July-August 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Christian nationalist leader Jerry Falwell Jr. came under fire in late May after tweeting a photo of a face mask containing a racist image.

Falwell, president of Liberty University, has dismissed claims that the coronavirus pandemic is a serious threat and has criticized government officials for their efforts to contain it. He tweeted a photo of a mask with a purported image of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) wearing blackface beside another person dressed as a Klansman.

The photo of Northam first surfaced in 2019, and was allegedly taken in 1984 when Northam was a college student. Northam denied that the photo depicts him, but he admitted to wearing blackface in another context that same year.      Northam apologized for his actions and toured black colleges in the state.

Falwell’s tweet read, “I was ada­mantly opposed to the mandate from-@GovernorVA requiring citizens to wear face masks until I decided to design my own. If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will re­­luc­tantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!”

Shortly after the story broke, Dr. Christopher House, a black college professor who had been teaching at Liberty online, resigned.

In a Facebook post, House wrote, “My moral compass and integrity would not allow me have any further relationship with that institution for any reason! I was brought into LU to generate the kind of dialogue that challenges the ideas, narratives and ideologies that underlie the very images Falwell intentionally used to make a political statement to the Governor of Virginia. Falwell did so at the expense of Black people and Black pain. This is abhorrent, evil and sickening! This does not reflect the God of the Bible! I have come to meet some really bright students at Liberty (and who are there for many different reasons) who have to endure this type of environment. My heart goes out to them.”

Two other black staff members at Liberty also resigned. In addition, Kaylyn Whitley, a graduate of the university, called on Thomas Road Baptist Church, which is run by Falwell’s brother Jonathan, to sever its ties to Liberty.

“Jerry picked a horrific time right now in our country to race bait anything,” Whitley said. “I really think that a predominantly white church needs to show the black and brown community, black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ, [that] what Jerry has done is not OK.”

Black alumni at the school are calling on Falwell to resign. The Associated Press reported that nearly three dozen black graduates of the university want Falwell to step down.

In a letter to Falwell, the graduates in question opined that his comments “have repeatedly violated and misrepresented” Christian principles. They vowed to stop urging students to attend Liberty, and said they would no longer donate to the university unless Falwell resigns.

Under growing pressure, Falwell issued an apology June 8 and deleted the controversial tweet.