Guest post by Nelson Keener.
Nelson Keener graduated from Liberty University and served as the late Jerry Falwell’s assistant during the seminal days of the Moral Majority and later in a similar capacity with the late Chuck Colson. He resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
When Kingdoms Collide
At Liberty University College Democrats are not recognized as an official university club.
Neither are College Republicans.
Does this mean the prominent Christian institution, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, adheres to political neutrality or “separation of church and state”? Hardly. Earlier this week the administration freely handed a microphone to U. S. Senator, Ted Cruz (R Texas) and alongside the university seal embossed on the podium, Cruz announced his candidacy for president to a captive audience of ten thousand or so LU students and faculty.
Attendance is required at LU convocations. So my guess is there were more than a few students—and probably some faculty—who wished they had a T-shirt emblazoned with: “My presence does not mean my assent.”
As a person, Cruz comes across to me as sincere and winsome. He is likeable. In his rousing speech he forthrightly affirmed his faith as a Christian; a follower of Jesus. The audience applauded his religious faith. It’s this constituency Cruz wants to reach. A slice of the Evangelical pie that in the last three decades has become a formidable, some would say contentious, political force known as the religious right.
One can’t fault Cruz for choosing such a venue. It’s the purpose and context that troubles me. But Ted Cruz the person and his tactics are not what is so disquieting for me.
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In The New Testament the John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus’ message and mission of God’s Kingdom then baptized him. After which Jesus immediately withdrew to the desert and spent 40 days and nights fasting alone in the wilderness.
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In the fledgling years of Liberty University Jerry Falwell declared himself a capital “F” fundamentalist, a term he touted often and emphatically, intentionally and proudly. Speakers for chapel services and commencement addresses were mostly fundamentalist preachers. But “Thus sayeth the Lord” sermons simply do not garner networks’ news coverage in the fashion Ted Cruz did recently.
As an alum myself, it was pleasing to see Liberty over time include a wider spectrum of commencement speakers than pulpit-pounding preachers. Now students hear orators like Newt Gingrich, John McCain and Glenn Beck. Same fiery style, different content; some good, some not so good.
But is LU now inviting politicians too often? In a recent 10 year span, seven of the commencement speakers were politicians or culture war pundits. For an institution with hundreds of majors, that’s rather lopsided representation. Is it time to drop or at least reduce the number of politicians as keynote speakers; especially those running for elected office? Maybe so.
Why? Because too few politicians speak prophetic truth when orbiting for office. They protect their own interests and expound what is expedient to gain votes. Polished rhetoric and partisan ideology seldom stretch students and graduates minds beyond their parochial world.
Another “Why?” Listen to a sage: In the last public speech before he died, Chuck Colson said, “Politics is nothing but an expression of culture…so if things are bad, don’t think it’s going to be solved by an election. It’s going to be solved by us.”
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At the end of Jesus 40 days in the desert the devil showed up and shamelessly made a couple of propositions that Jesus flatly turned down. Here’s the text.
Luke 4:5-8: The devil led [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And [the devil] said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Jesus as much as told Satan, “Go to Hell.” And Satan crept away (until the next round), pointed tail between his legs.
Another time the religious powerbrokers brought Jesus to Pilate to be judged.
Luke 23:3; John 18:36: So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
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“Training Champions for Christ,” is LU’s motto, prominently displayed throughout the campus. There’s nothing wrong with it. But did Jesus ask us to “champion” his cause? Jesus seldom used such language. His teachings and temperament did not indicate that political power was something he sought. He didn’t speak about winning. He did speak about losing.
Does the religious right somehow miss, or worse ignore, the principle that Jesus not only eschewed earthly power, he rejected it. Is it not the call of the gospel to work for God’s Kingdom now; not our kingdom? Isn’t it in doing God’s work that His Kingdom will come?
What if thousands of young people were deployed as champions for the disenfranchised. That’s Kingdom work. Wow!
Thanks to Nelson for submitting this guest post.