February 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Calls for change continue to roil Liberty University (LU), the conservative evangelical institution founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr.

In late December, a group of current LU students and alumni signed a petition urging university officials to shut down the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, reported The Chris­tian Post.

The Center was founded last year by Jerry Falwell Jr. who was then president of Liberty, and Charlie Kirk, founder of a far-right group called Turning Point USA.

The Christian Post reported that the petition, which is titled “Liberty United Against Falkirk,” asserts that the Falkirk Center has “waged war against decency, respect, and Christian charity, all while misrepresenting Liberty students and the Christian church.”

The petition takes issue with the aggressive stance taken by the Falkirk Center, and especially its assertion that “although we do, as Jesus taught, turn the other cheek in our personal relationships, we cannot abdicate our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield.”

The petition counters this by asserting, “The mission for the Church is not to wage war on the ‘cultural battlefield,’ but to make disciples and to build one another up. We feel that the Falkirk Center’s statements present Liberty University as a school that is raising champions for culture, not champions for Christ.”

Describing some of Falkirk’s fellows as “wolves in sheep’s clothing – people who claim Christ’s name because it is convenient for their personal or political gain,” the petition cites the “damage being done to our school’s reputation by several un-Christlike people.”

It asserts, “While Ryan Helfenbein, Charlie Kirk, Eric Metaxas, and other Falkirk fellows champion their politics and their golden calf, we want the world to know how many students do not support them. We don’t want to be soldiers in a culture war; we want only to be champions for Christ.”

Falwell Jr. stepped down as Liberty president last year in the wake of a sex scandal. But he spent years prior to his departure aligning the school with the Republican Party. Falwell was an early backer of President Donald Trump, and the Falkirk Center has been accused of inappropriately intervening in partisan politics.

In December, Politico reporter Maggie Severns wrote, “The culmination of his efforts was the creation of a university-funded campus ‘think tank’ – which has produced no peer-reviewed academic work and bears little relation to study centers at other universities – that ran pro-Trump ads, hired Trump allies including former adviser Sebastian Gorka and current Trump attorney Jenna Ellis to serve as fellows and, in recent weeks, has aggressively promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.”

A source close to LU told Severns that the university’s board is divided over the Falkirk Center.

“There are those who want the school to be part of the conservative political conversation,” the source said, adding that others “don’t think it helps the school in maintaining a high academic standard. You can’t really call something a think tank, and yet it doesn’t put out academic research, or papers, or any kind of scholarship.”