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Liberty University students call for shutdown of Falkirk Center for 'tarnishing' Christian witness

Liberty University students call for shutdown of Falkirk Center for 'tarnishing' Christian witness

Aerial view of Liberty University in Virginia | Liberty University

A group of students and alumni at Liberty University are calling for a think tank at the evangelical Christian college focused on political activism to be shut down.

More than 400 students have signed a petition calling on the Lynchburg, Virginia-based university to shut down the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, a think tank founded last year by then-Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. The petition, titled “Liberty United Against Falkirk,” contends that the think tank has “waged war against decency, respect, and Christian charity, all while misrepresenting Liberty students and the Christian church.”

The stated purposes of the Falkirk Center are to “uphold the Christian faith and defend America’s Constitution” and to “inform all Americans in matters of faith and liberty, and then deploy these faithful men and women across every medium and platform to protect and defend our strongest-held beliefs in every facet of society.” The think tank also stresses the importance of “bold, unapologetic encouragement and initiative on the part of every conservative American.”

The petition took issue with the Falkirk Center’s 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,” describing that frame of mind as “wrong and dangerous.”

“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,” the petition maintained.

Additionally, the petition described some of the “fellows” for the Falkirk Center as “wolves in sheep’s clothing — people who claim Christ’s name because it is convenient for their personal or political gain.” Fellows at the Falkirk Center include several current and former members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle such as Dr. Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to the president, and Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

After sharing some tweets made by fellows that criticized liberals and Democrats and/or praised Trump, the petition concluded that “the Falkirk Center constantly preaches the message that the church needs to defend Donald Trump at all costs and rescue western civilization.” Characterizing that premise as “wrong,” the petition asserted that “associating any politician or political movement with Christianity bastardizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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“Students at Liberty are tired of having our witness tarnished by association with a center that is trying to undo Liberty’s mission,” the petition added. “We want to be known as people who were given an education to not only enter our desired fields, but also to live as people chosen by the Father, united to the Son and regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit — not as people who were educated to become champions for Trump and Western Civilization in the ‘cultural battlefield.’”

“We at Liberty University believe that Christians have a higher calling than politics. We believe that our goal is to make disciples and encourage each other, building each other up. We feel that this is the exact opposite of what the Falkirk Center believes and is trying to accomplish.”

The petition frequently spoke about the “damage being done to our school’s reputation by several un-Christlike people” and alleged that the Falkirk Center has “tarnished” Liberty’s reputation: “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.”

The petition echoes the concerns of Constance Schneider, the student body president at Liberty. “When an organization like @falkirk_center is attached to Liberty, it impacts the reputation of not just our school but our students as well,” she wrote on Twitter.

“We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center,” she added. “There have been many instances where the center is not reflective upon the mission of our school to train champions for Christ.”

Schneider’s comments came in response to a tweet from Joel Thomas, Liberty’s student body vice president, who said, “I am concerned with the rhetoric, tone, and association the Falkirk Center has with Liberty University, specifically when it comes to our greater, crucial mission to further the kingdom of God.” While he acknowledged that “freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are extremely important,” Thomas argued that “our priority must remain fixed on what truly matters: exalting the cross of Christ through the witness we bear.”

“Conservative must never supersede Christian,” he warned. “If allowed to supersede, this can erode and shift our very identity and dilute and distract from the message of the gospel we claim to champion.”

In a statement shared with The Christian Post, Scott Lamb, Liberty’s senior vice president of communications and public engagement, expressed support for the Falkirk Center: “While any academic think tank will have its detractors, the University and the Center have received hundreds of supportive emails from students, parents of students, faculty, and donors.”

“The Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the Falkirk Center and has received detailed reports on its activities at its fall meetings in the last two years. Standing on the shoulders of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., who founded this University, the Falkirk Center equips Christians to be courageous champions for Christ, to advance the kingdom of Christ, and to preserve American freedom,” he added.

Concerns about the Falkirk Center extend beyond the Liberty student body. Rod Dreher, a blogger at The American Conservative, wrote an article called “Charlie Kirk’s Hooters Conservatism,” taking issue with the inclusion of “Bang girls” at Turning Point USA’s annual Student Action Summit conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The “Bang girls,” who wore tight-fitting and revealing clothing, work on behalf of conference sponsor Bang Energy and spent 25 minutes onstage shooting money out of a cannon in an effort to convince attendees to buy their product.

After highlighting Kirk’s association with the Falkirk Center and the fact that he received an honorary doctorate from Liberty, Dreher urged him to “leave Jesus out of this dirtbaggery.” In a tweet promoting his article, Dreher remarked that he was awaiting the Falkirk Center’s “explanation for how having sexy ladies fire cash into a crowd of young conservatives at Florida weekend event hosted by its fellow (& 2019 Liberty U honorary doctor) Charlie Kirk advanced either conservatism or Christianity.”

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