No Imprudence in Defense of Virtue: An Appeal to Jerry Falwell

No Imprudence in Defense of Virtue: An Appeal to Jerry Falwell December 7, 2015

Dear President Falwell,

You spoke at a recent Liberty University gathering about guns and Islam. Evidently, your supporters are thrilled. One roared:

President Falwell is facing criticism from Democrats and jihadist sympathizers after he urged students at the nation’s largest Christian university to carry concealed weapons on campus to counter any possible armed attack from jihadists.

I cast my first vote for Ronald W. Reagan My family was in the Republican Party fighting for Mr Lincoln and a free West Virginia long before the Falwell family left the Democrats. I am finishing the payments on my NRA Life Membership. My church faces daily martyrdom in Syria, leaders have been kidnapped, and we are in weekly contact with the suffering church. After a lifetime in Christian higher education, I have joined a school which aspires to be the newest Christian college in America, is named after Saint Constantine and has adopted the Byzantine eagle as her symbol.

I am no Democrat and no jihadist sympathizer and yet your words were ill considered. This is a shame as the Liberty campus has made strides toward excellence under your leadership. We need a strong Liberty University, but not a school that recapitulates the failed strategies of the last few decades. The solution to pervasive “political correctness” in the academic left is not rightwing demagoguery or inflammatory statements for media attention that amount to mere trumpery.

We share many of the same values and beliefs about God and the Bible. We both love our nation. Let me give you seven reasons your media trick was so troubling to me.

First, it was a manipulative media stunt that hardens a tired media narrative. You are a smart guy who knew what he was doing. You advertised your inflammatory comments on social media . . . you are not the victim of a “drive by media” but playing an old game. You say the “crazy” thing and get media attention. The leftwing media can overplay your statements (as it always will) and both you and the media prosper. Your followers will see you as courageous and the consumers of mainstream media will have their opinions of Evangelical Christians confirmed.

This sort of media manipulation has deeply harmed the cause of Christ, alienating millions of people to the Gospel by presenting a boorish image of what it means to be a Christian, especially a Christian at a Christian college. Those of us who made the choice to work in Christian colleges know the harm such posturing does. . . even if it keeps those cards and letters coming with donations in the short term.

You play the bomb thrower and the media gives you press, but the rest of us are left to clean up the mess.

Second, it was unseemly. There is a time and place for everything. Was a University convocation the place to boast about your gun in crude language? Is it fitting for a University president to posture as a gunslinger in a University convocation? I know standards are dropping everywhere. Maybe a social media Tweet would have worked, but you have reduced the high calling of education by appearing as a bullyboy in convocation.

Third, it was imprudent and careless. We all say things we should not in anger or in a joke, but you doubled down on your comments and gave them publicity. You referred to “Muslims” in a careless way that must have made the tiny minority of your students that are Muslim very uncomfortable.

You gave advice that strikes me as grossly imprudent. Having worked with undergraduates for decades, I think that an armed student body is a greater danger to itself, through anger, accident, or suicide attempts, than it is from radical Islamic terrorists. But to the extent that there was a danger of Liberty University being a target of Daesh, your grandstanding may have increased it.

Daesh loves attention, you gave it to them, we can only hope they don’t return the favor.

Fourth, delighting in violence contradicts the Gospel. Christianity is not pacifist, though some fringe groups have been, but we do not delight in war. We hate war and we love peace. No Christian should ever show delight in killing or the need for self-defense. This serious obligation is the result of sin. Christian warriors like Sergeant York show us the way: they did their duty and refused to profit from it.

We serve the Prince of Peace and will fight if we must, but only as a last resort. I hope I would defend my family and students if I had to do so, but I pray to God for peace.

Fifth, these careless statements put Christians at risk and harm missionary activity. Of course, Islamic radicals need no excuse to kill Christians. I am part of a Syrian church and we do not need to be told about Daesh. Sadly, inflammatory statements by Christian leaders in the West help radicalize people on the edges.

Christians who work in majority Muslim countries have a hard time getting people to see that the Christian message is not “American.” Friendship is the best way to reach other people with the truth, but careless, gun waving bravado impedes those attempts. Talk to the missionaries that Liberty has on the field in such countries. Ask them in private.

Sixth, your statements broke the Golden Rule for your Islamic students and neighbors. Liberty University has Muslim students and you did not treat those students to a convocation that you would wish on Christian students in a majority Muslim country. Would you welcome the leader of a Muslim school making the same statement while the majority Muslim student body roared approval? This is not a football game, but a discussion of the deeply held beliefs of those God has called you to educate.

Did you do to your Muslim students as you would have them do to you?

Seventh, there is danger in confusing our citizenship in this Republic with being subjects to King Jesus. We are both Christians and Americans. We must love our country and both of us are proud citizens of this nation in this life, but our first and highest duty is as subjects to King Jesus. These two roles can come together harmoniously, but only if we don’t confuse the City of Man with the City of God.

We do not pay taxes on our churches because they are part of another Kingdom. We don’t let the mayor of Houston look at our sermons because she has no authority over the church of Jesus Christ. I wave the flag proudly outside my house, but not in my church sanctuary, I am a King’s man. God is not, after all, a Republican or a Democrat since we have it on His authority that He is a monarchist. There is an ancient tradition that the civil authority stays outside of our worship. God forbid we bring them into the holy places and then complain when the state tramples our most sacred beliefs.

People can defend themselves, but let’s keep secular weapons out of the sanctuary.

Sanctuary!
Sanctuary!

Thomas Becket faced an evil ruler bent on killing him, but facing an armed invasion of Canterbury Cathedral:

He went into the Cathedral, without any hurry, and having the Cross carried before him as usual.  When he was safely there, his servants would have fastened the door, but he said no! it was the house of God and not a fortress.

He was murdered by evil men, but his courage underscored the liberty of the church and sanctuary as a concept. Thomas was right. Even at great cost, let’s keep the swords out of the sanctuary.

We must fight Daesh and that war will be just. The United States will act and as citizens  we will support our country as much as we can consistent with our Christian faith.

The Church can bless those who go to fight, but we will also pray for our enemies. When we thank God for victory, we will pray that in victory we will have shown “malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right . . .”

Under the Mercy,

John Mark N. Reynolds


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