerry Falwell’s “Two Kingdoms” View is Not Only Wrong, It’s Dangerous

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

Many of you have seen court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s interview with Joe Heim of The Washington Post.

Falwell Jr. says:

There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

When Heim asked Falwell if there is anything Trump could do that would endanger evangelical support for the President he answers, based on his political theology, with one word: “no.”

Over at Slate, writer Ruth Graham responds to Falwell’s one-word answer:

At one point, reporter Joe Heim asked Falwell whether there is anything Trump could do that would endanger his support from Falwell and other evangelical leaders. He answered, simply, “No.” His explanation was a textbook piece of circular reasoning: Trump wants what’s best for the country, therefore anything he does is good for the country. There’s something almost sad about seeing this kind of idolatry articulated so clearly. In a kind of backhanded insult to his supporters, Trump himself once said that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing his base. It’s rare to see a prominent supporter essentially admit that this was true. 

Graham also notes that Falwell’s views seem to contradict the mission statement of Liberty University.  This is true.

In its “Statement of Mission and Purpose,” Liberty claims to “promote the synthesis of academic knowledge and a Christian worldview in order that there might be a maturing of spiritual, intellectual, social and physical value-driven behavior.”  This kind of “worldview” language suggests that students at Liberty will learn to think Christianly about all things, including the ways Christianity intersect with politics and government.  After all, wasn’t this Falwell’s father’s vision for Liberty University?  Wasn’t Liberty University directly linked to Falwell Sr.’s Moral Majority–an attempt to bring Christianity to bear on government and politics?

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

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

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

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

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

It is also worth noting that legitimate advocates of a Two Kingdoms approach to church-state relations would also reject much of what Falwell has to say in this interview.

Again, here is Falwell:

It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally — to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor — can somehow be imputed on a nation. Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome. He went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, I’m about the heavenly kingdom and I’m here to teach you how to treat others, how to help others, but when it comes to serving your country, you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. It’s a distortion of the teaching of Christ to say Jesus taught love and forgiveness and therefore the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving, and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world. That’s not what Jesus taught. You almost have to believe that this is a theocracy to think that way, to think that public policy should be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.

Martin Luther also believed that government action should not be based on the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus.  For example, Luther defended the right to private property.  As a result, he believed government should not be based on Jesus’s idea of abandoning all of our material possessions and giving them to the poor. (Although he would have certainly warned against materialism rooted in the accumulation of private property).

But Luther’s Two Kingdom belief, as I understand it, is more nuanced and complex than what Falwell Jr. makes it out to be.  (I am happy to be corrected here by Lutheran theologians). In fact, I don’t think Luther would have recognized Falwell Jr.’s political theology.

Ruth Graham links to Missouri-Synod Lutheran writer Lyman Stone’s First Things piece titled “Two Kingdom Theology in the Trump Era.”  Stone writes:

Is it the case that Lutheran theology favors brute political realism, mercilessness in state operations, perhaps even docility in the face of tyranny? Historically, the answer has often been “yes.” But it needn’t have been, if Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine had been understood correctly.

The Two Kingdoms Doctrine originates in Martin Luther’s 1518 tract, “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” though before that it has resonance with Augustine’s City of God, which had influenced Christian church-state relations in the West for a millennium. In the 1518 tract, Luther lays out an idea that is central to all Lutheran teaching: There are two kinds of righteousness, civil and spiritual. By civil righteousness, Luther meant that people, by the powers of reason with which they are endowed, can refrain from murdering one another, or stealing, or lying. But no amount of civil righteousness amounts to spiritual righteousness, that is, the right-acting that may earn salvation. Perfect civil righteousness does not undo the basically sinful nature of man; only spiritual righteousness does that, and spiritual righteousness is nothing else than faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ, no amount of civil righteousness obtains salvation. With faith in Christ, no felonious indecency can forestall the saving power of grace.

Stone reminds us here that God has ordained the civil kingdom–the realm of government.  God rules in both kingdoms and he rules, according to Lutheran theologian Paul Althaus, in “goodness, mercy, and love.”  Althaus adds: “Through the political authorities, God protects his people from the violent acts of evil men.” Luther believed in a state where justice prevails as a glimpse–but only a glimpse–of the kingdom of God.

As Christians, we are called to different vocations in this civil kingdom  As Stone writes, “without faith in Christ, no amount of civil righteousness obtains salvation.”  But this does not mean that Christians are not called by God to be engaged citizens.  We must exercise citizenship as a vocational act.

Stone adds:

Does this mean that Luther’s Two Kingdoms should be viewed ignominiously today? I do not think so. Rather, Lutherans should reconsider this doctrine in light of Luther’s teaching on vocation.

In this light, several facts become clear. Citizens have a different vocation than subjects. Modern governments place a duty and a burden upon citizens, demanding that they participate in governance. No modern American has a ruler, in the sense that the Christians did to whom Paul wrote his letters. All the scriptural teachings about governments apply, but the reality of democratic and participatory governments means that a vocation-centered theology cannot view Christians as merely the subjects of the state: By having voice, Christians are participants in the rulership of their state. As such, when considering what sins they should confess, they must consider sins of rebellion against lawful sovereigns and sins of misgovernment, that is, failures to discharge the duties of self-governing citizens.

Beyond this, Lutherans must avoid the mistake of the Reformation leaders who failed to cry out against the sins of monarchs. We must exhort all “sword-bearers,” that is, all agents of the state and public servants, from schoolteachers to the president, to live up to the demands of their vocations. Our Lutheran forefathers failed in this task; all the more reason Lutherans today must not.

Conservatives who fear that President Trump may be more like the decadent Belshazzar, feasting while the kingdom falls, than like the liberating Cyrus must pray that Lutherans remember the Two Kingdoms Doctrine. How we discharge the duties of citizenship—whether by accepting the creeping authoritarianism of the last two decades, or by raising our voices on behalf of the laws and democratic norms of our country—is a question of moral conscience, suitable for confession, and demanding repentance if we err.

A similar Two Kingdoms argument comes from Glenn Tinder in The Political Meaning of Christianity: An Interpretation.  He writes:

Christianity, then, requires acceptance of society, and such acceptance cannot be a matter simply of bowing to bitter worldly necessity.  It is more appreciative than that.  Even if society is not community, it serves community in various and essential ways; and a responsible person will feel obligated to defend society when it is threatened…. (pp. 56-57).

Christians are traditionally, in their relations with governments, obedient yet disrespectful.  Thus, they violate the ethos of both secular radicals (disobedience grounded in disrespect) and of conservatives (obedience grounded in respect).  Eschewing absolute principles, they are unreliable allies of either left or right.  Their attitude, however, is anything but frivolous.  It goes down to the first principles of Christian faith.  Estranged from God, from human beings, and even from ourselves, and in our perversity continually reaffirming our estrangement, we would be overwhelmed by chaos if we did not ordinarily submit to the order contrived by political rulers.  On the other hand, we are, in the Christian vision, recipients of the mercy of God, and if we obeyed unconditionally, we would replace the exalted individual with exalted governments…As an eschatological being, man is always critical, normally acquiescent, and potentially rebellious. (p.210-211).

Falwell Jr’s view of government is dangerous.  It is a corruption of the Two Kingdoms view.  Such a corruption is what led German Lutherans to sit quietly as the Nazis took control of Germany in the 1930s.  Here is University of Virginia theologian Charles Marsh in Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Acting in the name of Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms–that God has established two kingdoms (zwei Reiche): the kingdom of the earth, which he rules through human government and law; and the kingdom of heaven, which he directs by grace and through the church–the German Christians determined to achieve an accommodation (however tortured) of the Fuhrer principle and Aryan paragraph under church law.  And this they would do in a spirit of obedience to God!  Under this accommodation, baptized Jews, being a difference race altogether, could no longer serve in the German Protestant Church, whose identity was now rooted in ethnicity, or racial sameness, rather than in the confession of Christ as Lord. (p.162).

In 1938, Freidrich Werner, the director of Germany’s Protestant consistory, was tasked with bringing Lutheran clergy into line with Hitler.  He required that all clergy swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich.  Marsh writes:

Refusing the oath subjected one to dismissal and criminal detention.  To some degree, the underlying idea was consistent with the traditional Lutheran doctrine of two kingdoms: Christians must be obedient to the earthly authorities unto God.  But Werner went to an unprecedented extreme, turning a doctrine that had historically yielded a variety of views on church-state matters into an absolutist principle: make a “personal commitment to the Fuhrer under the solemn summons of God,” and forge an “intimate solidarity with the Third Reich” and with the saintly man who both “created that community and embodies it.”  “Submit to Hitler with a joyful heart, in gratitude, as pleasing to the Lord.

In the end, Christians–whether they embrace the Reformed, Catholic, or Lutheran tradition–are called to live out their vocations as citizens.  In this sense, they agree with my good friend Philip Vickers Fithian who believed, with the authors of Cato’s Letters, that “political jealousy” is a “laudable passion.

Darryl Hart Weighs-In on the Thomas Kidd-Jonathan Merritt Debate

Liberty U

In case you haven’t heard, Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd and journalist Jonathan Merritt had a debate.  Read all about it here.  And now Darryl Hart has commented on it.

As is usually the case, Darryl manages to throw everyone under the bus in one way or another, but the crux of his piece is a criticism of Merritt.  Here is a taste:

Where does this leave us? More people read Jonathan Merritt than Tommie Kidd and more editors and journalists read Merritt than Kidd, and this despite the fact that Kidd is one of the most productive evangelical historians who writes for first rate university and trade presses. What impresses Americans, despite our high rates of college education, is a presence in the media (from podcasts and cable news to Twitter). And yet, if Jonathan Merritt hadn’t had a father who went to seminary to study with professors who read some of Kidd’s book, and if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments, he wouldn’t have a job as a writer.

At some point, journalists might want to pay it backward a little to the teachers who educated them (even indirectly).

Read the entire post at Hart’s Patheos blog.   The only real issue I have with the excerpt above is this line: “if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments…”  Actually, Merritt is a 2004 graduate of Liberty University.  As far as I know Liberty does not have any historians of Kidd’s caliber (it is primarily a teaching university and most faculty don’t publish books with Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Basic) and the college does not grant tenure.

Par for the Course: Liberty University Hires Hugh Freeze

Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

Liberty U

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

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

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

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

Here is more:

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

Tara Isabella Burton Reviews *The Trump Prophecy*

 

Trump Prophecy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the review here.

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

Liberty U Kavanaugh

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

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

The Lynchburg News & Advance reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, their own principles suffered.

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

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

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

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

The country has suffered under this partnership as well.

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

Believe Me 3d

Will Liberty University Dump Nike?

Liberty Nike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump prophecies

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

What do you do to advance these aspirations and goals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering John McCain

McCain Falwell

McCain with Jerry Falwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in Peace

Falwell Jr. Blames Cohen-Manafort Debacle on Jeff Sessions

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

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

 

“Falwell the Lesser”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

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

Believe Me 3d

Censorship and the Liberty University Student Newspaper

Liberty Champ

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

Here is a taste of “Papered Over“:

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Learn more here.

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

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

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

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

Givens Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynchburg 1

 

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

Trump prophecies

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

Here is the petition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can sign the petition here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

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

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

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

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

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

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

JF: Thanks, Adam!