'Poor representation of Jesus': 35 black alumni of Liberty U. denounce Falwell’s 'incendiary' rhetoric

L.U. monogram overlooking the Liberty University campus, Lynchburg, Virginia.
L.U. monogram overlooking the Liberty University campus, Lynchburg, Virginia. | Liberty University

A group of 35 black alumni of Liberty University sent a public letter to President Jerry Falwell Jr. denouncing his recent political rhetoric and activism.

Addressed to Falwell and sent on Monday, the signees of the letter stated that they are “disappointed and deeply grieved by your incendiary rhetoric over the past several years.”

“For several years, you have said and defended inappropriate statements that represent Liberty and our faith very poorly,” read the letter, a copy of which was forwarded to The Christian Post. “You have belittled staff, students and parents, you have defended inappropriate behaviors of politicians, encouraged violence, and disrespected people of other faiths.”

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The signatories of the letter urged Falwell to “stop this infantile behavior,” arguing that his statements “hurt the ability of Liberty alumni to obtain jobs and have a voice in the culture.”

“Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships,” they continued.

“We will no longer donate funds to the university. We will also actively encourage Christian leaders to decline the invitation to speak at Liberty if you continue to insist on making unChristlike and inappropriate statements that are misrepresentative of Biblical Christianity.”

An example the signees took issue with was a tweet Falwell posted jokingly supporting wearing a face mask that featured the school photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface.

“While your tweet may have been in jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism,” argued the letter.

Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, the lead signer of the letter, told CP that while he often prays for Falwell, he has been "disappointed" by the university head's recent actions.

"I am just disappointed, like many other graduates, about his rhetoric and statements over the last several years because I believe they're a poor representation of Jesus and the mission of Liberty University," said Williamson. 

"This alumni letter is not about Governor Northam, it's about Falwell using racist imagery like that as a joke and an opportunity to attack a political opponent. That is the behavior of a political candidate, not a Christian leader of one of the largest evangelical institutions in the world. "

Williamson contrasted Falwell's rhetoric and actions with those of his father, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. 

"Falwell Sr. was not perfect and was wrong on several issues throughout his life with political activism. But he was open to change, and he humbly listened to other believers about sensitive political issues," continued Williamson. 

"For example, on the issue of segregation, Falwell Sr. was originally wrong but he changed and acknowledged errors after spiritual rebuke by other Christian leaders. Falwell Sr. was humbly open to accountability and being challenged where Falwell Jr. is not."

Pastor Marcell Howard of Woodhaven Bible Church, Michigan, another signatory of the letter, told CP that he supported the letter "because of my love for the witness of the Gospel, and to call a Christ-follower to a more excellent way in his platform and influence as university president."

Liberty University did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

Falwell has tweeted that he will not apologize for the joke because “that same Gov just ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American.”

“I was one of the only conservatives to defend [Northam] when his racist yearbook pic surfaced. I called him and told him not to resign and I forgave him when he apologized,” he added later.

“Then he cut the decades long $3400 grants to VA students, 27% minorities & 65% low income. Just a reminder.”

The alumni letter comes days after African-American pastor and professor Christopher House, who taught at Liberty University Online, resigned in protest of Falwell’s tweet.

“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,” wrote House.

“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.” 

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