By now I’ve had the chance to read about the decision of Liberty University to ban the school’s chapter of College Democrats from its Lynchburg, Virginia campus. No one should be surprised by this move, which was communicated to students by this email. The private school has long held religious and political beliefs which are far from the mainstream of Virginia and the rest of the country. (In fact, the bigger surprise was that the College Democrats were welcomed in the first place.)
The school’s founder, the late Jerry Falwell, wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, he probably would have said, that’s, “The Liberty Way“. (The Liberty Way, is embodied in school’s student code of conduct. The code was once available on the Internet, but school Web administrators recently put it behind the university’s firewall.)
Jerry Falwell, Jr., who, in the tradition of Richard Roberts of Oral Roberts University and Bob Jones, Jr., Bob Jones III and Stephen Jones of Bob Jones University, inherited the presidency of the school from his father, has made an effort to step out of his father’s lengthy shadow. I believe his decision to welcome students establishing a chapter of College Democrats was part of that effort, although he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that approving the club last year was an oversight of, “administrator who didn’t really check with anybody else…” before approving the club.
For his part, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has made an effort to reach out to the late Rev. Falwell, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and other leaders of the religious right in Virginia. He campaigned for Barack Obama on campus in October, speaking at a convocation hosted by Falwell, Jr.. (Falwell, Jr. had no problem welcoming Democrats to Liberty then. Similarly, his late father had no problem welcoming Sen. John McCain who once dubbed Falwell, Sr. an “agent of intolerance“.)
With the decision to expel the chapter of College Democrats from campus, however, Liberty officials have bitten off the hand of Governor Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee. For his part, Governor Kaine is sticking with his turn the other cheek approach, saying in part:
Americans understand the wisdom of being even handed when it comes to matters of expression of political opinion. For Liberty University to deprive the College Democrats of the same opportunity as College Republicans to associate and be a recognized as a campus organization violates that fundamental principle of fairness and teaches the students the wrong message about civil life as they move from college into the broader world.
This is consistent with the Governor’s approach to dealing with religious conservatives during his 2005 campaign. In March 2005, he told American Prospect magazine that Democrats need to temper their comments about the faith of those they disagree with:
“The second thing that Democrats have to do better on is not attacking the ‘religious right,’” he said. “I think that has been a standard bogeyman that Democrats have often used in campaigns, including campaigns in Virginia. If somebody advances an idea or position that’s wrong, then attack them for having a bad idea. But they are not wrong because they are religious.
“When Democrats kind of cavalierly attack the religious right or go after Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, our candidates have sent the signal to a lot of religious people, ‘Well, I guess they are not interested in me.’ And I think this includes a lot of people who would fit very naturally within the Democratic Party.”
Having grown up with people who hold the religious and political beliefs of the Liberty crowd, I can tell you, these people are not content for you to leave them alone. They can not agree to disagree. In their view of Scripture, they are called by God to convert you to their view of the world. That dogma is inherent in their belief in Biblical inerrancy.
The problem is, their view of the Bible and the world is wrong. (Would that our four candidates for governor be as bold to say so.)
While Gov. Kaine’s approach of dialog may be good politics, he must recognize that in order to have a dialog, you have to have two people in conversation. (This decision by Liberty indicates that they are not really interested in encouraging their students to explore the world beyond the cocoon they’ve created in Lynchburg.)
The more interesting development related to this story is the generational shift going on in the evangelical movement. Younger evangelicals are more likely to consider themselves Democrats although most still identify as conservatives. The Jesus for President crowd is a good example of this and I believe students organizing a College Democrats chapter at Liberty is another example.
Perhaps things are coming full circle at Liberty. Remember, Jerry Falwell, Sr. once supported Jimmy Carter for president. I don’t know.
But I do know that Liberty is a private school and they can be as insular and as backward as they want to be. But calling what they offer their students an education rings hollow to me. The real world doesn’t function the way Liberty, Inc. does on Chandler Mountain.