I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Frost on the pumpkins and the Brewers in the playoffs. What could be better? How bout another week full of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs?

More teens are abandoning traditional gender categories, at CNN.

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What do some conservatives have against the unicorn?

Why are tests so hard to kill? New Jersey struggles to get rid of its common-core tests, at NJ.com.

What color is your Jesus? Three-quarters of white evangelicals still support Trump. Three-quarters of black evangelicals oppose him, at Vox.

Going up for tenure? Don’t bother with public scholarship, says a new survey at CHE.

Why so many Catholics and so few evangelicals on SCOTUS? Gene Zubovich says it’s a matter of school history.

By virtue of their 19th-century separationist anxieties and their investment in institutions of higher learning, Catholics have become the brains of the religious Right in the US.

Moody Bible Institute picks a new leader after a rough year, at CT.

Jerry Falwell Jr. explains why evangelicals love Trump, at The Guardian.

Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a good, moral person, a strong leader, a tough leader – and that’s what this country needs.

Kirk on campus. No, not that Kirk. A review of Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk’s new book about conservative campus dreams at CHE.

Dirty tricks, done dirt cheap: Arizona Republicans get busted trying to donate $39.68 to their Democratic rivals, posing as communists. At The Guardian.

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Falwell Wasn’t Trying to Be Funny…

To be fair, it wasn’t the worst mistake he ever made. But Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent goof has some complicating factors that make it hard to ignore.

lincoln

Erm…actually, Jer…

As we’ve seen, Falwell has a rough track record in quotable quotes. As the president of a huge evangelical Christian university, he has in the past misquoted the Bible. That has to hurt.

In his recent interview with The Guardian, President Falwell compounded his errors. If it were someone else speaking, I would be tempted to think Falwell was making a subtle and hilarious gibe. In reality, though, I think he just got mixed up.

Here’s what we know: In the recent Guardian interview, Falwell lauded President Trump to the skies. Not only did Falwell support Trump for strategic reasons, he actually believed Trump to be a morally good person. As Falwell put it,

Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a good, moral person, a strong leader, a tough leader – and that’s what this country needs.

That’s a difficult position for me to understand. I can understand backing a bad person who is fighting for your side. I can understand backing an immoral character who fulfills important promises. But I can’t understand how anyone would call Trump a “good, moral person.” Maybe some SAGLRROILYBYGTH can explain that one to me.

The point this morning, though, is different. In his encomiums to President Trump, President Falwell insisted that he and Trump were totally on the same page. As Falwell told the Brits,

I usually tweet something similar to what he tweets a day or two before him. We think alike.

And, apparently unintentionally, Falwell went on to prove his intellectual similarity to Trump by making a glaring historical error. I can’t tell for sure, but I think Falwell got confused about what century America’s Civil War was in. America had not been this polarized in a very long time, Falwell said.

not since the civil war. I don’t know where that takes you. I can’t imagine a war breaking out in a civilised society in the 21st century. But if this was the 18th century, I think it would end up in a war. It’s scary.

I hate to be this guy, but anyone could tell you that America’s Civil War happened in the 19th century, not the 18th.

I know, I know, it’s an understandable mistake, sort of. And I don’t think Falwell meant to be funny, but how hilarious would it be if he wanted to prove his similarity to the fact-averse Trump by insisting on making at least one glaring error per public appearance?

Higher Ed as a Weapon

Looks like the tradition continues. As the Brett Kavanaugh hearings sweep over Washington DC like a brushfire, Liberty University is back to its old 1970s tactics. Turns out clean-cut well-dressed conservative Christian students are a potent political weapon.

liberty busses at kavanaugh hearing

From Jack Jenkins…

Here’s what we know: Jack Jenkins has reported that two Liberty University busses pulled up to the Kavanaugh hearings this morning. Presumably, Jerry Falwell Jr. is pulling a few pages from his dad’s political playbook.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Jerry Falwell Sr. was fond of using Liberty University students to twist arms on Capitol Hill. Most famously, he sent his “I Love America” bus tour around to various state houses to sing and dance about America.

The goal was to attract attention to Falwell’s conservative policy plans. He hoped to get headlines and push politicians to get on the Liberty bus. Politically, that is.

That wasn’t all.

I didn’t have room to include much of this in Fundamentalist U, but Falwell Sr. employed students as smiling lobbyists. In early 1980, for example, he had students hand-deliver his “95 theses for the 1980s” to US Representatives.

falwell i love america tour

La la la…we love Americaaaaa

Charles F. Bennett, of Florida’s 3rd district, told Falwell that Bennett was delighted to receive the information directly from a

Fine young Christian student.

And Carroll Hubbard, of Kentucky’s 1st district, wrote to Falwell to say that he was posting the 95 theses on his desk. As Rep. Hubbard put it,

You are an inspiration to my family and me. 2 Chronicles 7:14.

For Jerry Falwell Jr., then, sending busloads of students to support Judge Kavanaugh is anything but a surprise.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

No more wearing white, I guess. Around here, we’ve already had to turn on the heat. The interwebs stayed hot, though. Here is our weekly roundup of ILYBYGTH-themed stories:

Starving for Jesus: Wisconsin family kills one child, nearly kills another in Christian fast, at WSJ.

falwell on nike

Football, America, and God too.

Christian college drops Nike over anthem protests, at CHE.

Gresham Machen and segregationism at the old Princeton Seminary, at FM.

Wowzers, the big story: The inside resistance in the White House, at NYT.

Meanwhile, Trump explains the “great job” he’s doing to Bob Woodward, at WaPo.

Nobody has ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. (12:52)

Senator McCain’s legacy as a school reformer, at T74.

Great Books as the solution to campus protests, at CHE.

Both reactionary pundits mocking campus speech codes and the social-justice warriors they love to hate are complicit in reproducing the kinds of inequality that tribalism feeds on.

Is education a “fundamental right?” Jill Lepore reviews Justin Driver in The New Yorker.

Coming out to young-earth creationists, at BioLogos.

The politics of Christian crafts: Kristen Kobes Du Mez on “Hobby Lobby Evangelicalism.”

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.

An Errant Evangelical

C’mon….we all know what he meant. But for the president of an evangelical university to make this sort of goof and leave it undeleted still surprises me for two big reasons.

falwell sewed

“…by their tweets shall ye know them…”

Here’s what we’re talking about: The tweeters are aflutter about a statement by Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University. Falwell blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the recent legal hot-water of top former Trump aides.

Here at ILYBYGTH, we’re more interested in Falwell’s scripture goof. Of course, he didn’t mean anyone “sewed” the wind. He’s referring to Hosea 8:7, in which people “sowed” the wind.

On one hand, it’s easy to make a simply typing mistake, especially on Twitter. In this case, though, I’m really surprised Falwell has left it up, mostly because it’s not a simply misspelling. “Sewed” is a totally different word with a different meaning, implying that Falwell doesn’t understand what Hosea was talking about. In other words, it’s not only a misspelling, but a misquotation.

It would be different if Falwell had accidentally typed “sowd the wind” or “sowed teh wind,” but “sewed the wind” makes it seem like Falwell just doesn’t really know the Bible verse all that well.

And that makes me surprised to see it linger, for two big reasons.

First of all, among the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist public, nothing matters more in a university leader than deep knowledge of and reverence for scripture. This sort of uncorrected typo makes it look as if Falwell didn’t understand the gist of the chapter and verse. Or worse, he doesn’t care enough about fidelity to Scripture.

Second, Liberty University has always desperately wanted to win mainstream academic respectability. In recent years, they have spent bajillions of dollars to do so. For Falwell to leave this misquotation undeleted makes his school look even more like the anti-intellectual cloister it has often been accused of being.

Liberty U Continues the Ugly Tradition…

The story has leaked out already, but WORLD put it all together, with some depth. Student editors and reporters at Liberty’s student newspaper told their tale of administration bullying and Trumpish power-grabs. I’m sorry to say that such administrative antics are not unusual for student newspapers in evangelical higher education.

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…all the news that fits [the Falwells’ vision]…

If you haven’t seen WORLD‘s story yet, it’s worth your time. Liberty’s hatchet man was Bruce Kirk. Kirk upbraided the student editors for trying to act like real journalists. After students tried to publish news of the controversial Red-Letter Revival last year, Kirk warned them that the student newspaper ought only to make the university look good. According to WORLD, Kirk told the students,

in the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.

When student editor Erin Covey asked a question, Kirk tried hard to shut her down. Liberty University, Kirk told her, is not all that different from any other “family business.” Kirk went on,

it’s a family business, it is. I mean, Jerry Falwell and his dad Jerry before him and that’s how this university was founded, right? It wasn’t founded by somebody else. It was founded by the Falwells. . . . It’s their paper. They can do what they want. … If things aren’t followed, they’ll get stricter.

And get stricter they did. According to WORLD, student editors soon found themselves out of a job.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m no evangelical myself, nor did I attend an evangelical college. As I found in the research for my recent book, however, the recent goings-on at Liberty are not very far from the traditional norm. As I’ve pointed out in the book and in these pages, censorship has always been part and parcel of the student and faculty experience at evangelical institutions.

It might not be polite to point out, but I think it’s true: speaking historically, there can’t be any sort of free speech crisis at evangelical colleges. I hate to quote myself, but this is how I put it earlier, and I stand by it:

Evangelical colleges that restrict speech these days don’t face a crisis. They fulfill a promise.

Why Didn’t Jerry Falwell Jr. Say THIS Instead?

In this era of playground taunts and adolescent boasting, Jerry Falwell Jr. seems to feel right at home. Falwell complained recently that his Liberty University should still be considered the largest Christian university in America, despite the fact that Grand Canyon University was larger. Falwell claimed that real Christian universities do something GCU doesn’t do. It seems to this reporter he could have made a much more powerful argument against GCU. I have a hunch why he didn’t.

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Cactus, cross…and ka-ching?

Here’s what we know: Religion News Service recently published an acknowledgement from Liberty that GCU had “supplanted” them as America’s largest evangelical university. President Falwell wrote to RNS to complain. GCU, Falwell wrote, isn’t really “Christian,” since it doesn’t require faculty to sign an annual statement of evangelical faith.

As historian John Fea commented, Falwell’s use of “Christian” to mean only those few conservative-evangelical universities that grew out of the fundamentalist movement seems stunted.

I certainly agree. When former Liberty President Pierre Guillermin bragged in 1982 that his evangelical school planned to become “the Notre Dame of the Christian world athletically and the Harvard of the Christian world academically,” it’s difficult not to wonder what all those Notre Dame Christians might have thought. For Guillermin, Falwell, and many other conservative-evangelical leaders, the use of “Christian” to denote only their own conservative-evangelical faith seems presumptuous indeed.

However, if we accept for the sake of argument Falwell’s definition of “Christian” universities as limited only to conservative-evangelical schools, his complaint makes a little more sense. As I noted in my recent book about the history of evangelical higher education, requiring faculty annually to sign a statement of faith really HAS been a hallmark of these schools, and GCU really has abandoned that requirement in its effort to attract more students and retain more faculty.

As GCU pointed out, they require faculty to sign a statement saying they “understand” the school’s mission, but that is a far cry from the “ironclad” attempts of fundamentalist schools to ensure all faculty members agreed with their schools’ religious beliefs without any mental reservation. In contrast to that strong fundamentalist tradition, GCU claims to be a “missional community” that welcomes “students, faculty and staff from all walks of life, some of whom may experience Christianity for the first time at the university.” Unlike the conservative-evangelical schools that grew out of the fundamentalist movement—and the many denominational schools that generally consider themselves part of the conservative-evangelical network—GCU does not require faculty to “commit to affirming and practicing the same faith.”

moreton

How did capitalism, Christianity, and college combine?

So when Falwell complains that GCU isn’t really following the same playbook, he’s not wrong.

But ditching the required faculty statement of faith is not the most shocking innovation GCU attempted. When its enrollment numbers plummeted at the start of this century, GCU adopted a for-profit business model. It became Grand Canyon Education, Incorporated and focused on in-demand majors such as nursing and education. These days, with for-profit schools under scrutiny, GCU has attempted to move back to non-profit status.

So here’s my question: If Falwell wanted to prove that his “Christian” school was the biggest, why didn’t he say that GCU shouldn’t be considered “Christian” because it was a for-profit business?

And here’s my hunch: Since at least the late 1800s, American cultural conservatives have assumed that capitalism is the best sort of social system. Many conservative Christians have argued that free-enterprise systems are somehow God’s preferred way of organizing an economy. In the twentieth century, a lot of the connections between capitalism and Christianity came from the shared opposition to communism.

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God = Capital

The tight connections between free-market principles and evangelical ones were usually simply taken for granted. To cite just one example, the president of Gordon College promised in 1967 that his school was a place in which

youth is encouraged to have faith in the historical validity and continuity of the principles of competitive free enterprise.

As historians Darren Dochuk and Bethany Moreton have explored, some schools such as Harding College and John Brown University raised the principle of “Christian free enterprise” to an all-encompassing mission.

So it doesn’t seem crazy that President Falwell wouldn’t even wonder if adopting a for-profit status might push his rival GCU out of consideration as a real “Christian” school. At least, that’s how it looks to this reporter.

Am I missing something? Is there any other reason why Falwell would ignore the huge, obvious fact that GCU wasn’t really “Christian” if it peddled its mission for mere lucre?

Why Jimmy Carter?

If you didn’t know much about Liberty University or conservative evangelical higher education, you might be surprised to hear that President Jimmy Carter will be giving the commencement address at Liberty this year.

Trump at liberty

Glories of past Liberty commencements…

For SAGLRROILYBYGTH, it makes perfect sense. I lay out my case this morning at The Conversation why Jerry Falwell Jr. would want President Carter to come to Lynchburg.

Why would he? Click on over and check it out. Let me know if you think I’m off base.

What They Missed about Liberty Online

Want to understand evangelical higher education these days? Then you need to read the recent exposé of Liberty University’s online program in the New York Times. But when you do, remember that they left out a central piece of the picture.

moody literature mission

Early distance-learning programs at MBI claimed to reach the world with cutting-edge technology, c. 1947. These “mountaineers” got free Gospels if they read them in school. And, yes, that is their school building.

The Liberty Online story is a big one. As the Times article describes, Liberty now claims $2.5 billion (yes, that’s B-illion with a B) in net assets, largely from its online department. Because Liberty is a non-profit, it is not subject to the same oversight as for-profit schools such as Corinthian and the University of Phoenix.

Some online students, the article describes, felt pressured to sign up and ripped off with the results. As one unhappy former Liberty student told the Times,

What’s killing me is that I went into this program to try to change my situation . . . and I’m worse off than I was at the beginning.

It’s an ugly story. There is no doubt that Liberty’s online program has been a cash cow. As we’ve noted here at ILYBYGTH, there’s also no doubt that Liberty’s Jerry Falwell Jr. has plowed his online profits back into the brick-and-mortar campus. Sports, star faculty, and campus facilities all get plenty of funding. Recently, the Liberty football squad used that money to fulfill one of the school’s long-standing dreams by defeating top-ranked Baylor.

But the Times story leaves out a crucial part of the historical context. The way they put it, Liberty’s online program came about as part of an experiment, an “educational novelty.” As the article explains,

One educational novelty that Falwell dabbled in, starting in the mid-’70s, was an early form of distance learning. Liberty would mail lecture videotapes and course packets to paying customers around the country — at first just certificate courses in Bible studies, and by the mid-’80s, accredited courses in other subjects as well.

The inspiration, according to the NYT, was the work of John Sperling and the University of Phoenix. I don’t doubt that President Falwell Jr. admired Sperling’s business model. I don’t dismiss the importance of the notion that Falwell has treated his school, as he told NYT, “like a business.”

However, if we really want to understand Liberty’s online success, we have to also understand its context as part of the history of evangelical higher education. It is difficult for some secular people (like me) to notice or acknowledge, but evangelical schools and missionary institutions have always led the way with finding new ways to use new technology to deliver distance education.

letterhead from BGC 3

Check out the 1950s-era “high-tech” logo! More evidence of the evangelical obsession with technology and distance learning, from Fuller Seminary, c. 1956.

Perhaps the best example might be the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. No matter the decade, no matter the technology, the Moody educational empire has found ways to expand its reach using new technological means. The drive is obvious: For MBI and other evangelical institutions, the primary goal is to deliver the Gospel to as many human eyes and ears as possible, as fast as possible. If new technology will help accomplish that mission, all the better.

To note just a few of the best-known programs, MBI was a pioneer in early radio, with its WMBI established in 1926 to bring the Word to the world. By 1940, WMBI’s Radio School of the Bible had over 10,000 registrants. In 1942, WMBI claimed to broadcast its programs through 187 radio stations across the USA, Canada, China, and Latin America.

In the 1940s, MBI set up its Moody Institute of Science, distributing missionary science films to a wide audience.

At the same time, MBI carried out less-well-known distance-learning programs as well. As I discovered in the MBI archives, from the 1920s through the 1960s the Moody Literature Mission delivered millions of books and tracts to readers throughout the country and throughout the world.

The point of these distance-learning programs was always the same. MBI, like all evangelical colleges and universities, had a mission of missions. It was dedicated to training young people to carry the Gospel around the world. And, unlike some people’s image of stuffy Luddite conservatives, evangelical institutions were always pioneers in every type of technology: print, radio, film, and internet.

So when the Jerry Falwells experimented with distance education, they weren’t innovating at all, really. Rather, they were merely continuing the long tradition of evangelical higher education—using all available means to deliver the Gospel around the world.