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.
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?
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
James Duncan at Pajama Pages has another article today with more information on the historic links between Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and Liberty University. Specifically, he focuses on Ron Godwin, LU’s Provost who has a long history with the Unification Church. The beginning:
Liberty University’s current provost, Ron Godwin, was appointed by Rev. Sun Myung Moon to take his teachings and use them to revive and resurrect American Christianity. Moon knew Godwin intimately, and repeatedly praised him publicly for his usefulness in taking the Moonie message to the American Christian church.
I don’t know where Godwin is today with all of this. I can’t find any material where he disavowed his relationship with Moon but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In addition to Duncan’s post, you can many references to Godwin’s affiliation with Moon at TParents.org. According to this write up of a Moon sermon delivered in 1992, Godwin was one of the “heavenly musketeers” who would represent Moon in America. Sometimes Moon spoke about himself as “Father”:
Father sees the presence of Dr. Ron Godwin, Dr. Bob Grant and Dr. Don Sills as very precious. Father looks at these precious three collaborators, supporters and members of this great movement almost like Jesus’ three disciples. The three of them are really accomplished giants in our world. By uniting with Reverend Moon’s ideology they will become even greater. Each of the three has very special characteristics. They are very different characters, as much as Jesus’ three major disciples were different from each other.
[Speaking to these three men.] Father said you are lucky. If you fulfill your mission, fine. If you don’t fulfill your mission, that is fine too. The reason is you are responsible for the first generation. The second generation is already mine, I claimed them already. But I don’t want to see the first generation become like Moses’ flocks who perished in the wilderness. It is very difficult to wipe out the concepts initially implanted in the first generation. Even Bob Grant, a great preacher and Don Sills, a great preacher and Ron Godwin, a great Christian leader, have been reading the Bible which says the Lord is coming on the clouds. That is the concept they have. Billy Graham has been preaching the Lord is coming on the clouds. For you the important thing is not the Washington Times or AFC or the Coalition for Religious Freedom. Wherever you go, that is your house, your podium. Your podium is not only your church. Wherever you are standing or wherever you meet people that is your podium.
Those three champions, just bring them and work them day and night. If they can’t keep up with the schedule and they run away that is alright, I will bring somebody else. But I think those three strong men won’t run away. Father invited Ron Godwin to join in this great crusade not because he is such a great business man. He is, but more importantly Father is concerned about Jerry Falwell, who represents the great Southern Baptist Christian community. He is not fulfilling his responsibility, so Father would like to see if Ron Godwin can fulfill it. Unless he knows me now, Jerry Falwell is in the position of a foreign person. Jerry Falwell cannot become president himself, he should come together with Father and make the spiritual and moral foundation for a God-chosen man to be President of the United States. We have to have a righteous God-centered president in this country, not just anybody.
The Washington Times is a side activity, the prominent mission is a spiritual mission. That is basically what Father is saying. This is very important: the Washington Times is secondary. As far as Father is concerned your primary mission is a spiritual mission and the revival of Christianity is crucial.
The AFC alone cannot save the country. Christianity must be rejuvenated. All Christian ministers must be re-educated. They must become new Christians. Unity with Reverend Moon is of vital importance. Without it, no matter how much they do, God will not be on their side. You should be a champion for the teaching of the Divine Principle. You should be able to teach them and testify to them much better than anyone else because you have that background.
I abandoned Korea and came to the United States because of the importance of working on the world level. This is a key important statement: an alliance between Christianity and the Unification Church is absolutely vital. It is a life or death matter for this country’s future. It is not easy because of public opinion and the media, but this is God’s will and it can be done. These three most Abel-like champions will spearhead this work. I think you are here, not because of your own will, but because this is God’s will. You have been divinely ordained, hand-picked by God to be here and represent each a different segment of Christianity. For that reason you have a crucial role to make that alliance between Christianity and the Unification Church. Do you follow?
I know those words are harsh and difficult to hear. But I am registering this as a testimony to God and the world. I’m not embarrassing you at all–again, I am doing it with a parental heart. Nobody else in the entire world would say anything like this to you. But Reverend Moon, with absolutely no personal ambition in it, is saying this to you because he is living with a parental heart.
Christianity in the United States has done the most evil against me; you know that. But I have no grudge or vengeful feelings. I have only sympathy. I only want to bring life to this country, that is my sole desire. However, my departure for Asia is immanent. Therefore I want to have some champions in the United States to take responsibility and move this country. You three can do the job.
You will be like the three disciples of Jesus. Each one of you will put your self in Jesus’ position and multiply three disciples of your own. Then your number will grow to a team of twelve. With twelve people of your character and determination, at this level, you will be invincible. Your catch phrase will be the that American Christianity needs resurrection more than revival. Let us resurrect American Christianity. It is crucial to the survival of this nation and the world.
New York is a rotten place, you know that. 42nd Street is a living hell. Father would like to have 8th Avenue up to 42nd Street cleaned up. Only by resurrection of the Christian spirit can this be accomplished. You follow, right?
[At this point, Dr. Grant, Dr. Sills and Dr. Godwin stood up and grasped their hands together, holding them high. Father waded through several rows of members to himself grasp the clasped hands of the three, making four.]
Reverend Moon is going to go up and have a little meeting with Mrs. Moon. Father will come down shortly but Father would like us to proceed with the testimonies of these three men.
[Dr. Ron Godwin gave his testimony talking about the USA activities and his part in it. Afterwards Dr. Pak gave a testimony about Dr. Godwin and his first meeting with Father at Danbury. Father returned, and Ron Godwin made a presentation to Father on behalf of the Washington Times family. It was a large drawing of an Atlantic salmon.
Dr. Pak then introduced Dr. Robert Grant as a man with a deep spiritual connection to Father. Dr. Grant then spoke about his work for God and the direction of the USA activities. Finally, Dr. Pak introduced Dr. Don Sills, who has completed a forty day workshop under Reverend Ahn. Don Sills spoke about his growing relationships with the Korean elders and how he came to work with our church. He ended by offering himself completely to Father’s service.]
Father spoke again:
Time has passed very quickly, but Father is very satisfied and fulfilled in his heart because Father has been assured that the three heavenly musketeers will do the job. Father looks at them almost as heavenly locomotives pulling the train of America in the right direction. They are locomotives, but not electric ones, they are choo-choo trains. Father likes that sound. Don Sills said wake up America. What is a better way to wake someone up than by making a locomotive noise?
I feel very confident that even though I may not be here all the time, if you trust these three musketeers and unite with them and join with them and work together toward the goal, I am sure you will fulfill a great victory here in America.
I have read many of Moon’s “sermons” and I can’t really make much sense of them. Some of this is probably because they are translations from Korean (seems odd that the Messiah didn’t speak English well). In any case, the point is that Moon wanted some kind of revival of Christianity in his image and he called on the “heavenly musketeers” to lead the way.
Pajama Pages has an interesting piece on the link between Liberty University and Benny Hinn. Then the historic link between Liberty founder and Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon is explored. I was aware of this and have considered writing about it several times. I have some additional information on religious right figures and Moon which I may post at a later time.
Liberty issued a statement denying the link between the school and Hinn. However, the LU provost did appear on Hinn’s show. Provost Godwin says he appeared based on a misunderstanding. However, the fact that he appeared at all is harder to understand and unexplained.
Just about 5 years ago, Tucker Carlson hosted Jerry Falwell and Rachel Maddow (which pretty much makes it a party) on his show when the topic of the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court came up. At the time, some conservatives were upset that Roberts had done some pro-bono legal work arguing against a Colorado law which allowed employers and landlords to exclude gays from jobs and housing. Carlson asked Rev. Falwell about Roberts’ activities but seemed surprised by Falwell’s reply:
CARLSON: Jerry Falwell, I notice you wrote a piece supporting Mr. Roberts. Are you rethinking that?
FALWELL: Oh, not at all.
You know, I—if I were an attorney, I‘d certainly fight for the right of gays or anyone else to be employed or be housed wherever they wished to be housed. I may not agree with the lifestyle. And I don‘t. But that has nothing do with the civil rights of that member of our—that part of our constituency.
John Roberts would probably have been not a very good lawyer if he had not been willing, when asked by his partners in the law firm to assist in guaranteeing the civil rights of employment and housing to any and all Americans.
CARLSON: But wait a second. I thought conservatives are always arguing against special rights for gays. And the idea is that…
FALWELL: Well, housing and employment are not special rights. I think—I think the right to live somewhere and to live where you please or to work where you please, as long as you‘re not bothering anybody else, is a basic right, not a—not a special right.
MADDOW: I think—I‘m happy to agree with you on this.
And I am also happy to agree….which I did in this Christian Post article out today about proposed rules from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, coming out in the Federal Register on Monday, which add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing regulations which bar discrimination in housing decisions
However, if you read the article, you will find that Bryan Fischer does not agree any of us.
However, some Christians are apprehensive of the proposed housing rule. Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for American Family Association said, “This really isn’t about housing, this is about government endorsement of homosexuality.”
He contended that “homosexuals, on average, have higher levels of education and wealth than anyone else.” By that rationale, Fischer stated that alleged discrimination against homosexuality is not the true reason for the proposed rule.
The CP reporter, Stephanie Samuels then properly notes the field research from Michigan which confirms actual discrimination.
According to research cited in the HUD proposal, a 2007 study of housing discrimination found disparate treatment based on homosexuality in 32 out of 120 fair housing tests it conducted.
The study was conducted by Michigan fair housing centers. Testers posed as gay or lesbian home seekers. “Homosexual” testers received more unfavorable treatment on issues such as whether housing was available, the amount of rent, application fees, and levels of encouragement as compared to testers posing as heterosexual home seekers.
However, research really doesn’t matter to Mr. Fischer because he has it all figured out.
Fischer contested the need for this federal legislation. He asserted that homosexuals do have the same rights as everyone but this policy and others were based on “imaginary” fears.
Even if concerns of sexuality-based discrimination were true, Fischer stated, such issues within the homosexual community did not qualify as civil rights issues.
“There is no validity to the civil rights issue. Race is immovable, but homosexuality is a choice,” asserted Fischer.
Mr. Fischer has suggested that one cannot support gays and be a conservative. If John Roberts and Jerry Falwell cannot be considered conservative then we need new terms. Or, perhaps just one for someone to the right of Roberts and Falwell.
Just a note about the article, when Ms. Samuels quotes me as saying, “…Christians can use the Bible to legislate those who don’t believe in it,” she probably intended to write “Christians can’t (or shouldn’t) use the Bible to legislate those who don’t believe in it.” Also, I did not say that one may “go against the Constitution” due to a compelling state interest. I did say that the limitation of personal rights may be considered if there is a compelling state interest.