This article packs an even stronger punch now that we know Liberty University is probably dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus. Liberty is an unhealthy place. And now people are getting sick.
Here is Brandon Ambrosio at Politico:
Lynchburg, Virginia, isn’t a stereotypical college town. It isn’t politically liberal. It doesn’t have the crunchy affect of an Ann Arbor or even a Charlottesville.
But even here, where Liberty University drives a large part of the economy—and where school president and chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. strides across the landscape as a local grandee—anger over Falwell’s decision to bring university students back amid a coronavirus pandemic is boiling over.
“Remember when people wanted to tar and feather folks? That’s about the level it’s at in the Lynchburg community right now,” a former longtime Falwell associate told me over the phone. “You have … 16,000 petri dishes he’s inviting back to Lynchburg, who have gone out all over country for spring break—he’s inviting them back into our city, our community, knowing that at some point they’re gonna have to interact with the public.”
Throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus have led colleges to upend their plans for the semester by moving classes online, canceling commencement ceremonies and—critically, from a public-health perspective—moving students out of dorms. Virginia Tech is practically begging students to stay away, enticing them with cash rebates. The University of Virginia has shut down its dorm system, save for those few students “who have no other option.”
Liberty University, meanwhile, has invited its students to return to the dorms, whatever their circumstances might be. Falwell has said this decision was in students’ best interests—that students would be better off if they returned to campus before the coronavirus spread—but that suggestion has met with exasperation by public health experts, state and local officials, and many residents of Lynchburg.
As President Donald Trump pumps out messages that fears of the coronavirus are overblown, and Americans try to square that with their local regulations and personal worries, Liberty has become an even more intense version of the national conflict, with students and faculty left trying to weigh their own interests against a defiant leadership with a constantly pivoting message—in this case, a person who is used to having total control of the institution.
For people who’ve traveled in Falwell’s orbit, the decision is classic Jerry.
“He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants,” a former Liberty University executive told me.
“He’s very defiant,” said another longtime Falwell associate with close ties to the Falwell family. “It’s very much in his character. That’s a family trait. His father was the same way.”
Now, Falwell has maintained that people have this all wrong: Liberty simply allowed students to return to live in the dorms, if they so choose, while finishing up the semester in online courses. “We think Liberty’s practices will become the model for all colleges to follow in the fall, if Coronavirus is still an issue,” Falwell told the school’s news service in a March 23 statement.
A new movie makes a retired firefighter out to be a prophet. In reality, he’s a radical conspiracy theorist who thinks Democrats control the weather.
Even more disturbingly, earlier in this same interview Taylor describes how God has been speaking to him through racehorses, reading the euthanization of a racehorse named after Barack Obama as a sign that Democrats are about to start being executed.
“This has nothing to do with Roe vs Wade right now,” says Taylor of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “This has everything to do with military tribunals, them being charged with treason, and going to prison for the rest of their life and some being executed.” He continues:
The racehorse named Barack Obama was euthanized. That is probably the biggest prophetic sign that you could have of God saying this man is going to go down. Period. That’s the bottom line. You can get mad at me all you want to, but God’s the messenger here, he is the one sending the message. People don’t think that this stuff is real or it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.
This is real. Justice is not coming, it’s here, period, and it is taking place on the earth. This whole thing with Kavanaugh is about trying to stop the military tribunals … This is all about rounding these people up, charging them with treason, and they know that, basically, their head is going to be in a noose, literally.
Taylor’s beliefs are extreme even for Christian fundamentalists. But by co-producing a motion picture about his life, Liberty University—one of the largest, most organized institutions of American evangelicalism—has effectively endorsed Taylor’s status as a prophet.
That The Trump Prophecy aims to establish the legitimacy of a “prophet” whose latest “prophecy” predicts the state-sanctioned murdering of Trump’s political enemies is a fact that the film’s most prominent reviewers haven’t even touched on. Harriet Sherwood, writing for The Guardian, ends her coverage of the film with a feel-good quote from producer Rick Eldridge, who says “every American who loves his country should appreciate the movie and be inspired by it.”
When the White House wants to gather evangelicals for one of its many issue-specific “listening sessions,” the Rev. Johnnie Moore is often one of the first to hear.
It wasn’t always clear that Mr. Moore, a 34-year-old Southern Baptist minister who was a co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board, would be a frequent White House guest.
.. Not a day goes by when there aren’t a dozen evangelical leaders in the White House for something.”
.. On Thursday, Mr. Moore will join what he calls the “Super Bowl for peacemakers” here: the annual National Prayer Breakfast, where around 3,000 clergy members, politicians and business leaders will eat, network and listen to speeches, including one from President Trump.
.. Mr. Trump will stand before an audience that has cheered the president’s first-year agenda as its own:
- announcing that the American Embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem,
- anointing a national “prayer Sunday,”
- appointing Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court,
- signing anti-abortion legislation,
- opening a “conscience and religious freedom division” at the Department of Health and Human Services and
- fighting to end the Johnson Amendment, which threatens religious organizations with the loss of their tax-exempt status if they endorse political candidates.
.. Mr. Moore, a former Liberty University vice president
The group, which also includes
- Tim Clinton,
- Robert Jeffress,
- Darrell Scott,
- Samuel Rodriguez and
- Paula White, who has been called Mr. Trump’s personal “spiritual adviser,”
is a frequent and influential voice in the ears of senior administration officials.
.. Jennifer Korn, who as a deputy director of the public liaison office manages contact between the White House and faith groups, sends out invitations to policy briefings and the “listening sessions.”
.. Ms. Korn invites senior West Wing advisers such as Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway to visit the groups, which range from 20 to 100 guests and are often tied to specific faith-related legislation, executive orders and court appointments.
.. Mr. Jeffress, another core member from the campaign board, has been one of Mr. Trump’s most reliable evangelical advocates
.. “I can’t look into the president’s heart to know if he really personally believes these positions he’s advocating, or whether he thinks it’s smart politics to embrace them because of the strong evangelical influence in the country,” Mr. Jeffress said in an interview. “But frankly, I don’t care. As a Christian, I’m seeing these policies embraced and enacted, and he’s doing that.”
.. He and Mr. Moore are sympathetic to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that shields young undocumented immigrants, which is often viewed as a progressive cause.
.. When he is in the Oval Office with faith leaders, Mr. Moore said, they try to “personalize” issues for Mr. Trump, including in a recent discussion on DACA, when the group told the president that he should view the issue as a father and grandfather.
.. evangelical advocacy in the White House also helped expedite the confirmation of former Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as ambassador for international religious freedom, a post for which he and the core group of evangelical voices in the White House had long pushed.
.. The Rev. A. R. Bernard, the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn and a member of the campaign board, announced that he was no longer associating with the White House evangelical group after Mr. Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August.
.. saw Mr. Trump as largely indifferent to faith leaders’ to-do list.
“There was nothing hidden. He wanted that voting bloc. He wanted their votes,” Mr. Bernard said
.. “It was transactional. He wanted to do whatever he thought would get those votes.”
.. “He’s not the pastor of our country,” Franklin Graham
.. Tony Perkins, the president of the evangelical Family Research Council, said that evangelicals would give Mr. Trump a “mulligan.”
Mr. Jeffress agreed.
.. “Evangelical support for President Trump has always been based on his policies, not on his personal piety,” he said.
.. Mr. Scott, a pastor at the New Spirit Revival Center in the Cleveland .. aid Mr. Trump’s interest in evangelicalism stemmed not from opportunism but from wanting to atone for a life largely devoid of conventional religiosity.
.. Mr. Trump would often apologize if he cursed in front of them.
.. “I find his reverence for clergy very old-school,” Mr. Scott said. “When he’s in the room with clergy, he adopts the position of the lesser. He seems to regard the clergy as the greater.”
.. Mr. Trump has the view of “while you guys were off pursuing a higher calling, I was off building buildings,” Mr. Scott said. “Now it’s time for me to catch up.”
.. “People sort of think of evangelicals as these bumpkins. That always drives me crazy,” Mr. Moore said before he dashed out of a downtown Washington cafe. “I think we are far more informed than people give us credit for.”
Paul Weyrich: “What caused the movement to surface was the federal government’s moves against Christian schools. This absolutely shattered the Christian community’s notions that Christians could isolate themselves inside their own institutions and teach what they please.”
.. In 1980, the nascent religious right overwhelmingly supported Ronald Reagan, a former movie star who would become America’s first divorced president, over the evangelical Carter. In doing so, it helped destigmatize divorce. “Up until 1980, anybody who was divorced, let alone divorced and remarried, very likely would have been kicked out of evangelical congregations,” Balmer, who was raised evangelical and is now a scholar of evangelicalism, told me.
.. This week, Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, told Politico that Trump gets a “mulligan,” or do-over, on his past moral transgressions, because he’s willing to stand up to the religious right’s enemies. Evangelicals, Perkins said, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
.. On Wednesday, Jerry Falwell Jr., who inherited his father’s job as head of the evangelical Liberty University, defended Trump on CNN through an acrobatic act of moral relativism.
“Jesus said that if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery,” Falwell said. “You’re just as bad as the person who has, and that’s why our whole faith is based around the idea that we’re all equally bad, we’re all sinners.” To defend Trump, Falwell seems to be taking the position that no Christian has the right to criticize anyone else’s sexual behavior.
.. Michael Gerson writes in The Washington Post, are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”
.. I sympathize with his distress. But the politicized sectors of conservative evangelicalism have been associated with bigotry, selfishness and deception for a long time. Trump has simply revealed the movement’s priorities. It values the preservation of traditional racial and sexual hierarchies over fuzzier notions of wholesomeness.
.. “I’ve resisted throughout my career the notion that evangelicals are racist, I really have,” Balmer told me. “But I think the 2016 election demonstrated that the religious right was circling back to the founding principles of the movement. What happened in 2016 is that the religious right dropped all pretense that theirs was a movement about family values.”
.. This is one reason I find it hard to take seriously religious conservatives who say they are being persecuted for their defense of traditional marriage. People who are sympathetic to Christian, conservative Trump supporters — even if they don’t support Trump themselves — will say that they’ve been backed into a corner by the expansion of civil rights laws and policies protecting gay people. As they see it, liberals not only won the culture war on gay marriage but now are also demanding that private redoubts of resistance be brought into line.
.. Rod Dreher, a social-conservative Trump critic, wrote, “Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”
.. But it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.