Jerry Falwell, Jr. Slams Russell Moore on Treatment of Refugees

I can’t remember anything quite like this. Political loyalties have reduced self-styled Christian leaders to public wars. Witness Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s tweet today to Russell Moore.

The arrogance here is obvious. His reaction isn’t relevant to Moore’s comment. Moore didn’t even mention Trump but Moore’s concern about the treatment of migrant children implied enough disapproval to throw Falwell into a frenzied attack.

Falwell is the president of a Christian university. I cannot imagine the president of my college doing anything like this. I can’t imagine the president of any reputable college or university comporting himself/herself in this way.

Moore said what many are feeling. I suspect there are numerous Trump voters who want to see children take care of. Moore did nothing wrong and a lot right.

I feel very sad tonight for Liberty staff and faculty, at least those who would like to speak out but can’t because their jobs are on the line.  Students, parents, and alums probably have the most leverage. Apparently the board is MIA or in complete accord with Mr. Falwell.

In any case, this is a new low and I don’t think there is a bottom.

 

Jerry Falwell is Wrong About the Poor

There are several head scratching quotes from Jerry Falwell, Jr. in his New Year’s Day interview with Joe Heims in the Washington Post. One such quote which caught my eye is this:

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.

While job creation might be out of reach for many low income people, charitable giving is something the poor do often. As Relevant magazine pointed out, Christian college president Falwell appears to have forgotten Jesus’ teaching about the widow and her few cents. Beyond Falwell’s insensitivity to the Bible, he is wrong about the poor and charitable giving. Actually, low income people as a group give a lot and on average they give more as a percentage of their income than rich people.

Given Falwell’s role as a fund raiser for his college, I am surprised he isn’t aware of this. In philanthropy literature, the link between income bracket and giving is well known. Although the truly poor don’t often itemize charitable gifts, lower income brackets are responsible for significant amounts of charitable giving compared to higher brackets. This is especially true of religious giving.

A 2007 Indiana University study found that donors making under 100,000/year gave nearly $60 Billion to religious organizations compared to $8.6 Billion given by donors making over $1 million/year. The per donor gift was much smaller in the lower income group, but together the lower income group represented nearly 60% of all giving to religious causes. In contrast to Falwell’s claim, that’s some real volume. No doubt Falwell’s college gets many widow’s mites on a monthly basis to help keep those doors open.

I realize that $100,000/year is not poor. However, this bracket is more likely to include large families with limited resources. As noted above, people in the lowest income groups don’t often itemize contributions and so it is harder to capture those data via the Indiana U. methodology. However, other research supports the contention that lower income persons give more as a percentage of income than the rich.

For instance, a 2014 study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that the wealthy reduced their giving during the economic downtown while lower and middle income donors increased giving. The lowest income bracket – those making less than $25,000/year – increased their giving by 17% from 2006 to 2012. The lowest income group demonstrated the highest percentage increase of all groups.

The 2014 study wasn’t unusual. Much prior research has found that those in low income brackets give more as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to researcher Roger Barnett, “Research in the area has established that, on the average, high income donors give more to charitable causes than do people with low incomes. However, in Britain (and in the United States) the poor have for decades been observed to donate proportionately higher shares of their income to charity than the financially better off (emphasis in the original) (p. 520).

Falwell, Jr.’s college has been helped out in the past by big gifts (e.g., self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon) so perhaps he is influenced by the big donors. However, as a group, the poor do give and they give a lot. He is wrong and shouldn’t spread this misinformation. If I were a low income donor to Liberty University, I would have to rethink my contribution.

 

Tony Perkins: Christianity is Great Except When It Isn't

The title of this post summarizes what I get out of this Tony Perkins interview with Politico. Tony Perkins is the head of the Family Research Trump court evangelical picCouncil which claims to promote family values. Because FRC has historically called for politicians to exemplify family values, Perkins gets a lot of questions about his support for Trump.  This exchange between Perkins and reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere  is especially revealing:

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

Shorter Perkins: when Christian teachings don’t get you want you want, then try something else. As I understand Perkins here, there is a limit to Christianity. You can follow it so far, but when it doesn’t work to get power in the situation, you resort to whatever tactics might be necessary. Otherwise, the unthinkable might happen: Christians might lose political power.

Christianity? What Christianity?

To me, this is another example of an evangelical leader changing Christianity to fit the requirements of being a Trump follower. Today, it is Perkins; often it is Franklin Graham, most days it is Jerry Falwell, everyone’s favorite fallen angel. After Trump’s indecorous reflections on third world nations earlier this month, Jerry Falwell went out with an defense – Trump was being presidentially authentic.  Columnist Jonah Goldberg was having none of that.

Falwell, in a riot of sycophantic sophistry, not only wants to argue that whatever a president does is presidential but also seeks to elevate the idea that authenticity is its own reward. This is contrary to vast swathes of conservative and Christian thought. A person can be authentically evil, crude, bigoted, or asinine. That is not a defense of any of those things. I’m no expert, but my understanding of Christianity is that behavior is supposed to be informed by more than one’s “authentic” feelings and instincts. Satan is nothing if not authentic.

We live in a time when some of our Christian leaders model how Christian leaders act when they believe Christianity has failed as a practical matter. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins said. Once you’ve turned both of them, it must be time to move on to some other approach.
And nearly every day, we see evidence that they have moved on.

Politico: It's Good to Be a Falwell at Liberty University

Building where Trey Falwell's hostel is located. Courtesy of Brandon Ambrosino
Building where Trey Falwell’s hostel is located. Courtesy of Brandon Ambrosino

It is good to be a Falwell at Liberty University. At least, that’s the impression I got from reading today’s Politico article by Brandon Ambrosino about dealings at the largest Christian college in the U.S. According to Ambrosino, the son of LU’s president got a nice deal on his home and the elder Falwell gave the younger Falwell $4.65-million to buy a very shady hostel in Miami Beach.
It has long been known that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has a different set of standards than his faculty and board members. But the South Beach hostel where sins at LU are advertised attractions was not well known. According to the article, an LLC controlled by Trey Falwell (Jerry Jr’s son) purchased the hostel while renting a house on Liberty property. Later the property was sold to Falwell by the school. Although no one expects Trump’s IRS to go after LU, the transaction was not disclosed on IRS documents as required by law.
The article is chock full of revelations and if you are interested in LU, Christians and wealth or Trump’s court evangelicals, this would be an interesting read.

Faculty and Freedom of Expression at Liberty University

Two articles are out today (Atlantic and Politico Magazine) featuring the petition launched at Liberty University to protest Jerry Falwell, Jr’s vocal support for Donald Trump. I posted that letter when it came out.
The student protest doesn’t represent a majority of LU students it seems, but their bravery is having an impact.
Politico Magazine’s article seems more pointedly focused on the anxiety felt by Liberty faculty about speaking on the record. No Liberty faculty would go on the record for either publication. Brandon Ambrosino, writing for Politico featured many comments from faculty about their job concerns if they spoke their mind.
Ambrosino also highlighted the case of Mark DeMoss who was asked to step down from a committee of the Liberty board of directors over his critical comments about Falwell’s Trump endorsement made in the Washington Post.  DeMoss later resigned altogether from the board. Ambrosino cited my blog post on that event.

Evangelical blogger Warren Throckmorton, who regularly writes about Christian higher education, offered a similar thought. “I wonder why it is acceptable to the Liberty board for Jerry Falwell to endorse a candidate as an individual not speaking for the university, but it is not fine for a board member [Mark DeMoss] to express an opinion as an individual not speaking for the university.”

The Atlantic article by Emma Green provides an in depth look at the student body at Liberty. She described the protest effort but also interviewed students who support Trump. Although stated differently than Ambrosino, I think both articles paint a picture that those faculty opposed to Trump or who speak in favor of center-left positions on various matters are right to fear for their jobs. I don’t say that due to the absence of tenure or the fact that all employees serve at the pleasure of the administration. It is also the behavior of the president and board of directors that matters. If Mark DeMoss can be marginalized at Liberty over an expression of his viewpoint, then who is safe?

Mark DeMoss: Criticism of Jerry Falwell Jr's Trump Endorsement Led To Board Executive Committee Ouster

On March 1st Mark DeMoss — Jerry Falwell, Sr.’s chief of staff from 1984-1991 and head of the largest PR firm in America working exclusively with Christian organizations — told the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker that Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. made a mistake by endorsing Donald Trump for president. Then in late April, according to DeMoss, the executive committee of the Liberty University Board of Trustees voted to ask DeMoss to resign from the Board’s executive committee. For many years, DeMoss chaired that same committee.
When I became aware that DeMoss’ name had been removed from the Liberty University listing of trustees, I asked Liberty for comment. Today, the university sent this statement:

Mark DeMoss sent an email with his resignation on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, four days after the most recent Board of Trustees meeting. He was not removed from the Board of Trustees nor did the Board of Trustees ask for his resignation.

I then asked DeMoss about the resignation and he told a more detailed story:

On March 1st a Washington Post article appeared in which I expressed my disagreement with Jerry Falwell Jr’s formal endorsement of Donald Trump. Jerry and a number of fellow Liberty University trustees expressed to me and to the other trustees their disapproval of my speaking publicly about the subject.
At our April 21 executive committee meeting the committee voted to ask me to resign from the committee I had chaired for many years. I agreed, and did so in remarks to the full board the following morning.
Subsequently, on Monday, April 25, I sent a letter to Jerry and the chairman of the board and the new chairman of the executive committee, tendering my resignation from the board I had served for 25 years.

I asked Liberty University for a reaction to the DeMoss statement but did not get a response. (Since I published this post, Liberty responded. See the update below).
In the same March 1 Washington Post article, Jerry Falwell, Jr. said that his endorsement of Trump was not on behalf of Liberty University and that he didn’t intend to influence students or faculty. However, his influence may have spread to the Liberty executive committee members who, DeMoss said, voted for him to step down from a committee he once chaired. DeMoss told me he had been on the executive committee for eight years, and chose to leave the board completely once he stepped down from the executive committee.
UPDATE (5/5)

Liberty University does not typically give details of the occurrences at its Board of Trustee meetings but since Mark DeMoss has contradicted the University’s response and offered a different version, here is a clarification:
While members of the Executive Committee individually asked Mark DeMoss to resign from the Executive Committee, no vote was ever taken by the Executive Committee to ask Mark DeMoss to resign.  On Thursday, April 21, he was encouraged by members of the Executive Committee to remain on the Board and apologize to the Board.  At the Board of Trustees meeting the following day, Mark DeMoss offered an apology to the Board and tendered his resignation from the Executive Committee.  The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept the apology of Mark DeMoss in the Christian spirit of love and grace.   Mark DeMoss sent an email with his resignation on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, four days after the Board of Trustees meeting.  He was not removed from the Board of Trustees nor did the Board of Trustees ask for his resignation.

As I consider the matter, I wonder why it is acceptable to the Liberty board for Jerry Falwell to endorse a candidate as an individual not speaking for the univeristy, but it is not fine for a board member to express an opinion as an individual not speaking for the university.
UPDATE 2 – In response to Liberty’s statement, Mark DeMoss told me

  1. I was not encouraged by members of the Executive Committee to remain on the board; Jerry Jr was the only committee member who spoke to me that evening—after they had the attorney [Liberty’s general counsel] call and ask for my committee resignation.
  2. The committee said nothing to me about apologizing to the board the next morning. Jerry had suggested that two months earlier and I told him I would do so in person at the April 22 meeting.
  3. I did not tender my resignation in the full board meeting—I informed them of it. I tendered my resignation the night before to the attorney who called me on behalf of the committee. He told me if I chose not to resign they would vote to remove me (from the committee).

Jerry Falwell, Jr Endorses Donald Trump for President; Trump Still Leads in Evangelical Support

Shrewd move Jerry Jr.
Many will scratch their heads. Some will complaint and maybe stage a protest. Some donors will stop giving to Liberty but The Donald will no doubt make that up going forward.
In a CNN poll dropped today, Donald Trump leads all others among evangelicals with 39% favoring him. I think I understand this now.
Trump is rich and famous. These are two values celebrated among modern evangelical pastors. Trump is the perfect candidate for those who equate wealth and fame with God’s favor. Millions of people have been conditioned to admire wealth and fame as measures of success in the church. A big ministry must mean big blessing. Trump seems made for evangelical prime time.
On one hand, I am glad that a majority evangelicals are so far resisting the dominionist calls of Ted “Anointed” Cruz, but on the other, they are moving toward the new values of the church: wealth and fame. Instead of moving toward an ideologically less pure but experienced candidate like John Kasich, the church is distracted by the promises and pretty lights of Trump Towers.
 
 

Thoughts on Donald Trump's Speech at Liberty University on January 18

Jerry Jr. likes The Donald and thinks Trump is like Jerry Falwell. Falwell said Liberty wasn’t endorsing a candidate but the introduction certainly sounded like an endorsement.
Rev. Falwell, I think America is still great. We don’t need Donald Trump to make it great again. It is great now.
[youtube]https://youtu.be/E32ZPa4LGkM[/youtube]
John Fea on Donald Trump’s Two Corinthians.
Trump says he is going to protect Christianity. How about protecting all religions? Instead, he wants our country to get together around Christianity. Big fun if you’re a Christian.
Trump wants to knock the hell out of ISIS. He wants a big military to scare everyone. Actually, his simplistic, off the cuff policy statements are pretty scary.
Really? “When I’m president, you’re gonna see Merry Christmas at department stores, believe me.” What, he’s going to use executive orders for holiday greetings?
Trumps big policy planks – knock the hell out of ISIS, tough negotiations with terrorists, make department stores say Merry Christmas, build a Great Wall of China on our borders, keep companies from relocating overseas, stop common core, don’t restrict guns, get rid of Super PACs, and get rid of Obamacare.
I will vote for Trump for Crazy Uncle in Chief. Oy.
Open forum…
 
 

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Irresponsible Machismo

For so many reasons, I am glad I don’t teach at Liberty University.
I can’t embed the clip so click through to watch Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. encourage students to carry guns on campus. He also seems to challenge “Muslims” (I assume he means radical Muslim terrorists) to come visit Liberty, and not for a college tour.
FalwellI have no problem with self-defense but this seems like an irresponsible challenge to people who are capable of responding to it. As a college president, your first duty is the safety and well-being of your students, not to go all John Wayne.
 
 

Former Aide to Falwell and Colson Nelson Keener: When Kingdoms Collide

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.

  •               

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.

  •               

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.”

  •               

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.”

  •               

“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.