On Liberty


Editorial cartoon from the Washington Examiner following the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.

Editorial cartoon from the Washington Examiner following the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under DNC, Right wing nut jobs, Virginia Governor's Campaign

2 responses to “On Liberty

  1. Kel

    Liberty University states in it’s Op-Ed:

    “A number of media sources recently reported that Liberty University banned Democrats from meeting on campus. One headline erroneously read: “Democrats at Liberty University forced to meet off campus.” Apparently many journalists do not let the facts get in the way of a juicy, agenda-driven story.

    The story was spun out of control from the beginning, when Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Virginia, called a telephone press conference to talk about the College Democrat club formed by students of Liberty University. The presses began to buzz. Much of what went to print was wrong. Most journalists were interested in scooping their competitors rather than seeking the truth. Even when some reporters learned the facts, they could not bring themselves to correct their stories because the fanciful reports were just too tempting.

    The University has not banned Democrats from campus. Nor has the Democrat club been banned from meeting. And, never has the University or its officials said that a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat. Sorry for those who want to run with these titillating sound bites, but these are the facts.

    The students who formed the Democrat club last October are good students. They are pro-life and believe in traditional marriage. They can continue to meet on campus. The only thing that has changed came about as part of a University-wide review of all student organizations for official recognition status. Official recognition carries with it the benefit of using the University name and funds. While this group will not be an officially recognized club, it may still meet on campus.

    Liberty University is the world’s largest and fastest growing evangelical university. While many schools have faced budget short falls and declining enrollment, Liberty is debt free and continues to grow at a rapid rate. We now have 11,500 students on campus and nearly 38,000 students online. This fall Liberty University will exceed 50,000 total students.

    Parents and students support the University because they believe in its distinctly Christian identity and mission. Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children. Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission.

    While the students in the college Democrat club are pro-life and support traditional marriage, the constitution of the club pledged support to advance the Democratic platform and candidates. The 2008 Democratic platform has taken an extreme turn to the left on social issues. For the first time it supports federal funding of abortion and repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed overwhelmingly by a bi-partisan Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to undermine marriage or to promote abortion.

    While students are free to meet on campus, debate and discuss politics of every stripe, the University will remain true to its core principles and not lend its name or fund groups that work to undermine the principles that make Liberty attractive to so many people. Liberty brings many diverse speakers to campus. Last year Senator John McCain’s brother spoke to the students along with Virginia Democratic Governor, Tim Kaine. Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to our students this spring about how her opposition to same sex marriage put her at odds with her family and her political allies. Ted Kennedy also spoke at Liberty in 1983.

    We encourage our students to bring positive change to all political parties, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. We hope our students challenge all political parties to remain true to the core moral values consistent with the Christian mission of the University. To blindly support any candidate solely because of party affiliation irrespective of their moral views is wrong. Liberty would never endorse a Republican student group that supported abortion rights. Liberty stands for certain core values; not for a political party.”

  2. Thank you for sharing the statement issued by Jerry Falwell, Jr. earlier this week. I have another blog post on that aspect of this topic coming soon.

    As I said on Twitter, I believe this statement raises more questions than it answers. So do subsequent media reports.

    That said, I wanted to approve your comment — which actually isn’t your comment, but that of Jerry Falwell, Jr. — so you could know I am interested in hearing opposing points of view.

    Stay tuned for my next post. (And send me your own comments then.) 😉

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