Does Jesus Love Shotguns? Liberty University and the Many Faces of American Conservatism

What do gun rights have to do with Jesus?

Nothing, right?

Then why did Liberty University offer a sweet scholarship to David Cole Withrow?

Here’s the latest, according to the Christian outlet World Magazine: Withrow had been punished for bringing two guns to his high-school campus in Princeton, North Carolina.  At first, it appeared he had accidentally left them in his truck.  As soon as he remembered his mistake, the story was first reported, Withrow informed school authorities of the guns.  In spite of the innocence of his mistake and his Eagle-Scout honesty in reporting the problem, school officials reported Withrow, who was charged with a felony and kicked out of school.  The story became a tempest in America’s culture-wars teapot.  Withrow became a symbol of an overreaching anti-gun governmental tyranny.  Since Withrow was wearing a Liberty University t-shirt in some public appearances, the University contacted him and offered him a full scholarship.

Falwell and Withrow

Falwell and Withrow; Image source, Liberty University

Turns out Withrow had known about the guns all along. According to World Magazine, Withrow admitted in court he had lied.  Nevertheless, Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University stand by their offer.  Withrow’s admission of dishonesty, Falwell announced, smacks of more heavy-handed state tactics.

So in the end, nothing really happened.  A conservative Christian youth will go to a conservative Christian college.

Why should those of us trying to understand the world of conservative educational thinking in America care about this story?

Because this story demonstrates the sticky web of connections between seemingly unrelated issues.  Liberty University was founded in the early 1970s by barnstorming evangelist Jerry Falwell.  The goal of the university was to produce new platoons of educated conservative Christians, ready to swing the United States back into the arms of its rightful Moral Majority.

This story demonstrates that the conservatism of Christian institutions such as Liberty University reaches beyond theology.  Liberty University may exist to teach students in a Christian environment.  But that environment also supports theologically unrelated notions, such as the rights of people to have and use guns, and the rights of people to be defended from an overreaching Obama regime.

As faculty star Karen Swallow Prior reported a while back, the broad cultural conservatism on Liberty’s campus may be relaxing a little. Students these days tend to wear less formal clothes, and some even started a Campus Democrat club.  Nevertheless, as Chancellor Falwell’s actions show in this case, Liberty still represents a bastion of an American conservatism that reaches far beyond Biblical interpretation.

What does Jesus think about shotguns?  I don’t know.  But the multifaceted ideology/theology/admissions policy on display in this story demonstrates the complexity of American educational conservatism.