Virginia-based Liberty University's decision to invite Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Seattle megachurch Mars Hill and a somewhat controversial figure among Evangelical Christians, as a guest speaker has stirred controversy, especially after a blogger with ties to the conservative Christian school claimed trustees told him Driscoll was not welcome on campus.
Liberty University announced that Driscoll would speak on campus on April 20, 2012. The charismatic pastor, known for a direct, unique preaching style, is on a tour promoting a book he co-wrote with his wife called Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. The bestseller is considered risqué by some conservative Christians, who claim the couple is revealing way too many details about their sexual life. One critic has gone so far as to claim Driscoll is "obsessed" with sex.
But as a blogger, familiar with the university's movers and shakers, writes, the school board's trustees and other decision-makers are apparently not too enthusiastic about having the controversial pastor on campus.
"Recently, Liberty University trustees met on the Mountain and in addition to addressing the regular business to which they attend, they expressed strong concerns that Mark Driscoll is scheduled to not only speak in chapel April 20, but also to hold a marriage conference on campus profiling his book, Real Marriage," Peter Lumpkins, who regularly covers the Southern Baptist denomination, wrote in a post published April 4.
"Sources say trustees took a vote, and the vote was unanimous indicating that Mark Driscoll is not welcome at Liberty University," Lumpkins wrote. "In addition to Driscoll's 'potty mouth' approach to pulpit etiquette playing a role in their decision, his 'Reformed' theology. Acts 29 Network, and the provocative hedonistic understanding of a___ s__ came up as well. (...) Trustees were apparently flabbergasted that Driscoll was considered for an invitation in the first place."
After several trustees spoke on the issue, two motions were made, Lumpkins claims. The first motion was "to unequivocally express that LU trustees disapprove of Mark Driscoll's invitation to speak in chapel and provide a marriage conference based on his unacceptable views stated in Real Marriage. A second motion indicated the formation of a 'vetting' council for future speakers at Liberty University, a council predominately made up of sitting trustees. Both motions passed unanimously."
In a follow-up post, Lumpkins quoted some of Driscoll's critics directly, including a Tennessee pastor, graduate of the university and a former trustee, Tim Guthrie.
"How in the world did Driscoll get an invite?" Guthrie wrote on his own blog. "His potty mouth in the pulpit and his latest book on marriage which advocates wives doing things to their husbands that are disgusting, along with other perverted things should have been enough to give the leaders that be at LU to pass on Driscoll."
Liberty University denied Lumpkins' reports and fired back at him via email – and sent him a cease-and-desist order, he wrote – as well as an online statement, which the blogger sees as an attempt to compromise him.
"On April 4, 2012, a Southern Baptist blogger, Peter Lumpkins, wrote an inaccurate account of Liberty's recent Board of Trustees meeting as it relates to the university's invitation to Mark Driscoll to speak in Convocation," the statement from LU reads. "Lumpkins' recent blog contains information that is defamatory and portrays Liberty University in a false light." The board did not unanimously vote against Driscoll's visit, the school said.
Liberty University's legal counsel has demanded the immediate removal of Lumpkins' post, according to the statement.
But Lumpkins claims that when he asked the school to correct factually inaccurate information in his post, the university declined.
The university's vice president for executive projects, Johnnie Moore, sent The Christian Post the link to the school's statement, but declined to comment further.
Lumpkins continued to quote other Driscoll critics in subsequent blog posts.
Meanwhile, an online petition started by the campus community calls to school officials: "Hey Liberty University, Drop Driscoll." Driscoll has "troubling views on gender roles and sexuality," the petition claims. By Friday, April 13, 372 people had signed it. The petition needs 400 signatures before it can be delivered to Jonathan Falwell, Vice Chancellor for Spiritual Affairs at Liberty University.