I recently joined the efforts of Liberty University alumni who will be returning their diplomas in protest of your support for Donald Trump. However, I also wanted to pen this letter to help you see this issue from my personal perspective.
As a student at Liberty University in the 1980s, I worked on the attempt to launch the TV show “Jerry Falwell Live.” Then, in the 1990s, I served as the Director of Academic Computing for Liberty. In both of those roles I had opportunity to interact directly with your father. He was political, of that there is no doubt. But, I also heard him repeatedly decry, both in person and in his chapel sermons, the sin of moral relativism. I have personally experienced a dark night of the soul as I have sought to reconcile your support of Donald Trump with the sense of biblical morality and authority into which I was educated and enculturated while a student at Liberty University.
You could read my writings and social media posts and dismiss my concerns as those of a theological liberal. It is true that my beliefs have shifted over time. In college I was a conservative Presbyterian (yes, I was one of those who, back in the day, had to sneak into Rivermont Presbyterian). Today I worship in the Anglican tradition. But I think you would be misguided to judge the critique of your Trump support as comprised simply of those who disagree with you or Liberty theologically.
Jerry, you have thrown your support behind a man who claims he does not need God’s forgiveness because he has not sinned. You stood consistently behind a man whose personal life is a moral train wreck – even open evidence of his casual attitude toward sexual assault did not dissuade you. You shilled for a man whose business life has been marked by deception, scandal, bankruptcy and financial loss for his investors. You praised as “bold” and “truthful” a man who has maintained his public image through rank hucksterism and outright lies. You described as an “American hero” someone who openly sought the electoral support of an enemy foreign power.
But, it is your support of Donald Trump after his failure to condemn the KKK that has proven to be the breaking point for so many. Prior to the Charlottesville incident, you were able to successfully stand in the space provided by American political discourse and claim that the President was the “Commander in Chief, not the Pastor in Chief.”
Since Charlottesville, that space is no longer available to you. Your ardent and vocal support of Donald Trump after he failed to condemn the racism of the KKK and white supremacists makes you complicit in his sin until you disavow his actions and rhetoric, or until he asks for forgiveness. Since the President has already said he would never ask for forgiveness, the burden is on you. And this is not a theologically liberal position; ironically, a very strict reading of scripture drives this belief.
You could also review the public record and see that I supported both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I was committed to Republican principles well into my 30s, and for eight years after leaving Liberty I served as a GOP political operative. During that time I helped elect two GOP State Senators and four House of Delegates members to the Virginia General Assembly. Two of those individuals made it to the top of Virginia government, one as Attorney General and one as Governor. However, my attitudes have shifted over time, and I am now more likely to vote for a Democrat than a Republican. Because of this, you could easily use me as a straw man to dismiss the critique of your embrace of Donald Trump as simple political warfare.
But political warfare does not explain the resignation of Mark Demoss as Chairman of the Liberty University board. Liberty would not exist without the financial support of the Demoss family during its founding and early years. It’s also true that Liberty would not have stayed afloat in the late 1980s and through the 1990s without the support of the Demoss family, along with Mark’s in-laws, the Williams family.
Clearly, Mark Demoss is a friend of Liberty University. Further, given his PR firm’s active support of some of the top names in evangelicalism (for example, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Campus Crusade for Christ International and Chick-fil-A) it would be a difficult case to make that Mark Demoss is either a theological or political liberal, or one who wishes ill for Liberty University or its mission. However, Demoss himself resigned as the Chairman of the Board of Liberty University over your support of Donald Trump. So please do not dismiss the criticism as being driven by those who, for political or theological reasons, wish to attack you, the school, or conservatism.
I have also heard you dismiss the criticisms over your support of Donald Trump as the rantings of malcontented youth. Here’s one problem with that theory – I’m 52. I attended Liberty around the same time as your brother, Jonathan Falwell, the current pastor of LU’s founding church, Thomas Road Baptist. I’m a dad and a businessman, not some hipster in a loft, talking smack about “the man.” Your lack of moral backbone might be more forgivable if you were 22, but you’re not. You’re a grown man responsible for the leadership of the largest evangelical university in the world. As such, the words that come out of your mouth (or your keyboard) translate into what people believe to be true of Christianity and the gospel. Linking Liberty University with a man unwilling to disavow racists and racism taints the gospel with the stench of hatred and exclusion.
This letter is written in my own words, and I do not claim to speak for the group organizing the “diploma return” protest. However, it would be wrong to dismiss that protest, as well as the larger call for your accountability on this issue, as motivated by differences in theological beliefs, political affiliations, age or station in life. What organizes that group is a shared sense of outrage among those who were taught moral reasoning at Liberty University. You preside over an institution that purposely instills and inculcates each student with the critical value of judging all actions against standards of biblical morality. Your active support of Donald Trump is an abdication of your responsibility to act in accordance with what you teach students to believe, and how you expect them to act.
Jerry, I’m sure these words are hard to hear, assuming you even heard them. But, there is hope. You, more than perhaps any other evangelical leader, hold the power to demonstrate that morality is not relative, and sin cannot be dismissed for reasons of power and influence. And you, as a self-professed friend of Donald Trump, have the ear of the leader. I invite you, I implore you, to act in accordance with the principles of Liberty University and call Donald Trump to repentance. Failure to do so makes a mockery of the last 46 years.