Former Liberty University Faculty Member Describes Workplace as “Shifty, Dishonorable, Unprincipled, and Hypocritical”

Liberty University is in the news a lot lately but not for great reasons. Yesterday, I called attention to a tweet from LU president Jerry Falwell, Jr.  which disparaged fellow Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Moore had lamented the treatment of migrant children at the U.S. southern border. Falwell, Jr. is taking much heat over his behavior unbecoming a college president.

Today, I became aware of a scathing Facebook post from a former faculty member at Liberty. Brian Melton was an instructional mentor at LU from 2014-2018. He worked a full load but was not considered full-time for the purpose of benefits. However, he had sufficient interaction to form an opinion. Since he didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement, he is now speaking out.

If you are considering LU as a faculty, staff, or student, you should read Melton’s posting. Here are his concluding thoughts:

My own personal narrative aside, I knew of many other people treated worse than I was–a whole list of persons I liked and respected. If the last few years had taught me anything, it was that while there are still many excellent people to be found there, Liberty University as a whole was as shifty, dishonorable, unprincipled, and hypocritical a work environment as could be offered. I could not trust my family to them, and I increasingly found it hard to have my reputation associated with an organization that had proved itself so often without honor. (Yes, I’m old fashioned that way.)

Melton’s posting supports what I have been saying about fears of speaking out at LU.

WSJ: Liberty University Administrator Involved in Michael Cohen Fake News Scheme

They will know we are Christians by our fake news.

In a surprising plot twist, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning that President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is being accused of failing to pay the Chief Information Officer of Liberty University John Gauger for his poll rigging services. Cohen arranged with Gauger’s tech firm to manipulate the results of two online polls and set up a fake Twitter account. Gauger claims Cohen didn’t pay him in full.

Womp, womp.

According to the WSJ report, Gauger doesn’t dispute the work involved. He got paid a portion of the fee in cash which Cohen allegedly gave in a Wal-Mart bag.

My interest in the story is less about Cohen and more about Gauger. According to the story, Gauger set up an algorithm to repeatedly vote for Trump in a CNBC online poll of top business people. Even with Gauger’s help, Trump couldn’t crack the top 100. The Liberty administrator also tried to manipulate a Drudge poll and set up a “Women for Cohen” twitter account. Sounds like fake news to me.

Most people (I hope) realize those polls are worthless for reasons such as implied by this news. However, some people use them to shape their image or manipulate public opinion. Does anyone doubt that Trump would have used positive results to his advantage?

It is one thing to vote a few times for your favorite band in an online poll, it is another to craft a service around dishonesty. This firm sells the ability to use technology to make fake news. I wonder if the IT classes at Liberty University teach that.

I know much of what we run into online is an effort at persuasion and manipulation. I hope this story raises awareness about the many ways we are surrounded by efforts to move and shape our opinions and behavior. Furthermore, I hope Christians begin to recognize that fake news is coming from sources within the camp.

 

 

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.

 

Red Letter Christians Plan Revival in Lynchburg VA

The organizers are hoping for an April revival in Virginia.

This follows Twitter rumblings for several months and an open letter to Liberty University last November for a peaceful debate after Jonathan Martin was disinvited to speak at the school. That letter is below:

Dear Jerry Falwell, Jr.,

We know you did not intend to make national news this week by sending armed officers to escort the Rev. Jonathan Martin off of Liberty University’s campus. You have been clear about your support for President Trump. Rev. Martin has made clear his opposition. But this fundamental disagreement, you insist, is not why Martin was barred. “The University cannot be concerned with whether its actions provide additional oxygen to either side of a debate,” your official statement said. Your only concern, you insist, is the “safety and security” of your campus.

Despite the fact that Liberty University could not exist without federal loans and grants, it is a private institution. You have the legal authority to use its police force to stifle dissent. But you say this is not your intent: “Members of the Liberty community are always welcome to engage in peaceful debate,” you wrote. Though you might prefer to asphyxiate a prophetic Christianity that criticizes your personal political positions, you understand it is not in your interest to do so.

We write, then, to ask you to make good on your promise. If you are not opposed to a debate, then host one.

As fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we disagree with your celebration of Donald Trump as a “dream President” for evangelicals. Along with a majority of Americans, we experience his administration as more of a nightmare. But our disagreement is not about personality; rather, we see the stark divergence in our discernment about politics as a reflection of fundamental differences in how we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. From Isaiah 58 to Luke 4 and Matthew 25, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ speaks prophetically against false religion that props up injustice.

This divide is not new. It is as old as the many denominations that split over the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. As Frederick Douglass wrote in the midst of those divisions, “Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ I see the widest possible difference.” In the 19th century, this basic divide led people like Angelina Grimke and William Lloyd Garrison to part ways with slaveholding religion in order to keep their faith. In the 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel argued that we forfeit the right to worship God if we do not stand with the marginalized and oppressed. We contend that the greatest threat to Christianity in the 21st century is that our Lord’s gospel would be confused with the religion of white supremacy. In our estimation, you and others who see the Trump administration as a Redemption movement are contributing to just such a conflation.

And yet, we know from the scriptures and from our own experience that the truth of the gospel is greater than our individual and corporate sins. For this reason, we are willing to pay our own way to come to Liberty University and engage in the debate which you have said is welcome. Because we believe that a diversity of voices is essential in these matters, we write together as male and female, black and white, gay and straight ministers of the gospel. We are prepared to present witnesses in equal number to those whom you would choose to represent your perspective. We only ask that we be allowed to mutually agree on a moderator and set of questions beforehand and that we have access to livestream the debate via a production company that was started by one of your alumni. You can contact us via the office of Repairers of the Breach.

We write this open letter in hope that you will be true to the promise of your public statement about why Rev. Martin was removed this week and in greater hope that America might experience a moral revival as we face the truth about how the gospel has been compromised and receive the good news that another way is possible.

That letter was signed by many people also involved in the Red Letter Revival.
I hope this doesn’t turn into a commercialized event with books and CDs for sale. Inasmuch as the event focuses on separating church and state, I wish them well.

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?

Jerry Falwell, Sr. Condemned Jimmy Carter for Playboy Interview

Times have changed.
Yesterday, Jerry Falwell, Jr. was widely criticized for a photo of Falwell, his wife and Donald Trump posing in front of a framed copy of Playboy with Donald Trump on the cover.


Falwell has been defiant in responding to criticism even blocking critical Liberty University students on Twitter.
While Falwell, Jr. may not have known the Playboy cover was in the photo, he has taken a cavalier approach to Donald Trump’s relationship with Hugh Hefner and the publication. Trump gave interviews in 1990 and 2004 to Playboy and in 2006 rewarded an Apprentice team with a trip to the Playboy mansion. Trump showed up for the festivities.
Falwell, Jr’s approach is in sharp contrast to his father’s expressions of condemnation.
In 1976, presidential candidate Jimmy Carter gave an interview which was published in Playboy magazine. This was the famous “lust in the heart” interview where Carter acknowledged attractions to women in the context of Jesus’ teaching not to engage in lust in one’s heart.
After Carter left office, leader of the Moral Majority Jerry Falwell, Sr. condemned Carter for allowing his interview to be published in Playboy which Falwell called “a salacious vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of day.”
falwell carter PB

Jerry Falwell Jr Tweets Photo with Donald Trump and Playboy Cover in Background (UPDATED)

One might think this was an Onion story. However, it was tweeted by Jerry Falwell Jr.
Thumbs up, baby!


One can’t change history. Trump was featured in the magazine in 1990 (he also rewarded a winning Apprentice team with a trip to the Playboy mansion in 2006). But would you invite 500 of your closest evangelical friends and leave it on display?
Apparently, Trump revels in it. On the campaign trail, he signed a fan’s copy of the 1990 issue.
Folks, you’re being played.
UPDATES:
Falwell blocked one of his own Liberty University students for criticizing his pose with Trump.


Apparently, others are being blocked as well.
Senator Ben Sasse and Falwell got into it over biblical interpretation.


Generally Falwell has been defiant in his response to his thumbs up with Trump.

Liberty University Says There Were Other Reasons Board Members Were Upset With Mark DeMoss

In response to statements made yesterday by Mark DeMoss, this morning Liberty University sent along another statement about Mark DeMoss’ resignation from the Liberty University board of trustees.

Individual board members have varied reasons for their displeasure regarding Mark DeMoss’ comments to the Washington Post, most of which are not related to his disagreement with Jerry Falwell’s personal endorsement of Donald Trump or a belief that Mark DeMoss’ motivations were entirely political.  Liberty would prefer to not inventory or detail all these reasons.
After reviewing the Washington Post article, I can’t readily point to what this statement might be referring to. The entire piece was about DeMoss’ disagreement with Falwell’s endorsement.

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).