Will Liberty Get on the Ozark Train?

For those people who still think evangelicalism should primarily be defined by theological distinctions, consider the news: Yet another conservative evangelical college is considering dropping its Nike contract over the anthem-protest issue. How does theology explain that one?

falwell on nike

Football, America, and God too.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH will remember that the College of the Ozarks already announced its anti-Nike stance in the wake of Nike’s Colin-Kaepernick ad. They may also recall our point here at ILYBYGTH that such staunch knee-jerk conservative patriotism was not the exception, but the rule for evangelical universities in the twentieth century.

Some might say that COE’s uber-patriotism is just an odd outlier in the world of evangelical higher education. Today it looks like COE might have more company. According to President Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University in Virginia is considering scrapping its sponsorship deal with Nike. Unlike College of the Ozarks, Liberty is a cash-rich up-and-comer in the world of NCAA athletics.

As Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. told USA Today:

We’re exploring the situation. . . . If Nike really does believe that law enforcement in this country is unfair and biased, I think we will look around. If we have a contract, we’ll honor it, but we strongly support law enforcement and strongly support our military and veterans who died to protect our freedoms and if the company really believes what Colin Kaepernick believes, it’s going to be hard for us to keep doing business with them.

But if it’s just a publicity stunt to bring attention to Nike or whatever, that’s different. We understand that. We understand how marketing works. But they’re going to have to convince us that they’re not proactively attacking law enforcement officers and our military. If that’s the reason behind using this ad, we’re going to have a hard time staying.

For many Americans, Falwell’s defiant conservative patriotism makes sense. For a lot of people, it’s probably even admirable. But how is it part of evangelical religion?

In short, it’s not, if we try to define evangelicalism only by theological notions such as a reverence for Scripture and an emphasis on soul-winning.

But! If we understand American evangelicalism—the Falwell/Liberty kind, at least—as a conservative cultural mish-mash, including conservative ideas about religion, but also about race, the South, gender rules, sexuality, and so on, then Falwell’s aggressive militarism fits perfectly.

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