Liberty University Progressive? Jerry Falwell Says No; Lauds School's Growth, Conservative Ideals

Chancellor Talks Christian School's Growth Amid Questions Over Stance on Social Issues

Ambrosino, who identifies as a post-evangelical, orthodox, gay Christian, tells of the support and compassion he found among Liberty faculty and students in an essay for The Atlantic that won praise from readers like New York Times best-selling author and Christian biographer Eric Metaxas. Metaxas told his Facebook fans, "Every gay person and every one who thinks Christians hate gays MUST read this article about being gay at Liberty University."

Warning that he was in no way trying "to convince the world that Liberty is really a gay-affirming school, and that any LGBT student who goes there will have as easy a time as I did," Ambrosino writes that, from his view, "really vocal anti-gay Christians" and "really vocal anti-Christian gays" both display "a smidge of ugliness" and that "not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance."

As Ambrosino shares in the article titled "Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University," people are often surprised to hear about his experience as a gay man who attended a conservative evangelical Christian school, but Falwell told CP he thinks the former Liberty student, now an actor and writer, "hit the nail on the head."

"I think Liberty has always been the place – my father said it a million times – where you hate sin but love the sinner, and never condemn anybody or judge anybody but try to help them," said the chancellor.

"The way we try to help people who have problems of all sorts is the way that Brandon describes in his article. I don't think that conflicts at all with the fact that our students are conservative," Falwell added. "I think there are many on the left who like to portray conservatives as homophobic because they believe the Bible and believe homosexuality is a sin, they try to equate that with being hateful and it's not the same thing at all. You can love the sinner and hate the sin and that's what Liberty has taught from the day it opened. I haven't seen any change at all. At the university, the students are still very conservative but very compassionate."

Liberty's students, conservative though they may be, of course do not all think alike nor agree with the university's approach on every issue. As they are varied on views concerning evolution and creation (both of which are taught in classrooms), students also were divided last year over the appearance of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney as the 2012 commencement speaker. Romney belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith commonly referred to as Mormonism and viewed as a theological cult by some conservative Christians, 79 percent of whom voted for Romney in his failed election bid. Although a small group of students protested his appearance at commencement, they overwhelmingly voted in favor of Romney in November, with the university's own voting precinct tally showing 93 percent in favor of the former Massachusetts governor.

Although he insisted in his response to claims of Liberty growing progressively-minded on social issues that "most of our faculty, staff and students are very conservative politically and theologically," Falwell nonetheless sees the presidential voting results among Liberty students as indicative of the student body's commitment to conservative Christian values.

Falwell surmises that the evangelical Christian school his father founded four decades ago has become a true alternative to liberal colleges like Harvard and Yale, institutions originally founded on Christian principles, and he told CP he sees Liberty continuing to grow in every way.

"We're in the middle of a $400 million building construction phase that will create more space for more students. Our net assets have grown from $100 million in 2007 to over a billion this year," he said of Liberty's recent accomplishments, adding that Liberty's resident population has also grown from about over 4,500 to over 12,500.

"Every day we wake up with that goal of making Liberty a world-class Christian university. We're 42 years in now and we are seeing the dreams of the founders come true every day. It's humbling for me to be a part of it."

He added, "It's an exciting place to be."

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