Liberty’s Christian students collide with Trumpism
The president and vice president of Liberty University’s student body have strongly rebuked a center created by Jerry Falwell, Jr. and ardent Donald Trump supporter, Charlie Kirk as hundreds of students have signed a petition calling for its closure.
The “think tank” founded by Falwell Jr., the former university president, calls itself “The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty.”
Its website says it “exists to uphold the Christian faith and defend America’s Constitution. We honor human dignity, individual liberty, limited government, and free markets.”
The center seeks “passionate fighters to prevail in our war to save the greatest nation on earth.”
‘WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING’
The signers of the petition say they are “concerned that the Falkirk Center has become a gateway for many wolves in sheep’s clothing — people who claim Christ’s name because it is convenient for their personal or political gain.”
“The Falkirk Center constantly preaches the message that the church needs to defend Donald Trump at all costs and rescue western civilization. Falkirk is wrong. Associating any politician or political movement with Christianity bastardizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” says the petition.
It asserts that the think tank has “waged war against decency, respect, and Christian charity, all while misrepresenting Liberty students and the Christian church.”
“We at Liberty believe that Christians have a higher calling than politics,” it says.
“We believe that the church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets’ (citing the book of Ephesians 2:20), not on Western civilization. Everything people need to know for salvation has been given to us from the apostles and prophets, not from contemporary political issues that the Falkirk Center promotes.
“Thus, we would argue that the Falkirk Center is not necessary in continuing Liberty’s mission to train champions for Christ.”
The Falkirk Center says it aims at “mobilizing Christians” and that the center “will remain on the front lines of this war” in the “battle to preserve American liberty.”
The student leaders said the center has let politics supersede the Gospel message, negatively impacting the university’s reputation, Christian Headlines reported Dec. 28.
The fight has brought the Gospel, Trumpist populism, and Christian belief into collision at the private evangelical Liberty as student leaders have said the Gospel comes first and not “conservatism.”
“It’s rare for top leaders of Liberty University’s student government to publicly criticize the institution. Former students have alleged that during Falwell’s tenure as president, he quashed dissent, particularly from students and professors who were critical of his politics as a close ally of President Donald Trump,” Carol Kuruvilla wrote in the Huffington Post on Jan. 31.
FALWELL STEPS DOWN
In August, Falwell had a big fall from grace when he was forced out of the university, resigning as Liberty’s president and chancellor in August after a sex scandal that included allegations of an extramarital affair.
After that, more harmful information about him surfaced, and he is said to have used the university’s funds to set up the campus ‘think tank’ in 2019, Politico reported.
Falwell is said to have used the university’s funds to set up the campus ‘think tank’ in 2019, said the Dec. 14 report.
The university student body president Constance Schneider and student body vice president Joel Thomas commented on social media posts.
According to the school’s website, the two represent students in interactions with the university’s administration as leaders in the Student Government Association.
“Our job is to represent the students of our school. When an organization like @falkirk_center is attached to liberty, it impacts the reputation of not just our school, but our students as well,” Schneider @constansceider tweeted.
“We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center.”
Schneider said, “I am concerned with the rhetoric, tone, content, and association the Falkirk Center has with Liberty University, specifically when it comes to our greater, crucial mission to further the kingdom of God,” Thomas tweeted.
“Freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are extremely important, yes … yet our priority must remain fixed on what truly matters: exalting the cross of Christ through the witness we bear.
CONSERVATIVE SUPERSEDING CHRISTIAN
“Conservative must never supersede Christian. If allowed to supersede, this can erode and shift our very identity and dilute and distract from the message of the Gospel we claim to champion. All other ground is sinking sand.”
Schneider’s tweet said, “We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center.”
The matter has received national media attention from secular and religious outfits across the spectrum.
Falkirk’s fellows include Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA; Eric Metaxas, a Christian radio host; and Jenna Ellis, an attorney who has represented the Trump campaign post-election lawsuits.
The Politico report said, “After shocking many in the evangelical movement by endorsing Donald Trump over other Republicans for the 2016 presidential nomination, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. pumped millions of the nonprofit religious institution’s funds into Republican causes and efforts to promote the Trump administration, blurring the lines between education and politics.”.
“The culmination of his efforts was the creation of a university-funded campus “think tank” — which has produced no peer-reviewed academic work and bears little relation to study centers at other universities,” wrote Politico’s Maggie Severns.
‘RAN PRO-TURMP ADS’
“It ran pro-Trump ads, hired Trump allies including former adviser Sebastian Gorka and current Trump attorney Jenna Ellis to serve as fellows and, in recent weeks, has aggressively promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.
“Liberty’s actions, detailed for the first time by POLITICO, suggest the university is pushing the boundaries of its status as a nonprofit organization under Section 501c (3) of the U.S. federal tax code.”
The code forbids spending money on political campaigns. Liberty’s actions also go well beyond the traditional role of a university as a politically neutral institution of higher learning.
“The apparatus of the university has turned more and more towards political ends and concerns,” said Marybeth Baggett, a Liberty graduate who taught at the school from 2003 until the early party of this year.
“Obviously, the school is conservative, yes. But I don’t feel like it was ever so agenda-driven as it was in the last four of five years,” she said, according to Politico.
Student leader Thomas tweeted, “I am concerned with the rhetoric, tone, content, and association the Falkirk Center has with Liberty University, specifically when it comes to our greater, crucial mission to further the kingdom of God.”
His tweet said, “Freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are extremely important, yes … yet our priority must remain fixed on what truly matters: exalting the cross of Christ through the witness we bear. Conservative must never supersede Christian.”
Liberty University, also known as L.U., is a private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell and Elmer L. Towns founded what became Liberty in 1971.
Ecumenical News first published a version of this story on Dec. 29, 2020